Staying when many had departed for greener pastures.
Captain and one of the big reasons behind one of our best recent memories – the 2014 FA Cup.
Laurent Koscielny should have been written in indelible marker in the long halls of Arsenal football club’s history.
But his acrimonious departure should be an example to all footballers about the importance of signing off in the right way – and maintaining class when the bond between player and club does break.
Laurent Koscielny was not on the radar when Arsene Wenger signed him for the Arsenal in 2010. The French defender had started his pro career with Guingamp, but being played out of position led to a move to unfancied Tours. A stellar season there in his preferred position at centre-back led to promotion to Ligue Un, where Koscielny continued to underline his promise.
It led to a move to Lorient, where Arsene Wenger snapped him up. For just over £8m, the fee wasn’t cheap but neither was it a princely sum. It was an educated gamble – but the dice didn’t fall on our numbers for quite some time. Koscielny took some time to settle.
We could see the reason why Wenger wanted Laurent. The defender was deceptively quick and despite his wiry frame, he could hold his own against the more physical strikers. There were weaknesses aerially at first, but his real downfall was his reactionary tackling – it was rash and often led to dismissal.
But seasons followed and Wenger’s patience was the soil in which Koscielny blossomed. We began to see a more refined Koscielny, one who was still putting himself into last-ditch tackles, but more often than not, he won the ball.
And a partnership with a certain lanky German really cemented Koscielny’s place and stature within this Arsenal team.
The duo of Mertesacker and Koscielny was fruitful. It is still the most successful centre-back pairing in the last ten years. The strengths of one bettered the other. Mertesacker’s positioning helped Koscielny, whereas the Frenchman’s recovery pace gave the BFG more license to step forward and dictate, as well as retrieve.
Koscielny was a huge reason why Arsenal managed to keep our grip on our presence in the Champions League for so long. Last minute goals and lung-bursting battles, Koscielny stood up for us when it looked like we would fold. And let’s not forget our long trophy hiatus of nine years was ended with a defence led by Laurent. His goal was the crucial equaliser that forced extra time, where Aaron Ramsey would go on to score his iconic winner.
Arsenal wanted one more season from the defender. Koscielny wanted a return to his homeland to see out the final years of his career. After nine years of putting his body on the line, Koscielny felt he had earned it. And so, when the club flew off to the US for a pre-season tour, Koscielny refused to attend in protest.
Koscielny got his move – but he had tarnished his legacy.
Nine years of committed displays. Nine years of leaving everything on the pitch should have meant a lasting impact on the club. Nine years of seeing a lightweight Arsenal come close to, but not quite reaching contention.
Lifting three FA Cups – despite missing the 2017 FA Cup Final through injury – all of this deserves a hero behind the numbers. And we had one when he had played for us.
But with the way he demanded to move and showed zero respect to the club that had given him the platform to earn 51 French caps? It leaves his reputation at Arsenal with a huge blemish.
Perhaps we can see, after such dedicated service, that Koscielny did warrant his move. Or we can understand his frustrations. Posing in a Bordeaux shirt before actually leaving the Arsenal is another instance that won’t leave a nice taste in Gunners’ mouths – but does it wipe clean everything Koscielny did for us?
I’ll leave that up to you.
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