Laurent Koscielny may not be the club captain, but amongst the Arsenal spine he is the real leader. His discipline and ability to win the ball back from almost any angle without committing a foul is swift, intelligent and purposeful.
While he was guilty of asking too much of his midfield and wide-men against Everton and Manchester City, for the most part Koscielny’s leadership in the Arsenal back four has been commanding and intelligent.
Alongside Shkodran Mustafi they have built a formidable back five with the resilient Petr Cech behind them, the ever present Nacho Monreal at left back and the pacey youngster Hector Bellerin at right back. However, relentless injuries has plagued the defensive record that Arsene Wenger has prided himself upon in recent years.
Koscielny and Mustafi work so well together because of their ability to read the game, their pace, and their natural desire to win the ball back high and get their team on the front foot. Both players are excellent passers of the ball, something that many defenders lack. That willingness to gamble, can be costly if it is not executed perfectly and the counterpart centre back is not aware of the game plan, but these two have connected incredibly fast.
Per Mertesacker’s days at the back were always numbered, while a fantastic reader of the game and a very understated defender, his lack of pace in one-on-one situations has proven to be very costly on a number of occasions, while Mustafi and Koscielny do have the pace to cover for any errors. Having the incredibly fast Hector Bellerin at right-back and the reliable Nacho Monreal at left-back also helps, although Kieran Gibbs has been making a claim to be in the starting eleven again in recent weeks.
In Mertesacker’s absence through injury, the vice-captain, Koscielny, has made the armband his own. While Mertesacker does seem to remember a crucial member of the squad, Koscielny leads by example in every challenge he makes. He has the ability to get a toe in while on the wrong side of his man without committing a foul. It’s a difficult technique to master, but it gets Arsenal on the front foot so often.
Koscielny’s rise has also been helped by the pivotal role of Francis Coquelin in front of him, who also has an exceptional ability to win the ball back and pick a forwards pass early. Granit Xhaka also seems to have finally found his feet, his performance against West Brom was one of true quality. He shifted the ball across the pitch so well and covered an exceptional amount of ground. Wenger has done well, for the most part, at keeping Xhaka more disciplined. He received a wrongful red card, and has received several bookings, but that fire is the reason that Wenger purchased the Swiss midfielder.
With Olivier Giroud hitting form once again, and the bright sparks of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and Alex Iwobi amongst others going forward, the Arsenal side still possess the strength to compete amongst the league’s best. Koscielny’s brute force is something that a flair filled side like Arsenal will rely on if they are to try and give chase to Chelsea and Liverpool who are in sparkling form.
It’s easy to forget that there are still over half of this season’s games remaining, tough visits to the Etihad and Goodison Park are done. As long as the Gunners keep their consistency and remain patient they are still in with a shout in an incredibly unpredictable league where anyone can beat anyone. Arsenal are one of the only English sides still in Europe, which, while impressive, could end up being a hindrance in what is sure to be a long five months.
Koscielny’s presence within the side is pivotal, and keeping him fit must remain a priority for Wenger.
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