“We have Jenkinson, we have Koscielny – who has been educated as a right-back – we have Djourou who can play right-back,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
The above was the quote from Wenger back in October when Sagna broke his leg the first time on October 2nd last year. The French international’s misfortune began a whole serious of misfortune when it came to the fitness of our full backs. Some might argue and I would be among the number that had it not been to the loss of Sagna, Gibbs and Santos at the same time, our revival would have begun earlier and third places would have been secured considerably earlier than on the final day.
So as it transpired Wenger did indeed have to utilise all of the above players at right back between in the 3 month period and you can throw in Francis Coquelin and Nico Yennaris as well. So as we find ourselves again without our first choice right-back gain due to Sagna’s incredible back luck, we must assume that Wenger and know Banfield and Bould will be discussing the situation as I write. Why because we must assume Bacary will be out until earliest September and latest November and the squad will reconvene to travel to the Far East in only 2 months from now. Our first match in Malaysia I believe is schedules for the 25th of July.
“Les malchanceux Monsieur Sagna”
So let’s consider the options as we cannot afford a weak start to the campaign again and I do not see is investing in a new player for this position, despite occasional links appearing to Gregory van der Wiel:
Option 1 – Carl Jenkinson was bought last summer from Charlton in a surprise move which raised some criticism from fans as one might have expected – Shopping in the bargain basement again Monsieur Wenger? However his rampaging overlapping runs made him popular with some sections of the fans, but for me if we are intent on launching a credible challenge for the league ‘Jenko’ as a defender is not ready yet for the top echelons of the Premier League.
Option 2 – Johan Djourou. The young Swiss had has a mixed career at the Emirates and has shown himself to be very a very capable defender on many occasions. Indeed 2 seasons back it was only in the final few games we actually lost a match in which he had started. However he is also liable to making some awful decisions and his lack of pace can be horribly exposed when he is asked to play a full-back. I am personally quite surprised at his contract extension, both that we offered it and that he accepted it. He is an international defender who could play week in week out elsewhere and clearly only a cover defender for the Arsenal. Second option ruled out for this observer.
Option 3 – Francis Coquelin. After a season long loan in Ligue 1, followed by a superb European U21 Championship for France, 2011/12 was a big season for ‘Le Coq.’ Sadly after an impressive start injuries limited his impact, but not before we all saw a sign of big things to come. He has earned a proper contract and next season I feel he will need to be given more game time, but I personally hope that this will be in the centre of the midfield and not at right back. A fully fit Coquelin with a good pre-season will be pushing Song, Arteta and Wilshere for a starting berth. He has an exquisite touch, a full range of passing and I firmly believe that along with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere he has a huge future at Arsenal. However I would certainly rather see Coquelin at right back in August than either of the first 2 options.
Simply the best defender at Emirates!
Option 4 – Laurent Koscielny. Our most consistent defender over the season as a whole without any doubt and if we are to begin well next season we have to build from August with a solid base. It is for this reason that I would like to see Laurent begin at right back and Per Mertesacker restored to the centre alongside Thomas Vermaelen. Please before you object this is not a demotion in any way shape or form for ‘Kozza.’ Indeed it is the exact opposite as I believe he is a complete defender and the best reader of the game we have. I am surprised to say it but it was Vermaelen that was the weakest link on the run in and Koscielny held us together.
One observation I would make is that on many occasions without the big German we did look more susceptible to the long ball through the middle and we missed his height and reading of the game. Goals created by long balls through the middle against Wigan, Norwich and WBA are painfully fresh in the memory. We also have to accept that Vermaelen is the vice captain of our club and if fit will play.
I am a huge supporter of the French defender and delighted he has received recognition from Laurent Blanc for the great strides he has made in 2011/12. In the final analysis I just feel that Kozza is quite simply a better defender than Jenkinson, Djourou or Coquelin. I always recall the positivity of Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn shortly after Laurent’s darkest hour in the Carling Cup Final:
“Obviously I always look at the defence because I played defensively and the one player that I think will turn out to be a big, big player for this football club is [Laurent] Koscielny.
I love his mental strength. I remember a game early in the season when he had a clash of heads and he went down and I was thinking, ‘Oh, a foreign player, I would love to see what happens here’.
But he was straight back up and the next tackle, he went into a 50/50 and that for me shows great mental strength. He still makes one or two errors but I don’t like judging a player over six months or a year, I like to judge a player over a couple of seasons.”
Mental Strength to bounce back
I would not have presumed to question the judgement of one of our greatest defenders then and how right he has been proved to be. We have now had the couple of seasons Nigel referred to and his observations were not surprisingly right on the money and those doubting Laurent have been silenced.
So back to the initial quote at the outset from Wenger about Koscielny being a right back originally. Well this was indeed the case and his whole youth career and the first 3 years as a professional at Guingamp between 2004 and 2007 saw Laurent play over 40 games at right-back. It was only on moving to Tours in 2007 that he first moved into the centre.
So in the final analysis I would like to see us begin the EPL campaign in August with a strong and experienced back four and for me that means Laurent Koscielny being deployed at right back until such time as Sagna is fit enough to resume his role. He is our best and most consistent defender, reads the game with real intelligence and has the pace to cope with fast left-sided offensive players. In addition he is more than capable getting forwards and may just enjoy the freedom to do so.
Keen to hear any views on twitter or via the comments but I genuinely feel a back four at the outset of 2012/13 of Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Gibbs/Santos (one for another day) will give us a solid foundation to build from.
Until next time thanks for reading
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