If there is one player that Arsenal have really missed this season, it is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been sidelined for quite a while due to acute tendonitis, and in his absence our defence has looked more vulnerable than it has been in years. Admittedly, this season we have suffered an unbelievable number of injuries to key players, but what makes the injury to Koscielny stand out is that while we had some degree of cover for other positions, for him we had none.
When Ozil got injured, Cazorla was available to fill the gap, and the Spaniard has turned in some highly impressive performances. Giroud’s absence was negated to a certain extent by Sanchez’s goalscoring exploits; Ramsey upped his game when Wilshere got injured and Flamini stepped in when Arteta was sidelined. But when Koscielny was made unavailable, we had no viable options and had to turn to Nacho Monreal to fill in at centre back.
And full credit to Monreal, he did a great job considering how much pressure he was under but it was just not the same; our defence kept getting penetrated by opposition players with ease and we were unable to keep a clean sheet for an extremely long period of time. Not only that, but our efficiency at set pieces also dropped drastically; without Koscielny and Giroud we had only Mertesacker as a physical presence and he alone was not enough.
And when Koscielny returned he immediately made an impact; at the start of December we kept three consecutive clean sheets. But with the resurgence of his tendonitis he was again benched and we collapsed to the infamous 3-2 loss at the Britannia. It might be unfair to our other defenders to say that Koscielny is so important, but the fact remains that whenever he has played lately, we have been a much more tidy outfit at the back and have also moved the ball around more effectively.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny seems to think so, and he went on record to say that ‘Koscielny was as good as you can get‘:
He [Koscielny] is as good as you are going to get in England. I think, when he is fit and plays with Per, they make a great couple of centre backs, so having them together is great for us. Hopefully he can continue to play and be clear of injury.
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Obviously it is much easier when you have got all of the players back, because we understand each other. Although they [West Ham] put us under lots of pressure, the centre backs headed so many balls and made so many blocks.
I am very happy for them because they do get some criticism sometimes.
And Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also praised the partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny during today’s press conference:
His individual quality is huge, he is a top-class defender. On top of that he has a lot of experience together with Per Mertesacker and you could feel that in the game against West Ham.
They understand each other well, they understand each other’s movements and they cover each other very well.
You judge a defence more as a back four. We want to show that we have big targets in front of us now and that our back four can deal with the problems we have.
In some games we were a bit exposed because we had a lack of experience.
It sure is good to have Koscielny back in the side and to be able to field a proper full strength defence. Now all Wenger needs to do is bring in a couple of reinforcements over the January transfer window and I can see us qualifying for the Champions League with ease. Not to mention that we are in the last 16 of this year’s tournament and we also have to start our defence of the FA Cup this weekend. It’s going to be an exciting year!