By Joshua Smith Pim
Last season Laurent Koscielny was one of Arsenal’s standout players.
He elevated his game to such heights that he was without a doubt one of the most improved players in the EPL if not one of the top defenders. Koscielny was so impressive that the French national team called on his services for Euro 2012.
Unfortunately, Koscielny picked up a calf injury during the August pre-season match against Cologne and was not available for the first two games of the season. In his absence, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen have formed a formidable partnership.
If the team continues to produce consistent results (Arsenal currently has the best defensive record and the largest goal difference) it’s difficult to see how Koscielny will be able to garner any playing time in the league matches.
It’s a shame but a consequence I feared when they gave the captain’s armband to Vermaelen. I have always been a fan of Mertesacker and his style of defending and always knew that, once he settled in, he would provide balance to whomever he partnered. Vermaelen and Koscielny posses similar playing styles with their pace and desire to push forward – knowing someone like Per is behind them to provide support allows them to operate with more freedom. Dropping your captain to the bench is unheard of so where does that leave Laurent?
Wojciech Szczesny is dangerously close to finding himself seated beside the Frenchman on the bench. A similar string of minor injuries has seen Vito Mannone put in some very impressive shifts in goal. He has yet to let in a goal from open play. It was questionable whether Szczesny should have played against Southampton at all after Mannone had filled the gap so admirably and more questions arose after Szczesny’s error ended our perfect defensive record. Mannone has come back from his spell on loan with Hull City brimming with confidence and, now that he has gotten a taste of true first team action, he looks hungry and ready to make a bid for first choice goalkeeper.
Another player whose playing time is in doubt is Andre Santos. Andre quickly became a cult hero of mine. He has fantastic control with the ball and his bombing runs forward always make me feel like something is about to happen. Not to mention he’s a much better defender than people give him credit (and at 130mph he has easily overtaken Theo Walcott as the fastest man on the team).
All kidding aside, I’m hoping for leniency in his case. However, even if the hands of justice are gentle, he has another hurdle which could prove just as difficult. Kieran Gibbs has firmly established himself as our first choice left-back. His defensive positioning has greatly improved and the interplay he has had this season with Podolski along with his searing crosses is looking to be a deadly threat to the opposition.
Then we have the rest of the bench warmers. Barring another injury crisis, it looks like Johan Djourou can only look forward to domestic cup action. I’m not sure if Sebastien Squillaci is even in London. And poor Ignasi Miquel, of whom I’m a big fan, would have liked to have had more involvement with the first team but it looks like he’s going to have to go out on loan if he’s to see any top-flight action.
I’ve saved my most controversial opinion for last. I’ve tired of dissenting voices from our squad and I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Le Boss feels the same. Bacary Sagna ruffled Wenger’s feathers last week when he made comments regarding his frustration with Arsenal selling their top players. I have no problem with his being frustrated but if an employee has an issue they should take it up with management and not the media. He has yet to play a minute of football this season due to the broken fibula he suffered back in May. I believe he may be surprised when he returns to full fitness that his starting will not be automatic.
Carl Jenkinson has come from obscurity last year to performing admirably this season at right-back. He looks taller, fitter and very comfortable with the ball at his feet. This is another case of the manager not wanting to make a change if things are working and, right now, things are working. It’s my belief that Sagna may be rounding out last year’s roster of starting defenders who are now watching from the stands.
So have Arsenal improved their defensive play this year? If they continue to play as they have, I think you won’t have to look any further than our bench for the answer.