Thursday, 20 October 2011

Koscielny’s steady improvement finally gets some recognition in an unremarkable victory

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Laurent Koscielny's performance against Marseille.

Another relatively disappointing Arsenal display, but fortunately this time the Gunners were on the right end of a last minute goal when Aaron Ramsey found the back of the net in the 92nd minute.

Arsenal were poor but, ultimately, their opposition were worse. Despite threatening the Arsenal goal on a couple of occasions in the first half, the French side’s attackers were largely kept quiet by a well-organised defence (raise your hand if you never thought you would see me say that). Even without vice-captain and star defender Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal’s defence were rarely seriously troubled with Koscielny – not for the first time this season – excelling alongside the steadily improving Per Mertesacker.

Since joining Arsenal from French side Lorient in the summer of 2010, Laurent Koscielny has had to hear it all. Inconsistent displays in his first season led to much criticism from the stands, but the Frenchman has kept quiet in public and worked hard on – and clearly off – the pitch to prove his doubters wrong.

What many critics last season didn’t take into account was that Koscielny has had to play with five different central-defensive partners since his arrival in North London, including Sebastien Squillaci, for whom I can make no excuses for a lack of form, and ability. A constantly changing defence can’t be easy for anyone – let alone a player with just one year of top flight experience trying to gel into a new team in the so-called “best league in the world”.

Against Marseille, Koscielny had yet another new partner – Per Mertesacker, who has so far struggled against the pace of the Premier League. Koscielny also found himself playing in a back four consisting of two other new signings, including rampaging Brazilian full-back Andre Santos and the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson. But together with Wojciech Szczesny, the young French defender asserted his control over the game – taking no prisoners with one tackle, seven (!) interceptions and five clearances*.

Koscielny seemed to bring the best out of others, too – the three highest rated players according to whoscored (aside from the goalscorer, Aaron Ramsey) were all defensive players; Alex Song (7.4), Andre Santos (7.3) and Wolciech Szczesny (7.0). Mertesacker, too, looked more in control than he has done previously, while Jenkinson had the confidence to bomb forward at will, attempting nine crosses*.

Koscielny’s high interception tally, compared to Mertesacker’s relatively high tackle-rate epitomises his style. Not known for being particularly dominant in the air or strong in the tackle, he has adapted his game and constantly improved his positioning; again evident against Marseille – against whom he won three offsides. In what was clearly a busy summer, he also seems to have worked on his discipline; picking up just two bookings in twelve appearances so far this season and averaging only 0.7 fouls per game in the Premier League* (none against Marseille).

Koscielny’s performances so far this season (7.17 overall rating from whoscored, including averaging a 7.5 rating in his last three games) have shown that he has the ability, and perhaps more importantly, the mental strength to succeed at this level.

And talking of mental strength, Arsenal fans almost had a horrible flashback to the Carling Cup final at the Stade Velodrome as a hopeful long ball forward threatened to confuse Koscielny and Szczesny again. The fact that they got away with it, and that the former clearly got a call to leave it from his ‘keeper is a sign in itself of how far both of these players have come since making their debuts for the club.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGooner.
Culann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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