Laurent Koscielny: criminally underrated
This post first appeared on Life’s a Pitch
When Arsenal signed Laurent Koscielny for £10 million from French side Lorient in the summer of 2010, eyebrows were raised.
Few fans of English football knew if he was worth that much, in fact, few had even heard of the defender. Indeed, it had been a fairly rapid rise for Koscielny; he’d gone from the French second division to the Champions League in just two years.
Over the course of his debut season, it seemed that many formed the opinion that he’s not a very good defender. This is probably because alongside the woeful Sebastien Squillaci and the occasionally error-prone Johan Djourou, Koscielny was part of poor defensive showings. For example the 4-4 draw with Newcastle having been 4-0 up at half time. Of course, the Carling Cup final incident wouldn’t have helped either – a horrible mix-up with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saw Birmingham lift the trophy in the dying seconds.
However, those freak incidents should not affect people’s judgement of Koscielny, although inevitably they do. If you watched Koscielny closely, you’d see countless perfect interceptions and tackles; he’s excellent aerially as well as on the deck. His range of passing is usually impressive, and he’s stronger than he looks.
I’m writing this after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, although I did begin the article before the match. From taking a glance at Twitter, the overall view of Arsenal’s performance is that Koscielny was among our best players. For a man who last season divided opinion a lot, the majority are beginning to realise that he’s a superb defender.
Communication may be an area in which he lacks, but he makes up for that with a combination of physical and technical prowess. For example, a couple of times against Dortmund he played a BVB player onside, yet managed to recover and put the player off each time. He quite clearly has the infamous mental strength that Arsene always goes on about; he also recovered from that scarring incident at Wembley, which speaks volumes of his character and mentality.
I still don’t quite understand how some fans don’t rate Koscielny higher. I’ve been banging on about him for months (it hasn’t just been me in fairness) and some people are only just realising how good he is when he’s playing with a good partner. It’s a wide perception that he struggles in the air, but that’s actually not true; he came up with several brilliant headers against Dortmund, as per usual in fact. Perhaps it’s his brilliance on the deck that makes his aerial ability seem less in comparison.
Still, the criticism that he’s come in for from the media and from the fans has been incredibly harsh. Against Barcelona at the Emirates last season, he absolutely dominated the best player in the world – Lionel Messi didn’t have much of a look-in (well, a lot less than he usually does) because of how well Koscielny handled him. If you don’t believe me, have a look at Koscielny’s performance on YouTube. It was sterling to say the least.
And if you’d like more evidence as to his aerial prowess, have a look at how well he handled Andy Carroll a few weeks ago. Carroll too barely had a look in, and this was thanks mainly to Koscielny. He had been targeted by the lone striker Carroll due to the misconception of Koscielny not being very good, but our number 6 handled Carroll impeccably.
Our new zonal marking system suits Koscielny down to the ground, and he’s one of the reasons as to why our defence has been so sturdy in the new season, Old Trafford aside. Statistically our defence may not have been very strong, but when watching games against Newcastle, Liverpool, Swansea, Udinese and Dortmund we’ve held out well, and only really conceded when down to 10 men or to a wondergoal.
To sum up, I’d have to say Laurent Koscielny is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League in my opinion. He’s a solid defender, no-nonsense and is improving game-by-game.