We continue our relentless march through our Arsenal player reviews today by looking at the season of one Laurent Koscielny. You should know before you continue that the way our process works is that we email each other our finished paragraphs, and don't use each other's to write our own. We always try to bring our own opinions to these things and try not to be overly influenced by each other.
The reason you should know that will become clear as you read our Kos reviews. To the evaluizer!
Laurent Koscielny, once again, scored the goal that put Arsenal into the Champions League and ahead of Spurs, as he did last year. The journey, though, was far different. Koscielny can bear some responsibility for Arsenal's poor situation in the middle of the season--he got stupidly sent off against Manchester City for making a challenge that wouldn't look out of place with Tony Pulis' rugby side, and he was also really, really bad against Chelsea earlier in the season. To be fair to Koscielny, though, it's hard to put together a run of form when you're in and out of the side because of injury, and Koscielny did suffer his fair share of injuries in the first half of the season.
The second half of the season was far different; Koscielny looked back to himself, showing the qualities--pace, determination, aerial ability and tackling--that makes him one of the Premier League's better centre backs. Unlike Thomas Vermaelen, who also shares some of those characteristics, Koscielny is better at positioning himself, and thus is very good at making interceptions, as well as nicking in to win the ball. The partnership he formed with Per Mertesacker at the end of the year was one of Arsenal's best defensive alignments in years, and while some of that is down to the deep style of defending that Arsenal displayed on occasion, the two also showed they can play a higher line. Plus, there's this.
At the start of the season, I couldn't help but think "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU KOS YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE AMAZING AND THIS IS WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF AMAZING IS". He was benched against Chelsea, and was sort of inconsistent for a while after as he had a few little injuries; when he came back into the side regularly, he fumbled around a bit before he found his form. The low point for him in his early struggles this year came in the form of his open-field, touchdown saving, red-card earning tackle on Edin Dzeko in the Manchester City game at the Emirates.
But after the enforced vacation caused by that incident, Kos was bos. Boss. Whatever. He returned to form and was his usual rock-solid, dominating self for the rest of the season, and for the second consecutive year he scored the goal that assured Champions League qualification for Arsenal. I loved the fact that Arsenal signed Kos, and I love the fact that he's back there cleaning up messes on a regular basis. Kos is like a Timex wristwatch with a built in cuckoo clock - ultra dependable, not generally all that flashy, but every once in a while POW! LOOK AT THIS REALLY COOL THING I CAN DO! I am, to understate things a bit, a huge fan.
GRADE: B, because we decided not to give +/- grades this year, but I fully expect an A performance next season.
Laurent Koscielny is a hard player to assess, mostly because he performed so well at the end of the season that it's easy to forget that, at times early this year, he wasn't very good at all. I still want to slap him over his Polamalu-esque tackle that got him sent off against Manchester City at home, as it was one of the more needlessly dumb things I've ever seen a good player do. He was hurt and inconsistent. He got benched. It wasn't great.
Then Thomas Vermaelen went a bit south, and Koscielny returned - and after a bit, he was back to being himself. I already talked a bit about why I like him so much in the MOTM post for the last game of the season:
But in this game - and in the several leading up to it, as Arsenal's unbeaten run to 4th place continued - Koscielny's defending was a big part of keeping the clean sheet. The whole team has re-committed itself to defense during this run, but the pairing of Kos and Per Mertesacker in particular offered solidity. His leaping clearances the past two weeks in particular have drawn the eye, but I've been more impressed by the way he's worked with the rest of the team to build a cohesive unit.
I've long thought that Koscielny hasn't gotten quite the credit deserves for his defending and overall play for Arsenal. At least for this one game, that wasn't the case.
He's quick and reads the game well, and intercepts passes before I even know he's there. When he's on his game, he's one of the better defenders in the league, and he's better with Mertesacker than he has been with Vermaelen. With his Champions League qualifying goal and good play in the last few months of the season, the early troubles are easier to forget. I'm okay with that.
For some reason, the enduring image I have in my mind about Laurent Koscielny this year is the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates. Beaten on the first goal by Fernando Torres holding Kos off and wrapping his leg around the Frenchman to knock home a free kick, and deflecting in the second Juan Mata free kick effort later on, Kos came in for a good deal of abuse. Most EPL watchers wrote him off as a bit of a clown, a risky proposition at the back due to his propensity to lose his mind, and his perfect NFL tackle of Edin Dzeko against City later on in the year basically cemented his place in most pundits' minds as a liability with no future. Then, though, he quietly got to work behind the scenes, and when the equally mental Thomas Vermaelen lost his place in the side, Koscielny came on strong.
Aggressive like Vermaelen without losing his position entirely, much much quicker than most people realize (the second fastest on the team over 40 yards, in fact), an excellent tackler on the ground, Koscielny even started to do well in the air in the latter part of the season. He just seemed to win every duel that he needed to from March onwards, and he capped his season with a storming performance against Newcastle on the last day. I sort of like to think that if he can solidify his positioning and keep from making mental errors (which one can never legislate for, but surely one can improve there, too), then he can truly become one of the league's top defenders. I hope I'm right, because I love him.
While trying not to repeat what others before me said, Laurent Koscielny showed in the second half of the season why, when healthy, he's considered one of the best CB's in the EPL. We, as fans and mere observers, tend to discount how severe an injury a player suffers from because we're not inside the walls of the club and therefore cannot possess a deep understanding of how said injury affects their play on the pitch. "If they're playing, then they must be fit enough to play at their maximum potential, right?"
Well, not in all cases, and certainly not in Koscielny's situation. Baring his headed goal at Manchester City early on, he had a pretty poor run. Then he was in and out of the lineup before Vermaelen Vermaelen'ed enough matches that Wenger decided enough was enough, inserted Koscielny back in and spent the remaining part of the year as a living, walking Arsenal chastity belt. He won nearly every aerial dual, marked like a blanket and generally ran the back like a boss. He'd get an easy A if it weren't for his play while recovering from injury, and even then it's hard to not give him such a mark considering he's, in my opinion, the second half most valuable player.