Ever since the departure of Sol Campbell in 2006, Arsenal’s defence has looked in desperate need of a talented centre-half with an aptitude for defending. Someone who could be relied upon within the heart of defence; someone capable of nullifying the greatest attacking threats in the world. When Arsenal signed Laurent Koscielny from Lorient for £8m in the summer of 2010, he looked far from being the man to fulfil that role.
The Evolution of Laurent Koscielny
Koscielny’s start at Arsenal was far from ideal. His Premier League debut saw him being sent off at Anfield, achieving two yellow cards in just four minutes. His best centre-half partnership in his opening season was with Squilaci, which saw Arsenal achieve just 11 points from a possible 30, conceding 17 goals in 10 games. Hardly the “talented centre-half with an aptitude for defending” that Arsenal so frantically needed to stabilise their defensive fragility.
Koscielny’s disappointing opening campaign did not look promising for his future, but not many could have foreseen the development that followed. Few could’ve doubted the huge improvements in his game in the 2011-12 season in which he earned his first French cap. He formed strong defensive bonds with both Per Mertesacker (that became apparent in future seasons) and Thomas Vermaelen. These improvements were further amplified in the following season, seeing Laurent voted as Arsenal’s second best player in the 2012-13 season. Glimpses of brilliance were becoming evident.
Although the 2013-14 season did not begin well — Koscielny was sent off in a dismal 3-1 opening day defeat to Aston Villa — it did not have a long lasting effect on the Frenchman. Throughout the year, Koscielny featured in a flourishing partnership with Per Mertesacker which resulted in the Gunners achieving the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League until January. Laurent proved his worth unequivocally on a consistent basis, most notably in his equalising goal in the 2014 FA Cup final, resulting in the end of Arsenal’s notorious trophy drought.
Onto the most recent season. Koscielny, for a third season running, showed the mental and physical attributes that Arsenal had so desperately required in the heart of defence. Composure, resilience, and most importantly an experienced alliance with Per Mertesacker at the back, providing Arsenal with the defensive solidity that they longed for. Koscielny’s ever-increasing importance to Arsenal was emphasised in his 14-game absence in the first half of the season. Arsenal staggered haphazardly to just 27 points from their first 17 fixtures. This was no coincidence. Arsenal’s poor form was a combination of World Cup fatigue and most importantly the deprivation of their key defender.
Without Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal’s back four seems simply lost. It is almost impossible to count the number of times Arsenal have been saved by one of his last-ditch challenges. Equally impossible to count the number of times his seemingly infeasible interceptions have effectively instigated attacks, transforming defence into attack in a matter of seconds. Laurent is a master interceptor, with an average of 3.4 per game, the second highest rate in the league. His self-assurance and poise on the ball also remain unparalleled, which is somewhat of a rarity in modern day defending, particularly in the Premier League.
Arsenal undoubtedly have some extremely talented footballers in their ranks, with the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. But I am entirely confident in saying that Laurent Koscielny is the most important of all.
For those who will simply not take my word for it, here are some indisputable statistics. Since August 2013, with Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal have won 73% of their games compared to just 39% without. No other Arsenal player has such a significance over the period. Still not convinced? Well, with Laurent, Arsenal have conceded on average 0.65 goals per game. Without? 1.83. Over the past two seasons, Arsenal have conceded nearly two goals per game in Koscielny’s absence. You’d struggle to find a player with such significance to their respective team in the whole of Europe.
Koscielny’s upsurge in performances from 2010 to 2015 have been something quite extraordinary. Laurent arrived as an unknown quantity in 2010, and despite only having one season of top flight football under his belt with Lorient, Arsène Wenger had managed to find yet another world class player with his magnificent eye for talent. Despite his initial struggles and high profile errors — including the mix up with Szczesny in the 2011 Carling cup final defeat — Koscielny has emerged as one of the world’s best defenders.
Laurent Koscielny rarely makes the headlines, but his quiet prowess has been, and will continue to be vital for Arsenal’s success.