To single out just one defender for criticism amidst Arsenal’s disastrous start to the season might seem churlish, but I am staggered at how often Laurent Koscielny makes the same basic error and feel it needs highlighting.
Yes he does, considering he’s a defender that in the past I’d bet my money on Stan James and on Bet365 Australia for. Take a look at this series of incidents I’ve noticed.
The image above is taken from our Champions League game with Dortmund. The player on the ball is about to thread a pass between Mertesacker (M) and Koscielny (K) for Kagawa to run onto. Mertesacker is holding the defensive line, but Koscielny is a yard too deep, playing him onside. You can see him apply the brakes and try to step up but it’s too late, Kagawa bursts through and thankfully blazes over. Very poor defending.
A few days later we played Blackburn and Koscielny was guilty of the exact same simple mistake — not staying in line with his defensive partner and not being aware of who is around him.
This time it was Yakubu who was played onside and the Nigerian ran through to equalise, changing the course of a game we were dominating. I know Santos at left back is also playing Yakubu on, but that doesn’t excuse Koscielny’s error.
Then came the Sunderland game. Arsenal are coasting at 1-0 and Kieran Richardson is about to play a hopeful through ball. The back four are playing a tight line and have caught Sessegnon offside, but wait a minute… who’s lost concentration and been caught a yard too deep, desperately scrambling to where he should be so he doesn’t play the striker onside?
That’s right, our friend Koscielny. This was the build up to the incident when Szczesny came haring out of goal and was dribbled past by Sessegnon but luckily for Koscielny his cut back was intercepted by Song.
A few minutes later, Jenkinson is caught dallying on the ball and Larsson spies an opportunity to put Sessegnon through again…
Notice that Mertesacker is in the correct position, playing Sessegnon offside, but Koscielny is ball watching, casually ambling in the centre of the pitch unaware of any danger until it’s too late. Not only is he too deep and playing the Sunderland striker onside, but he’s not close enough to Mertesacker to cover him.
There is nobody else for Koscielny to mark as Sunderland only played one up front, so there’s no need for him to be so far away. Unfortunately Koscielny didn’t realise this because he doesn’t have a football brain. So Sessegnon scurried clear, crossed for Cattermole to head goalwards and Szczesny made that incredible point-blank save. One of his teammates bails Koscielny out again.
How is poor Mertesacker supposed to settle into English football when he has this buffoon alongside him? In all four examples I’ve shown the German has been in the correct position. To the layman watching in real time it looks like Mertesacker is too slow when in reality he’s read the situations perfectly and has positioned himself correctly, only to be let down by his inadequate partner.
I accept that Koscielny had some good games last season, most notably against Barcelona at home when he was outstanding, but he had some stinkers too. His consistency is just not good enough and if he’s still making such basic errors after a year at the club something is very wrong. He’s not a young rookie like Jenkinson — he’s 26 and has played over 50 times for Arsenal now.
This not only raises serious questions about his concentration levels and awareness, but also of the manager who picks him. How can Wenger think this is acceptable? And if he doesn’t, why does he continue to play him?
The answer is that once Wenger has signed someone he considers promising, he will play him regardless of how many mistakes he makes in the hope the potential will eventually be fulfilled. It works sometimes. Look at Alex Song — he was justifiably criticised for some terrible performances early in his career but Wenger stuck by him, sent him out on loan and finally developed the Cameroonian into a top drawer midfielder.
The trouble is, a lot of Wenger’s young signings never fulfill their potential. For every Song there is a Denilson (153 Arsenal appearances), Eboue (132 appearances), Bendtner (98 appearances) and Phillipe Senderos (64 appearances) who all got too much playing time when most fans could see they were never going to reach the standard required of a top European club like Arsenal. This means mistakes are made like the ones I’ve highlighted above and points are lost.
In conclusion I fear Koscielny is just not up to it and worry that Wenger will stubbornly persist with him as he did with the likes of Denilson and Senderos. We should have signed Cahill in the summer as well as Mertesacker and can only hope Wenger now realises his mistake and goes back to Bolton with a proper offer in January.
I’m not holding my breath though. I think we can look forward to more errors from Koscielny when Mertesacker or Vermaelen are injured as Wenger desperately tries to prove himself right by stubbornly persisting with yet another player not good enough to wear the shirt.
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