Laurent Koscielny can provide Arsenal the best of both worlds in defence

Laurent Koscielny’s technical style and ability to mix his game up should perfectly complement Arsenal’s style.
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When questioned on how the centre-back may develop in the future, Thomas Vermaelen was unsurprisingly diplomatic on the subject, especially after having such a barnstorming debut season for Arsenal displaying the virtues of both extremes of the modern defender. “Will defenders become more technical?” mulled Vermaelen. “Well that depends on how you play – you’ll always have defenders who are and others who aren’t. If a boss wants a player who just defends, he chooses someone who is big and strong, and not good with his feet. It’s his choice.”

Indeed, it was his boss’ choice and tellingly Arsene Wenger plumped for another technical defender in Laurent Koscielny to add to Johan Djourou at the club already. It’s still not clear which one – or indeed whether another new defender at the club – will partner Vermaelen nevertheless it does represent the most forward-thinking of backlines Wenger has ever had at his disposal.

A double ball-playing centre-back pairing may seem slightly quixotic seeing as the Gunners have experienced the joys of having someone with the pragmatism of Sol Campbell or Philippe Senderos but Wenger is adamant that the technical and fitness level of the game will continue to improve, and that makes it difficult for a team of Arsenal’s style to effectively deploy such players. It’s best to have the best of both worlds and that’s why he is particularly delighted to hire the services of Koscielny from French side Lorient. “We identified Koscielny as a very, very strong centre-half,” Wenger told Arsenal.com. “He can be an outstanding addition to our team. Koscielny is a central defender with great ability who performed extremely well last season for Lorient. We identified him as a very strong centre-half, who has made big progress very quickly. He has shown he is mentally strong, he’s a fighter and a very strong competitor. Koscielny is a great addition to our squad.”

The rise of Laurent Koscielny is quite remarkable as he was only playing in the second division of French football the season before but impressive performances at the heart of the Tours defence belied his presence in the league. He was quickly snapped up by Lorient convinced they had just discovered a potential bargain so when Arsenal came up with a £8.5m rising to £10m offer this summer, the club was obliged to bite their metaphoric hand off. Journalist Tom Williams of Agence France-Presse (AFP), feels in Koscielny, Arsenal have a central defender who will very much suit the style of the club. “Koscielny started his career as a full-back at Guingamp and he’s a very athletic player,” Williams told The Arsenal Column. “Physically, he’s of average height [6′ 1”] but he’s slender for a centre-back and, like most central defenders, he’s quick rather than genuinely rapid. He looks a bit fresh-faced but he’s very sound technically and good on the ball too.

“He anticipates the game well and is a full-blooded tackler. In theory he should dovetail well with Thomas Vermaelen, who is a more rounded player and more comfortable carrying the ball forward. He’s likely to pose a similar threat from set-pieces too. The only real area of concern is Koscielny’s lack of experience, and the attendant rashness that comes with it. Lorient only signed him from Tours last summer where he was named in Ligue 2’s Team of the Season in 2008-09 but last season was his first, and to date, only season in a top-flight championship.”

Like Williams and Arsenal, those who have seen Koscielny regularly in Ligue 1 have much to be impressed by. His thin, wiry frame harks back to the days where defenders didn’t have to be brutes and also signals an elegance about him although Koscielny does admit that “physical strength” is his main weakness. The statistics are favourable to him too as last season he made more interceptions (159) and more clearances (328) than any other player in Ligue 1 although conversely his club side, Lorient, allowed the most shots against them in the championship. Arsenal, however, have seen Koscielny enough to recognise just how much talent he has and the adverse stats more likely represents his relative freshness and the weak cover in front of him. In terms of scouting, Koscielny’s situation echoes that of Bakary Sagna where the club accumulated most of their watching the season before signing him after the defender almost coming from nowhere to gain prominence. “I saw Bakary Sagna on more than 30 occasions,” said French scout Gilles Grimandi on Arsenal’s right full-back. “I checked him once, then ten times, then 20 times before finally deciding he was the one we needed.”

Laurent Koscielny will have to do battle with Johan Djourou and the next defensive signing to see who partners Thomas Vermaelen at the heart of defence although both players do have cases for and against. Djourou may be slightly ahead due to his familiarity with the English game and that Koscielny is still in need with a bit of gym work but the Swiss has also come back from a long injury lay-off. He has, however, shown before that the vast amount of value he can bring to the side as two seasons ago he put in strong performances at the back, starting with a 2-1 win against Chelsea before leading a young Arsenal side to a very respectable 4-0 victory over Wigan. In that game, he showed just how important defence is to Arsenal’s attack, as his surge helped create the third goal. His subsequent absence in the next round saw the young gun’s fluency drop severly  as they stooped to a defeat to Burnley. Wenger had assured Djourou, before he had broken down last season, that he was very much in his plans having sold Kolo Toure to make way for the Ivorian-born defender.

Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger’s partnership for Denmark in the World Cup showed glimpses of the potential ball-playing and mobile centre-backs can bring to an attacking side  – and indeed to an attacking side’s defence also – as Barcelona and Spain have displayed, keeping the ball and forcing teams back is a form of stopping chances. Indeed if Wenger’s continuing reference to Koscielny as a centre-half is anything to go by (as opposed to the more traditional centre-back) the French/Polish defender should complement Arsenal’s style perfectly in both parts of the game.

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28 thoughts on “Laurent Koscielny can provide Arsenal the best of both worlds in defence

  1. Johan Djourou has some 60-70 starts for Arsenal despite being out on loan and missing seasons due to injury. Yet, everyone still talks of him like he’s some dilettante.

    You mention playing well against Chelsea 2 seasons ago, but what about 4 years ago when he kept Drogba out at Stamford Bridge?

    1. What has he done recently? I remember him vs Liverpool giving Keane and open goal, and being given the run around by Utd in the CL Semi Final. We won’t win titles with him, I’m sorry.

        1. He isn’t experienced, hasn’t played in a season, and even when he did, the coach went and bought Vermaelen to start ahead of him. I have no faith in him being the one to give our club clean sheets. Even when he has supposedly played well, we have had at least 1 game where he was really bad, Arsenal 1 – Spurs 1 in the CC, Utd 3 Arsenal 1 in the CL. Do you think he is an answer to bringing our GD down, I don’t.

          1. Wenger wanted start him last season ahead of vermaelen, and you have to be blind not to see he has talent.
            Arsenal fans are getting really spoilt, its ridiculous. If the player is not a complete, world class player by the time he’s 21, many people seem to think he will NEVER be good enough. It’s insane. The thing is, JD has never really been fit or at the club long enough for us to truly judge him as a player. Its been the same with carlos vela, a player who I consider, like djourou, to have real world class potential, but many fans were so disappointed he didnt set the world alight last season with his handful of appearances that they want him out! Its madness.
            The only player I complain about often is walcott, and that is not because I dont think he will ever be good enough, it is because our manager gives him far too much game time, and doesnt make him work for his appearances; when there are equally or more gifted youngsters in the squad who imo are more deserving of the chances.
            Anyway, I dont think we’ve seen enough of djourou to say he definitely isnt or wont be good enough for a title winning side. Its incredibly unfair of you to say so imo. The way he plays is reminiscent of many great defensive players: but how many of those players have ever been world class at his age, especially given the injuries hes had?

    2. Fair point. Since his loan move to Birmingham, where he had an injury hit and decent spell in DM, he has come leaps and bounds so we felt appropriate to mention his most recent significant contribution.

      He’s a fantastic talent, and would personally go in ahead of Koscielny. Indeed many people I’ve talked to make it seem like Djourou is a dilettante; and that’s probably influenced our bit on him despite our belief in the defender.

  2. Great Post! Not sure he will start in the team but with a bit of cup experience i believe he will end up in the team by the end of the season and begin to show what he is capable of. A new keeper and defender still needed and lets be honest cesc is going if we get 50+ million pounds. He has shown that he doesnt like to hold onto players who do not want to be at the club (hleb, henry, adebayor, toure). As long as we can bring in a like for like replacement for cesc in the playmaker role along with another young gem we will have a successful year. Carling Cup, Top 2 Premier League, FA Cup winners, Semi Finalists of Champions league! LETS GO GUNNERS!!!

    1. Lol not sure he will start in the team?

      Maybe you are right but then again this is the record amount Wenger has ever spent on a Centre Back.

      As Wenger is an economist he will play him from the start.

  3. I am not very convinced with this deal. Lorient are a defensive minded side, Arsenal are an attack minded side. Lorient are very compact, Arsenal are very loose. Lorient close the flanks down quickly, meaning the only way through is down the middle, Arsenal leave the flanks wide open and can be caught on the break.

    Lorient helped him, more than he helped Lorient.

    Why are we taking unnecessary risks in key positions? €12m is an obscene amount, considering Inter bought Lucio on a free, Sneijder for €15m. We are not broke, we just do not spend our money right, we need pure experience at the back, our rivals are not taking risks in key positions, Vermaelen also needs lots of improvement.

    We may love technical players, but so far, history shows you need uncompromising defenders at the back to win the championship, I’m not happy, I’ll give him time, but it is a recipe for disaster unless Wenger is a sage.

    1. Lorient are set-up in the typical pan-European fashion – i.e. compact, short passing etc. It is true he’d have to make a cultural adaptation – but the signs from Arsenal are that he is expected to be provide both a technical and slightly uncompromising partnership with Vermaelen.

