Unai Emery had never worked with Laurent Koscielny.
He had no first-hand knowledge of his skipper prior to his summer arrival. Any assertion was based purely on hear-say or perhaps some Youtube video collection. Yet when recently asked about the Frenchman, he offered a comprehensive summary of his attributes. In his words “he gives us experience, quality, personality”.
Emery has enjoyed a dream start to life in North London. The Spaniard received a baptism of fire, set up with Manchester City and Chelsea in opening two fixtures. He had no answers, failing both tests. Not a grave loser, he took up the challenge never to slip again. The outcome has been mind-blogging.
Arsenal is on an improbable 22-game unbeaten streak. Along the way, they’ve brushed fierce rival Tottenham aside, while sharing spoils with Manchester United and Liverpool – both supposedly stronger sides. Emery’s high-octane style, where they have to work their way out from the back and dictate proceedings is working wonders.
The Gunners are more organised than they have been. His drills, discipline and disregard for names rather than expertise have enhanced competition. Not only is Arsenal attractive, but they are also scoring freely and of course winning matches. With 35 strikes, they are the second best Premier League attacking team after Manchester City. The likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs can only stare from beneath.
Despite this remarkable feat in the final third, the Gunners have exhibited frailties at the back in the vast majority of games this season. They’ve shipped in 26 goals – the most by any team in the top six. In contrast, City, Liverpool and the Blues have conceded six, nine and 13 respectively. With Koscielny back in the fray, that could change.
Arsenal has long missed their skipper. The 33-year-old ruptured his Achilles in a Europa League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in May and came through 70 minutes unscathed against the Azerbaijan Premier League champions.
Koscielny’s return is a defensive boost for Arsenal with Rob Holding out for the season due to a knee ligament problem and Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin) and Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring) both battling injury. The pair of Sokratis and Mustafi had never really bonded. He offers defensive solidity and leadership they have sorely missed.
With superb positioning and an adept ability to read the game in front of him, Koscielny is rarely forced into making rash tackles or hurried into challenges. To the contrary, perfectly timed interceptions and challenges have become his forte and on the rare occasion his is caught out, his pace and awareness allow him to recover, and provide defensive cover for his centre-back counterpart.
Welcome back Lolo, Gooners are glad.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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