Since an unforgettable Premier League debut at Anfield in August of 2010, which saw him sent off in second-half stoppage time, Laurent Koscielny hasn’t had an easy journey to success for Arsenal.
Joe Cole’s late lunging challenge on Koscielny himself saw the Englishman dismissed but two bookings in quick succession meant the Frenchman was given his own marching orders after handling the ball in mid-air near the centre circle.
There was enough evidence from the centre-back’s debut in English football to suggest he could become a stalwart within Arsenal’s backline – especially the way he battled hard with Fernando Torres throughout and restricted a fearsome forward to half-chances for sustained periods.
He was confident, comfortable in possession and initial signs suggested he was far more experienced for a player making his first appearance in England’s top flight. In matches afterwards, some of the team’s flaws defensively were clear to see, especially their lack of positional awareness out of possession.
Koscielny continued to quietly improve and reduce the number of mistakes he made, especially in terms of giving away needless fouls and occasionally penalties too, which has seen Arsenal naturally rely on him more when under pressure to grind out victories, especially during away matches against tough opposition.
Centre-back pairings have always looked promising in recent years following Koscielny’s arrival, but Thomas Vermaelen – his original partner when he arrived – was severely injury-prone and a lack of minutes had a limiting impact on the Belgian’s ability to produce convincing performances at the back with consistency.
The key to Arsenal’s success in defence over the past few seasons has been the solidity established between Koscielny and Mertesacker. At one point during their partnership, they went for more than two years without suffering defeat when both completed the full 90 minutes (credit: Sami Mokbel) and with every passing game, the understanding between the two has strengthened further. Through the ups and downs, they’ve experienced plenty of situations which have helped them strengthen the defensive bond to a point where they feed off each other’s strengths and adapt to their weaknesses too.
Mertesacker lacks acceleration but Koscielny’s pace means he can cover ground quickly and intercept danger that the German would otherwise struggle to reach. Per’s height is effective to say the least and they rarely concede from set-pieces with his presence in the area, whilst the 32-year-old’s positional awareness makes up for his other shortcomings which mean they are rarely caught out of possession.
Chambers and Holding
There are similarities between Holding’s playstyle and that of Koscielny, though it’d be unfair to go into too much detail about their centre-back pairing given the lack of minutes they’ve played alongside each other – although it looks very promising.
In future however, both Rob and Calum Chambers (on-loan at Middlesbrough) as well as Gabriel will be eager to assert their credentials as bonafide starters alongside a calm presence like Koscielny with the trio continuing to develop and gain valuable experience.
This one is arguably the best in terms of stability. Although initial questions were asked about Mustafi’s height and how he might struggle against bigger forwards in aerial duels, the 24-year-old German has relished challenges and looks impressive alongside a centre-back who is similar and different in a few ways. Both have tendencies to pass and are comfortable in possession, neither is a slouch in terms of acceleration but where Koscielny excels in terms of interceptions, Mustafi is fantastic at tackling.
There have been a number of performances this season where the defensive partnership between the two has been heralded, especially against Chelsea and Burnley – though the latter would seem unspectacular, it’s against the type of hard-nosed sides that normally would secure a result against Arsenal in seasons gone by (e.g. Wigan of old, Bolton and Newcastle). It’s not a surprise that Mertesacker has been linked with a loan switch until the end of the campaign because the experienced German definitely has his work cut out if he’s to earn his place back once he returns.
Knack for goalscoring
As the games continued and seasons passed, his ever-increasing experience has proved important in helping at both ends of the pitch. In terms of his goal contribution, he is a genuine threat when it comes to set-pieces. Corners and free-kicks are always the perfect opportunity for centre-backs to get forward in search of a goal for themselves and Koscielny rarely passes up the chance – to good effect. With 22 goals and four assists in Arsenal colours he’s the type of defender who is not afraid to attack when the situation arises, which is refreshing to see.
To conclude, Koscielny has developed into one of the world’s best defenders through perseverance and hard work behind-the-scenes, which has allowed him to command his place in the starting line-up on a weekly basis.
There will always be questions about when players gradually decline but with the conveyor belt of talent at Arsenal’s disposal, especially defensively, there’s no doubt he can continue to perform consistently for a number of years yet.
Sure, he has lapses in concentration and a few shaky moments from time-to-time, but every player does. His tough-tackling, positive attitude and ability to intercept promising passes before they reach their intended target is a joy to watch.
Having signed a contract extension earlier this week, I’m glad to see he’ll be at the club on a long-term basis as he deserves to continue the good work he does into the future and is a genuine possibility to replace Mertesacker as Arsenal’s new captain come the end of the current campaign.