Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s best and most reliable defender. Despite Per Mertesacker being the confirmed club captain, Koscielny is, without a doubt, the invaluable leader of the team. It is no coincidence that the Arsenal faithful all collectively heave whenever Koscielny stays on the ground for a prolonged period of time because they know without him being present in defence, marshalling the backline, disappointment is right around the corner.
In the last game of the 2016/17 season, Arsenal were victorious over Everton securing a 3-1 but this came with a cost. Koscielny received a red card in the 14th minute of the game meaning that he would be unavailable for the beginning of the new season. Needless to say Arsenal wouldn’t have wanted to start the new campaign without their best defender, and yet there they were, lined up against Leicester with Koscielny sidelined. What ensued was schoolboy defending of the highest calibre, 3 goals conceded all from crosses that could have easily been prevented. Now, there is no guarantee that the goals wouldn’t have happened if Koscielny was playing, but the likelihood of it happening is far less likely.
However, in May of 2017, Koscielny conducted an interview with Sky Sports in which he revealed news that rattled the Arsenal faithful. His achilles problems are well documented, but he revealed that he will have to take medication daily in order to perform to the standard required of him. A statement such as this throws the longevity of Koscielny’s career up in the air. A defender that is renowned for his pace and his explosiveness will surely begin to deteriorate as the years begin to take the toll on his body.
But what is certain is how invaluable Koscielny is to the Arsenal team. Back in the 2014’15 season, Arsenal boasted a gargantuan 73% win percentage with Koscielny on the field as opposed to a measly 39% without him on the field. Fast forward to the present and the defensive acquisitions purchased by the Gunners, the win percentage with Koscielny on the field and without him is still drastic. Prior to the humbling defeat to Liverpool, out of the 61 games Koscielny has played a full 90 minutes since 2014/15, Arsenal have a 62.3% win percentage as opposed to 46.6% when he doesn’t play the full 90 minutes or when he doesn’t play at all.
It is no coincidence that since Koscielny has been fully reinstated to the starting line up that Arsenal have produced 2 clean sheets in those 3 games, one noticeably coming against an in form Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge. The different in fluidity and cohesion is clear to see when Koscielny is absent from the team, he is able to command the defence and organise them accordingly. Without him, the defence plays as individual players rather than the collective unity needed for the team to function adequately.
There is no doubt that Koscielny is a fine defender, the heartbeat of the Arsenal team, but how long Arsenal get the best of him remains to be seen. Since openly admitting that playing games 3 days apart causes the achilles to inflame, his playing time will have to be seriously monitored in order for him to produce at his best. But Wenger must surely know that is long as his tenure continues, he must unearth a natural replacement for Koscielny with the corps of defenders that he has, or replace his with a younger player that has the capability of performing to the level that Koscielny has produced over the years.