A little over two years ago, Laurent Koscielny marked his most impressive performance for Arsenal, a 2-1 win at home against Barcelona. It was the level of quality from the defender that the occasion merited, arguably Arsenal’s finest night at the Emirates to date. At the end of this season, the Frenchman is rightly receiving plaudits as one of the most pivotal figures in Arsenal’s late-season resurgence.
But it would be of great disservice to only credit Koscielny with leading Arsenal into fourth when at one time it seemed impossible. The story, however, from Ligue 2 to what he is now, is hugely uplifting.
Maybe Arsene Wenger hasn’t completely lost it in the market. The stories emerging in the summer of 2010 were that Arsenal were looking to FC Lorient for their next defender, a scrawny and inexperienced centre-back who was deemed to be far more valuable than Arsenal’s opening bid of circa £3.5 million. Koscielny epitomised Wenger’s approach to the market, seeking pieces to the puzzle where none of Arsenal’s contemporaries would even dare to venture. It has culminated in a player with only one season in Ligue 1 transforming himself, under the guidance of Wenger, into one of the leading names in the Premier League.
And there will be some who would argue that point. After all, where is the glitz and glamour? Isn’t it far easier to just send that label over to Manchester and latch it onto a couple of names either side of that divide? For some, Koscielny still hasn’t done enough, despite being everything that is required of the modern centre-back. He’s technically astute, possesses all the pace needed to deal with even the quickest forwards, and has saved Arsenal’s skin at both ends of the pitch more times than is worth mentioning.
This season, Wenger dropped Thomas Vermaelen in favour of the Frenchman and his partnership with Per Mertesacker, a defensive pairing that has blossomed into one of Wenger’s best since moving into the Emirates. The mix and balance is perfect between the two, with the German relying on Koscielny’s pace to recover from a position high up the pitch and Mertesacker responding with the forging of an understanding that has finally seen the centre-back episode put to bed for good.
On the continent, Koscielny hasn’t gone unnoticed. Further injury to Holgar Badstuber has forced Pep Guardiola and Bayern to court the French international. And who could argue? We’ve seen similar styles under Guardiola at Barcelona with Gerard Pique. Incidentally, it was against Bayern at the Allianz Arena this past season where we saw another exceptional display from Koscielny, possibly forcing the Bavarians to jot his name down as their next major signing of the summer. But for the first time in a long time, Arsenal are under no pressure to sell. Alongside Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, Koscielny has become one of the club’s most valued assets.
It has been a joy to watch the development of an extreme unknown on the European stage mature into a player who could legitimately stake a claim to feature in one of Wenger’s famed back fours. Koscielny was greeted in much the same way that Wenger was when he arrived in north London and, naturally, there was outcry from large sections of the support that a problem area was being addressed by another bargain buy. Three seasons on, that £11 million is looking like a wonderful stroke of genius in the market.
It’s the way it should be and the sensible way Arsenal have needed to approach the building of their squad. It wasn’t always to be, however, with much of the budget being wasted when the skill used to acquire Koscielny was needed. And while Koscielny may not hold the status in England that he’s richly deserving of, Arsenal can currently boast a player who was unearthed in the manner that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing under Wenger. Absolutely, unequivocally one of Wenger’s greatest buys.