Several crimes have been brought to the door of Arsene Wenger’s. Some crimes more egregious than others. You can accuse him of many things; failure to spend on an ailing squad or perhaps failure to alter tactics to opponents in big games. Yet there is one charge that never quite made it into court.
Wenger’s failure to find a suitable partner for Laurent Koscielny is the gravest sin he could ever bestow on Arsenal fans. It is and/or was negligible misconduct. The 31-year-old defender is now heading towards the tail end of his career, and one day in the near future when we all sit down to recollect, it will hit us that we grossly wasted Koscienly’s best years.
Last weekend’s game away at Manchester City confirmed Koscienly’s role of the martyr at the club. He was partnered alongside Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin, who would drop back into the defensive line on a situational basis. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, yesterday’s match could’ve been watched from two vantage points.
It was either cruel to watch Koscienly exhaust his efforts batting away City’s endless waves of assaults on the Arsenal goal, or derived a great sense of pride watching him perform herculean efforts to keep his side in the game.
For some, it varied throughout. At times you would stand to applaud him negate attacks with well-timed defending, but at other times you had to peep through the fingers that covered your eyes, as he evoked a sense of powerlessness against City’s mesmerising attacks.
Arsenal befell to a 3-1 loss at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s wide array of artillery attacking options. The loss meant that Arsenal have already conceded 16 goals in the Premier League, placing them in the bottom half of the table of goals conceded.
Koscielny arrived in 2009 at Arsenal for a fee of £8.45m from Lorient. Since his arrival, he has slowly moulded himself around the role of Batman, who endeavours desperately to clean up the city of Gotham. Though, Gotham is riddled with vices that make the job unbearable for only one man to solve. Koscielny has spent many years alone, cleaning the sullied streets of the Arsenal defence, devoid of a rightful partner.
Many have been placed alongside him to serve as his sidekick, yet have all failed, proving more harmful than helpful. For those spent years he valiantly upheld the sanctity of the Arsenal defence, but not without the scars that plague his body.
Per Mertesacker, a German international blessed with a World Cup medal, seemed primed for the role. His intelligence and positioning served valuable, yet his lack of speed often left Koscienly having to constantly atone for the German’s mishaps.
Enter Shkodran Mustafi, who arrived from Valencia for an excess of £35 million. He was supposed to be the centre-back that would solve all problems. He and Koscienly were supposed to be the perfect tandem that could successfully govern the Arsenal defence. But there was a major miscalculation. The German defender would often go rogue, maraud up the field or prematurely step up, leaving Koscielny alone again to put out the fires that his partner instigated.
Mustafi was supposed to be the answer, but it had an adverse effect. Then came last season, where Wenger sort for a change in formation to steel his often penetrable defence.
Towards the tail-end of last season in a game against Middlesbrough, Wenger chose to play a back-three defence, with two wing-backs offering the attacking nous. It was a tactical shift that stirred a cauldron of animated discussions, and still does to this day. Arsenal would finish that game-winning 2-1 and a defence consisting of a back-three would become the mainstay at the club; the medicine that would remedy Koscienly’s problems.
We arrive at this present day, assessing whether the tactical shift has served a positive outcome. All those years of constantly putting out fires have been taxing on Koscielny. His agility has lost a millisecond of a step, which is significant in the art of defending. His body is beginning to give up on him, as he suffers from reoccurring injuries.
Koscielny recently came out explaining that he will retire from international duty after World Cup 2018. Speaking ahead of France's friendly against Wales on Friday, Koscielny told L'Equipe: "There is an end to everything. After the World Cup, I would be almost 33-years-old, it will be time to leave the place" (via Sky Sports).
Was it really his age that force him to retire from the national team? Or was it the burdening workload that he has to constantly endure at Arsenal?
The Frenchmen is still putting out the fires, but not as efficient as before. He continues to be paired with defenders that do no compliment him, like pairing a Tom Ford blazer with a Nike tracksuit bottom. Likewise, Wenger continues to commit this mortal sin. The mistreatment of an unsung hero.