I logged on to Arsenal.com this morning to news that Laurent Koscielny had earned his first call-up to the French national squad. This is certainly great news and while I’m a fan of the defender I didn’t really expect it to come so soon. It could be that Blanc wants to see some new players in action in a friendly before serious games resume. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that Koscielny is in the French manager’s thoughts and has done enough to earn a place in the squad.
Given our injury worries this could yet turn out to be bad news but I don’t want to dwell on it too much. It’s not that we can change any of that by worrying.
The French defender has been criticized for large parts of the season and only the recent spate of clean sheets has earned him some respite. I don’t really take the inane ramblings of the Misery Brigade seriously but even serious writers who are generally positive and like to focus on the details have questioned Koscielny. I’m sure many will say the jury is still out as he is adapting to a new league.
Broadly speaking, I agree Koscielny has made a number of mistakes, especially at the start of the season. There were times when he was not strong enough in a challenge, he also made the occasional rash tackle, was sent off a few times, and so on.
I have realized that often I agree with the observations of the critics but not their conclusions. So if a defender makes three mistakes in three games I would agree with the observations but not the opinion that the defender lacks quality. Similarly, a few good games don’t make someone is a great defender in my eyes.
The points I like to note are, what exactly does the defender do on the pitch, How often does he repeat his mistakes, How quickly does he add to his game, etc.
Based on what I’ve seen Koscielny does a lot more on the pitch than someone like Gallas, for instance. In that sense he is a big improvement. Gallas was not a bad defender but he didn’t attack the ball often enough and didn’t always close the striker down as well as Koscielny does. He certainly didn’t make as many tackles or interceptions as Koscielny. Gallas was physically stronger and offered something special in the box while attacking but I’ve a feeling Koscielny will improve on those fronts.
The other big positive I have felt is that Koscielny hasn’t repeated his mistakes very often something that Gallas and even Vermaelen have been guilty of. Part of the reason could be that Koscielny reads the game better than both and has superior tackling technique which probably gives him better positioning sense and more confidence in tackling.
Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into a eulogy for our new defender. He’s still learning and has a long way to go. If he carries on working hard and improving at the current rate he can turn into one of the world’s best defenders. But we all know it’s tough to reach the top and easy to fall down at any moment.
One point of this article is that development and adaptation are processes. They take time. Players must be given time when they are new or going through a lean patch of form.
Another point is that fans should not judge a player on his transfer fees or where he played his football. It comes across as an extremely naive way of thinking. At that level we have to implicitly trust that Wenger knows what he is doing and must have strong, objective reasons for signing a player who hasn’t played at the highest level for long. Le Boss doesn’t always get it right, no one can, but very few have the level of knowledge or understanding to question his decisions without the benefit of hindsight.
I have said this before and will say it again, this season Arsenal’s four central defenders are much better than the ones we had last year. Vermaelen is common to both years and is not part of the comparison but Koscielny, Djourou, and Squillaci are much better than Gallas, Campbell, and Silvestre.
After 24 games Chelsea, United, and Arsenal have conceded 21, 22, and 23 goals respectively! I’ve a feeling if the dubious goals conceded by each team are taken into account Arsenal might actually do better than the two rivals. That doesn’t conclusively prove that Arsenal’s defenders are just as good or better but it certainly disproves the theory that our defenders are much worse.
Public opinion is often influenced by writers in the media and the pundits who try to link every single event to title challenges. If a new defender makes a blooper in the first game of the season people start talking like, “Arsenal cannot win the title with such defending”. Not the exact words but you get the idea. It’s ridiculous but sadly, all pervasive. And it fuels the naive arguments based on the transfer fee and previous experience. I guess it’s something we just have to live with.
When I started writing this piece I didn’t realize this was how it was going to turn out. I was just happy for Koscielny and for everyone who works with him Arsenal. So for now I’ll just end with congratulations to a young man who has made a meteoric rise based on his talent and hard work. Long may it continue. Hopefully, he will come back with a pleasant experience, increased confidence, and no injuries!