Laurent Koscielny is a very strange footballer. Not because of his Polish-French heritage. Not because of the upright, short-armed running style that makes him resemble a stalking velociraptor. Laurent Koscielny is a strange footballer because he manages to look extremely competent whilst also being at the heart of a defence that is occasionally in disarray.
There’s no doubt he’s got plenty of ability. He’s quick, assertive, and a very clean tackler. After arriving for £10m from Lorient last term, he had several outstanding games, most notably in the home tie with Barcelona, where his fleet-footed style was well suited to keeping the likes of Messi and Villa in check.
However, he was also part of a back four that crumbled at Newcastle, and was a hesitant figure as Obafemi Martins grabbed the goal that won the Carling Cup. It was a season as typified by signs of inexperience as excellence. It’s easy to forget that prior to joining us, he had just one top flight campaign in France under his belt. Although his own individual performances were often impressive, the defensive unit around him just didn’t seem to function.
Perhaps, one could argue, he didn’t have the right partner. Thomas Vermaelen was absent for almost the entirety of the season, and Sebastien Squillaci proved to be something of a disastrous signing. Although Johan Djourou and Koscielny did at one stage form an effective pairing, their shortcomings emerged when it came to the crunch. And Arsenal’s end to the season was very crunchy indeed. Not in a delicious, Kelloggsy way, but in an awful, legs in a blender kind of way.
At the start of this season, however, Vermaelen was fit and Koscielny was finally alongside his intended partner. They were impressive at Newcastle and Udinese, and then Vermaelen succumbed to injury once gain. We all know the consequences of his loss and the subsequent hammering at Old Trafford.
Now Koscielny has a new partner again: Per Mertesacker. The teutonic titan is arguably an even better partner for Laurent than Vermaelen, as he provides a contrast. Koscielny is an instinctive, reactive defender, whereas Mertesacker is a more composed, organisational figure. And it’s paying dividends. After a clean sheet against Swansea, Koscielny turned in an outstanding performance in Germany. Arsene Wenger said of his display:
“The fact that he has such a short experience at the top level makes his improvement potential bigger. I believe he will be a great central defender.
I have always thought there is a massive potential in this player. That is why he has already grown this season and I felt in the last 20 minutes he was immense against Dortmund.
Like every central defender who comes to England, he was surprised by the intensity of the game but he has adjusted now and adapted.”
This weekend at Blackburn will provide another test for the new pairing. When Thomas Vermaelen returns after the international break, one would imagine the vice-captain will be an automatic starter. Koscielny now has the added motivation of a fight for his first-team place.
Vermaelen could be joined in his October return by Abou Diaby, who has begun fitness work. As regards this weekend, Aaron Ramsey has a chance to be available after missing midweek with an ankle problem. Full preview tomorrow.