      If anything, his interceptions suggest he is more the Gallas replacement but he has the mentality to get stuck in as they say.

      “I am not strongly built, but I make up for it with some cleverness, positioning and anticipation. I believe the manager has appreciated my state of mind, my concentration on the game.”

    2. I agree it’s a risk, so I hope we make another defensive signing, but I felt the same about vermaelen last season, albeit for different reasons. We have an excellent record in our recent transfers, sagna, TV, eduardo (although hes been ruined by outside forces) – these were all players who were able to adapt instantly to the PL. It’s good to be cautious here, but wenger only spends a lot of money like this if he thinks its worth it..

      1. I realy hope we make a big name centre back signing and a good keeper to go with it.

        I believe that next season at best Djourou and Koscilny would be the back up pairing. Although a £8- 10mil price tag suggests this guy must be decent.

        Personally I would have bought a player who has more top flight experience and one which is not french.

  4. another very good post. i like the the glass is half full attitude of this blog. i’ve always thought djourou has the potential to be the long term mainstay of the arsenal backline but i think his recent injuries have pushed him down the pecking order. i think he’ll be 3rd or 4th choice centre-half this season as 10m is a lot to spend on a reserve. i think the franco-pole will partner vermaelen for most of the season, barring injury.

  5. Nice article as usual. I don’t see why everyone wants another defender just in case Djourou and Koscielny don’t work out. I have faith that both will provide strong competition for each other already with Djourou maybe starting off as a starter while Koscielny adapts to the team environment etc. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Koscielny was given the starting role as I highly doubt Wenger has made the decision yet. I have a sneaky suspicion that when Wenger referred to another ‘defensive signing’ he meant a goal keeper. Personally I think that an experienced goalkeeper will transform Arsenals defense. This is because it is obvious that the defense has never trusted any of the keepers they’ve had in goal recently and nothing could possibly be worse for a defense. Our last and equally as important signing would be a versatile player. This player must be good cover for Vermaelen, Competition for Diaby and more than adequate cover for Song. This player would be vital as it is these kinds of players that will win us the Championship. Imagine not having to worry about Song being injured? Imagine how worried we are going to be this season about Vermaelen and Song getting injured if we don’t have cover. My recommendations are Schwarzer and Vertonghen.

  6. On a slightly different note, I hope nobody is expecting the title to come as easy as last years could have! This time Manchester United will surely make a marquee signing, Chelsea will replace their outgoing players with younger superstars, Citys team looks like a title challenger this year (not that they will have the cohesion to actually win it), Tottenham will add to their squad and Hodgson is a very astute coach and i’m sure Liverpool will be a solid squad trying to get back into the top 4. In saying that, Arsenal will have another year of experience, I honestly don’t believe our injury situation will be that much better so we cant rely on that, I feel that cohesion could be better but there is a good chance it wont be. Gallas leaving and Almunia losing his starting place can only be good for team spirit but the Cesc situation has the ability to negate any benefits. I honestly believe that if we added Schwarzer and Vertonghen we will have every chance of winning the title next year. COME ON ARSENAL!

  7. another very good post. i like the the glass is half full attitude of this blog. i’ve always thought djourou has the potential to be the long term mainstay of the arsenal backline but i think his recent injuries have pushed him down the pecking order. i think he’ll be 3rd or 4th choice centre-half this season as 10m is a lot to spend on a reserve. i think the franco-pole will partner vermaelen for most of the season, barring injury.

  8. another insightful stuff, been looking for something like this ever since we got Kozzers.. there isn’t much around about him..

    So, as of now, Song is our 4th choice CB. frankly i’d be fine with that if we had a decent replacement for Song himself. getting some gametime as a CB could help him work on defensive aspect of his game (even more) – can’t say it wouldn’t benefit him in his usual position, in the long term.

    I don’t know if we can count on Diaby for that position, but he’s close.. only a bit injury prone, but he’s a physical presence, a bit like song, and i thought he’d improved in his tackling and tenacity. his positional sense might be suspect, i don’t if it’s done to lack of concentration at times or lack of desire, but he better work on it if he wants to retain his position (and i hope arsene gets that message through to others as well)..

    Denilson is definitely close, give for lack of muscle at times.. but that’ll come with time, he’ll have had another year under his belt.. i’m hoping he’ll do a flamini, make up for his small frame by determined aggression (look: vermaelen).. he’s still young though, so i don’t know if you can trust him to be at the right place at the right time, but he can do a job there and has some experience..

