One heavily bearded American poet once believed that "Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won." And who knows more about losing wars than the French? (Well, almost everyone, since France has won 109 wars, drawn 10 and lost 49, which makes them the most successful European power, if one can be successful in war that is). One Frenchman in particular who is on the verge of losing his own personal war is our own Laurent Koscielny, or Bosscielny if you're desperately starved of creativity. And, he's in danger of losing it, for the same reasons that he was able to succeed in the first place.
We all know the history of the French defender, but for those who have not yet caught wind of his meteoric rise to one of the EPL's best defenders, he started his career at En Avant de Guingamp --a team that also turned out Didier Drogba, the bane of Arsenal-- or EAG if you're kinky, he then moved to Tours, a Ligue 2 team where he came in contact with our future Dorian Grey, Olivier Giroud and I assume they talked wine, women and the proper acclimation period required for the EPL during the breezy, French nights.
He then moved to Lorient where he would foreshadow this article by cynically bringing down the great striker Marouane Chamakh and receiving a red card, thus starting his descent into the madness of the red mist. Then of course, he moved to Arsenal in the summer of 2010, on July, 7th and formed a partnership with our personal Jon Conner destroyer, Thomas Vermealan till of course, Thomas malfunctioned and was replaced by Per Mertesacker and thus our current partnership was born.
Now the history is a bit condensed and wikipedia'd, but what his story shows and a part that I left out is the "mental toughness" that it takes to achieve such progression, it's what dreams are made of. Since he's arrived in the EPL though, he's had a reputation for making rash tackles, as does many of our players actually: Jack Wilshere, Rosicky, the aforementioned Vermaelen and the forgotten legend Squillaci. These tackles come as shock to many because usually during the course of a game, Laurent is marshaling the forwards well, making space in his pocket for more names and such, before inexplicably, making a tackle that's so unnecessary and reckless that you wonder if it's the same player from a minute before.
Now, we must give him credit that since his arrival, he has improved immensely; no longer is he the skinny, hesitant defender that caused many fans to facepalm in frustration, he's now a confident, muscular CB that strides through the back line, covering for the slower Per and trying his hardest to make sure that our keeper (whoever it is on that given day) doesn't get the chance to embarrass himself. And that's excellent, his revival after a slow start last season saw Arsenal go on a miraculous unbeaten run to achieve Champions League football yet again. Which all makes his mind-boggling tackles more frustrating.
As a Milan fan, I have seen my share of great defenders; I have watched Paolo Maldini remind legends that they are indeed mortals, I've marveled Alessandro Nesta's impeccable hair and timing, and while I never watched him live, Baresi existed. All of this to say, that what I learned most from watching these players is that, you only make the slide tackles that you absolutely have to. It's the last refuge of a beaten defender and nowhere is this more evident than how it's emphasized and gushed over in England. The mark of a defender should be his intelligence, timing and awareness, not the desperation of lunging a leg out in hopes of the ball when he is beaten (unless you're Nesta and you're going against Lionel Messi).
Koscielny needs to learn this and he needs to learn it quickly before the damage to the team starts to outweigh the benefits. There's been many times where we oohed and aahed at his awesome last ditch tackles or his flying kung fu kick to dispossess the ball cleanly from the opponent, but the beating heart under the floor board has always been that, if he were to be half a second late on any of those, Arsenal will be playing with ten men. And it's already happened once this season. Though the ref in the Aston Villa game can claim legal blindness and incompetence, Kos was always living on the edge with that unnecessary tackle and suffered for it. And the team suffered, and a bad situation went to worse when we needed leadership from veteran players.
In the last game versus Sunderland, Kos spent the first half being excellent and making light work of the Black Cats forwards. It seemed as if they would have to sell their souls to witch doctors to conjure up a chance at beating him and the team was dominating proceedings. But then it happened again, Adam Johnson received the ball on the right side, and what is so inexplicable about this is the fact that Johnson was moving away from goal and on his weaker, right foot. On top of that, the keeper was positioned to stop any near post tomfoolery and Sagna was arriving behind Kos. It was almost impossible for that sequence to result in a goal, until it did, because Koscielny decided to use his physical over the mental, and slide tackle Johnson which gave Sunderland a penalty.
Luckily, we were able to win the game and continue the fine form since The Disaster against Villa, but the issue still remains. If he doesn't learn how to marshall the defenders and improve mentally, it's looking like our best defender will become a liability sooner than later. The best defenders only go to ground when going to ground is the only choice, not when the urge overtakes them. I'm not sure if it's distrust of his defensive partner, of the goalkeeper or of his own recovery speed, but the same spirit that helped propel Laurent into superstardom is quickly taking him over the cliffs of madness and it needs to be stopped soon, or all will be lost.