Returning Players Make The Difference For Gunners

The season is truly spicing up at the business end of the season for Gunners. The midweek defeat for Everton by Crystal Palace sent the pendulum swinging firmly into North London hands. The events of yesterday did little to divide the two clubs. Arsenal made short work of their trip to Hull while Everton also made easy work of a supposed banana skin in the form of a woeful Manchester United team.

With top 4 confirmation in Arsenal’s hands all they need to do is focus firmly on their games, winnable on paper but in hindsight stress inducing affairs. From now until the end of the season the psychological effect of every decision in games will be massive. With every goal conceded the doubt has potential to set in and affect the players’ performances. Not every goal will be a consolation after going four goals up, it could be an equaliser or the opener in a game and it’s from such situations that prove a team’s mettle.

Many suggest Arsenal has experience of chasing top 4 in the latter stages of the season and know what it takes to see it through whereas this is new territory for Everton and the cracks showed in midweek. Valid point to a certain extent however Arsenal have usually been the chaser, catching up to and then eventually overtaking a spluttering Spurs team with the kind of momentum being exhibited by Liverpool. This season (well recently) however the spluttering, sporadic form has been exhibited by the Gunners themselves meaning they can be also be seen as travelling in unfamiliar territory.

One of the main factors (fixture list aside) that could help the Gunners see it through to the end is the timely return of some of the more creative, game deciding players to the squad. It’s not hard to deduce that many of the poor recent performances have been at the times when the team has been stripped to the bare bones. The performance yesterday versus Hull containing Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil showed a marked improvement in the Gunners. Although far from perfect it was more reminiscent of the kind of performance the Arsenal put in pre February when things were going so well.

ramsey celebrates

The verve and swagger had returned and despite having the pressure of the top 4 race hovering to upset the apple cart the Gunners were focused and determined on the Job at hand. It does make you look back with slight regret at what could have been if the injuries suffered did not occur but equally there were opportunities to address the more long term setbacks in the January transfer window.

The return of Laurent Koscielny also resulted in a long overdue clean sheet for the team, goal difference could be vital and so it was important to shut up shop. I’m not sure why but we never seem to keep a clean sheet when Thomas Vermaelen plays in the team, the goals we concede are not necessarily his fault but it was turning into some sort of hex. I think Tom next time one of those gypsy women in the street offers you one of those little flower things you better take one and give her 20 pence because you have certainly upset someone out there.

Next on the agenda is Newcastle next Monday, although a team in wretched form Arsenal learned the other week when they played a Swansea team in a supposedly similar run of form that when the pressure is on these teams can smell blood and often take advantage of it. Additionally Everton will have played their game on the Saturday so if they take three points from their game it will make things extra nervy.

Anyway, let me move away from the pessimistic doom and gloom, Arsenal won yesterday with a performance much like we know they can put in. With Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil back to boost the squad there is no reason why they cannot finish the job. The toothless performances will be a thing of the past.

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Laurent Koscielny: Providing stability in times of unrest

Robin van Persie. Yes, he’s virtually gone, but we shouldn’t let that dampen the optimism that surrounded the club pre-RVP statement. We all know that it’s a blow – any team who loses their captain, top scorer and best player can agree with that – but it’s definitely not the end of the world. Although, reports have transpired this morning, emanating from the ever reputable L’Équipe, that Laurent Koscielny wants to sign a new deal, a stark contract from our ‘captain’ and talisman.

In many Arsenal fans’ opinions, Laurent Koscielny was our best defender last season – I agree with that.

Ever since his arrival, in the Summer of 2010, from FC Lorient, opinion has differed on the pacey centre-half. The 2010/’11 season, his first in English football, wasn’t a resounding success. His calamitous blunder in the Carling Cup Final affirmed what Arsenal fans had believed to be the truth – he’s a ‘terrible centre-back’. Looking back on it, most of those Arsenal fans were justified. As previously mentioned, his Carling Cup Final mishap was nigh-on unforgivable. His ‘air kick’ ultimately denied our chance to put the ‘7 trophyless seasons curse’ firmly to bed. Not the best of starts for the French centre-back.

Although, Koscielny’s revival to form was meteoric. After his Carling Cup cock-up, he reappearaed in the Arsenal first-team as a new player, a rejuvenated man. His dominant, clean tackling became an iconic image during the latter half of Arsenal’s season. Koscielny’s reading of the game was something which any world-class centre-back could take pride upon – often breaking up opposition attacks before setting off on one of his own. This, once again, posed a problem as it would influence the fans’ perception of Koscielny, a perception which took a negative turn on 27th of February, 2011.

Laurent has forged a formidable partnership with Thomas Vermaelen.

Intelligent, pacey, strong and positive are all adjectives which Koscielny has inherited. His game revolves around his intelligent, future-thinking mind set, and this is his main asset. This is what, in my opinion, has endeared himself even further to Arsène Wenger and the Arsenal faithful. It’s an asset which most Arsenal player needs – a trail of thought which is capable to handle the quick-tempo, free flowing Arsenal philosophy.

This season has been his best in an Arsenal shirt, and offers much optimism for the future. He was most certainly Arsenal’s best defender last season and, in the process, repaying the faith in him from manager Arsène Wenger. The arrival of Per Mertesacker was a welcome incentive to up his game too. International honours came calling too – a destination which many thought was a long, long way away after his debut season at Arsenal. He travelled with the French squad to Ukraine for the European Championships after making his French debut against USA.

The arrival of Olivier Giroud to the Emirates was influenced by Laurent Koscielny himself, who’s a close friend to the former Montpellier man.

One thing that is needed when a member of Arsenal’s squad, something which Arsène Wenger looks for in any possible target, is the said player’s demeanor and ability on the ball. Composure, assurance and confidence are all musts for any Arsenal player, wherever they play on the field, and Laurent Koscielny has the aforementioned qualities in abundance.

It transpired this morning from French newspaper L’Équipe, on the 9th of July, that Laurent Koscielny was seeking a new contract at Arsenal, with the club keen to grant him one. No-one can say that he hasn’t deserved it. It’s reported that Laurent Koscielny was on the shopping list for Italian side Internazionale, therefore tying him down to a new contract is even more essential;

The London club would like to do re-sign [Laurent Koscielny] for three more years, until 2017.

Extracted from Monday’s L’Équipe

I, like many other Arsenal fans, are delighted with this positive news. With much negativity and disappointment surrounding Arsène Wenger’s side, not to mention the widespread unjust criticism of Arsenal’s hierarchy, it’s a welcome boost to the club. Much like he does on the pitch, Laurent Koscielny has now provided stability in a time of unrest.

As important as it is to challenge here and now, it’ still important that we have a stable foundation to build upon for the future – tethering down Koscielny to a long-term deal will go a long way towards setting that solid base. The long-term future of the centre-back position seems stable. The trio of Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou all have contracts which expire in the Summer of 2015, while Ignasi Miquel, the young Catalan cornerstone, and Kyle Bartley also look to have a bright future ahead of them, in particular the former of the two.
In a week of uncertainty and confusion, the news of Laurent Koscielny, as mentioned above, is a welcome boost to the spirits of the squad. Commitment and loyalty has all but disappeared from the modern game, but there are a few determined souls who’ll fight and truly love a club – Laurent Koscielny seems to be one of those. Mérci, Laurent! 
I hope you all enjoyed my guest piece! Follow me on Twitter: @LlewAFC