    If not we still have Eastmond lol.. he looks like a young Wrighty, but i hope he looks up to Song and follows in his footsteps.. he reminds me a bit of Vermaelen, he won’t take any nonsense, doesn’t like to give up goals.. got skill on the ball, while still defensively reliable – like Song… he got caught ball watching a couple of times at the end of last season, but that can be worked on i’m sure..

  9. Good article. It is interesting to note how Wenger refers to him as a centre half. Arsenal have always had technically good CBs who can step out and spot a good pass or even drive through the middle to score valuable goals(Vermaelen, Kolo Toure and Gallas).
    Center halfs are usually the defenders playing just in front of the defence in the role of a defensive midfielder right? Probably Arsene just referred to him as a centre half due to his ball playing ability.
    He seems to be an aggressive defender, stepping out to attack the ball at all times, which can be seen by the number of interceptions he has made last season. Quite similar to Vermaelen in that aspect.

    1. What is the point of CB’s if you do not have a good GK? Haha…Vermaalen, Koscielny, Djourou…will all get juked if we don’t get a good goalie.
      Schwarzer is not a good choice, we need long-term goalies, not short term. Wenger could have got David James on a free otherwise – as a player/coach just like Schwarzer. Plus, James had a better World Cup than Schwarzer did. We should get young and confident goalies or ones with bags of experience but isn’t ancient. I recommend Joe Hart because of his age and becuase of his exceptional performances last season. Igor Akinfeev is another option as he is willing to go to Arsenal to join with Arshavin and is very young. Or even Sebastien Frey because he is now no.2 at Fiorentina with Artur Boruc going there.
      Then we can think about CB’s. Vertonghen would be a good choice, he used to partner well with Vermaelen at Ajax and our good relations with the club could mean we get the player for a good price. I am not so keen on Jagielka, Cahill and Taylor, despite them home-grown players I don’t think they can compete at a continental level like many english players. Serdar Tasci would also be a good choice, he is german. Mertesacker would be good for the height but is a bit slow for my liking. Sakho, Hummels, Kjaer and Subotic would be good young buys. Mbia’s versatality in both defence and midfield may be a fairly decent choice. Hangeland is too emotionally attached to a lower league team and it is too late for him to come. A good young right back for the future would be Davide Santon, as Eboue isn’t the greatest cover up for Sagna as I feel he playes better in right mid.
      In the whole of midfield I think we are okay unless we are getting Ozil and selling injury-stricken has-been Rosicky. Song is fab is defensive-mid, Djourou is decent too and Denlison is better than what some people think he is and can provide good cover-up for the regulars. Diaby is highly-under rated and is one of Arsenal’s best players and performers. Him, Song and Fabregas work wonders together so we should do our best to keep hold of Fabregas. You cannot replace Fabregas, sorry. We will struggle to win it without our main man.
      The wings isn’t our strongest position depth-wise. Arshavin is fabulous and Nasri has some great days. Walcott can be caviar or cabbiage. Rosicky is good on most days but does seem a bit fishy. Gibbs and Eboue can both also play that role if needs be. If we were gonna get wingers, we shoulda commited ourselves to Joe Cole – because he would have been bound to go because he supported Arsenal as a kid. We missed our chance on that position. You may see v.Persie playing that role or maybe right forward supporting Chamakh, but that would be rare. They could alternate positions.
      Upfront I would have to say Loic Remy, he wants to go to Arsenal. He suits their game and is the ideal techincal player we would want to support v.Persie and Chamakh. Bendtner isn’t ripe yet and isn’t that consistent. Vela should be sent out on loan as I feel he isn’t good enough yet. Walcott isn’t a complete striker by any means at this time. And like Redknapp said, it a must to have quite a few strikers.

      1. Arsenal have enquired about Loic Remy but it looks like he will go to West Ham.

        Anyway, the point on goalkeepers is very simplistic. Yes, the current ones are a bit off being top four class at the moment, but Schwarzer and James are no better, if anything the latter is a step down.

        The Gunners need a commanding goalkeeper but in 2007/08 Arsenal only letted in three headed goals and Almunia was one of Arsenal’s best players just because the defence didn’t allow the quality of chances they are doing now. That’s what I’d rather Arsenal worked on again and if a goalkeeper came then that’d be a small bonus.

  10. I do like the look of Nordveit, he looks a proper defender and the fact that he can play right full back bodes well, as if he does get a chance when the flanks are emptied he will naturally be able to cover the right back slot as TV does when the force has gone on a storming run up field.

    I make Nordveit 3rd choice, JD20 is going thru the Gerrads, meaning his body isn’t ready for the strain its being put under, despite his strength. Gerrad got sorted and had a decent career, so JD20 will as well, as a result he is 4th choice, Harvard has just come back from a season in the Bundesliga, that’s no mug league and dare I say of higher quality than the French league.

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