In the past, Arsenal have occasionally been blessed with very good centre backs.
Wenger inherited both Tony Adams and Martin Keown, he poached Sol Campbell from North London rivals Tottenham Hotspurs and converted a young midfielder Kolo Toure into an excellent central defender. However with each of those success stories came equally unsuccessful attempts.
Players like Senderos, Squillacci and Silvestre.
Whether this was a phase that Wenger was going through or whether he had some sort of ‘S’ fetish – who’s to say. Alongside these failures, fans have been treated to many a false dawn.
Thomas Vermaelen set the pulses racing in his first season as he made an impact at both ends of the football pitch. However, his second and third season shed a revealing light on the defender’s penchant for diving in and positional incompetence.
Similarly, Johan Djourou – a player many Arsenal fans quite liked – looked like he had a burgeoning career, as statistics revealed Arsenal to be at their best with the Swiss centre back on the pitch. However Djourou soon fell ill with Senderosinitis – and was quickly dispatched.
Possibly the most damaging signing Wenger ever made, William Gallas, also suffered from a similar debilitating disease that not only affected his own performances but those around him.
So when Koscielny arrived, it took Arsenal fans a long time to open up and trust the Frenchman.
Like a new relationship, one partner was less keen to jump into the sack than the other (I may be revealing too much about my personal life).
To do away with the crude ‘jumping into the sack’ analogy, Koscielny walked a different path from those before him, the French defender ‘took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.’
Unlike Vermaelen, Djourou and Gallas, Koscielny’s credentials were initially doubted.
Before Koscielny had even kicked a ball in anger, fans were dubious about his acquisition.
Acquired from newly promoted Lorient, fans doubted the French centre back could step up to the standard required of a Premier League defender. Although he had impressed in his first season for Lorient, the disparity in quality between the two leagues was well documented and the relative obscurity his name offered was reminiscent of Pascal Cygan.
His competitive debut did little to quell uncertainty. The defender played reasonably well but was the beneficiary of an early bath thanks to two bookable offences. The following six months did little to sway supporters either way – with occasional respectable performances intermingled with the odd error or sporadic blunder.
Even a season after his arrival, supporters were hesitant to nail their colours to the mast with a number of supporters believing Johann Djourou to be the reason for Arsenal’s upturn in defensive solidity.
There were grass shoots on numerous occasions that signified some sort of defensive resilience – only for Arsenal to smother them with weed killer. Own goals, a mix-up with Wojciech Szczęsny in the League Cup final and a disastrous performance against Manchester United that brought about Arsenal’s worst ever defeat, all culminated to cast aspersions over the Frenchman.
Yet time heals all wounds and like a Labour supporter at Glastonbury, the admiration for Koscielny has reached titanic proportions. The Frenchman has garnered the love and affection of Arsenal fans through consistently excellent performances – whether they’ve been alongside Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Chambers, Mustafi or Holding.
He is, as I’ve long believed, one of the most modern centre backs of his era.
A defender who plays on the front foot – who relies on anticipation and speed of thought as opposed to some heroic, spectacular block or last minute tackle. He is quick and strong without having to be reliant on either. He is predominantly a left sided defender. However, last year he found himself being utilised as a sweeper. He organises and communicates well and leads from the back.
He never really accrued world-wide acclaim as his transition was a slow one. Slow and steady.
Year on year, Whoscored.com recorded an improvement in his performances. Averaging 7.07 in his first season Koscielny consistently improved, with his best season coming in 2015/16 with 7.48. Last year there was a small dip in form but this can be accredited to foregoing preseason due to international commitments.
In the modern game, it is rare for a player to arrive at a club without an unequivocal appraisal of his talent from fans. But Koscielny was one of the few signings in the last decade were there was genuinely very little known about him.
It is not peculiar for Arsenal fans to not be completely enamoured with a £8.5million signing from Ligue 1. They’ve needed to keep an open mind and thankfully Koscielny has repaid them.
He is amongst the best defenders in the league – and Arsenal fans recognise that.
If Holding and Mustafi can tread the same path as Koscielny, then that seldom tread path may soon become a well-worn trail.