There has been much debate about how Koscielny has lost his way. Much concern as to how he is coping with the schedule with his troublesome achilles requiring pain killing injections before every game. Some say old age. Some say fatigue. Some say both. The point is that our best central defender, one that is known and regarded as one of the best in the league, is under severe pressure and scrutiny due to his recent lapses. The fact that he’s been such a great servant to the club and been the rock around we’ve built upon (with biscuits may I add, nice crumbly biscuits) has given him a bit of leeway as to the social media backlash that most of our players suffer off the back of one bad performance, but that leeway is fast running out as we continue to be exposed in both the bigger and smaller games within the Premier League. What is the real issue then? Is it a case of looking for a replacement? I’m not so sure.
Since the departure of Matthieu Flamini (the first time) we’ve not had a true DM to patrol the areas that sit in front of the back 4/5. It’s been a case of a front loaded first XI and the thought process being to outgun our opponents and then playing keep ball. Something that our team has always been capable of doing up until a couple of years ago at least. The loss of our creative hub midfield setup has been felt in recent years. The midfield 4 of Flamini, Hleb, Fabregas and Rosicky had no true wide men, rather 3 interchanging ball players with one DM supplying them with the ammunition to carry out their task. Thereafter we added the likes of Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis (although he plays a little higher of course). I’ve not included Ramsey in that selection simply because he is less a technical ball player and more a box to box man. Of that selection there are 2 men left standing that fit the technical ball playing role in Ozil and Wilshere. It’s the reason that we find Alexis having to drop back to pick up the creative slack so to speak when we’re in search of some inspiration. What does this have to do with Laurent Koscielny I hear you ask? It’s a fair question. The fact is our midfield has become functional (at best) rather than technical as it used to be. With our best midfield set up we have Xhaka alongside Ramsey with Ozil, Alexis and Lacazette ahead of it flanked by the wing backs with the back 3 system. With a back 4 it still comprises of Xhaka alongside Ramsey with Ozil in front flanked by Alexis and one of Welbeck/Walcott/Iwobi, with Lacazette up top. There is an argument here that Ramsey could be deployed in his wide right position with Wilshere dropping in behind (which I would love us to try in fairness) but whatever the shape and whatever team selection the technical side is lowered due to the base of the midfield. Xhaka sadly doesn’t fit either the ball player or traditional DM role (similar to Matic at Man Utd) and distribution is the basis of his game. Much like Arteta was tasked with. This lack of technical ability at the base of our midfield has further exposed our back 4/5 as we’re not quite as good at getting ourselves out of sticky situations or playing our way out of the back as we used to be. So many of the goals we’ve conceded over the last few seasons have been when we’re hit on the counter as there’s been a turnover in possession. This has been far more noticeable since the loss of Cazorla as our ball retention has decreased. Yes there are defensive errors that occur (across the whole of the back 4/5) but this is amplified due to the lack of protection in front of them.
Chelsea have Kante, City have Fernandinho, Utd have Fellaini/Herrera, Sp*rs have Wanyama, Liverpool have Can and will add Keita (who is a bit more box to box in fairness) but the point is that all of these clubs have a solution for this area. And quite good ones too. Man Utd are the only ones that I would say could improve in this area slightly alongside ourselves who don’t really have a solution to this problem other than the brief combination of CoqZorla that we say in 2015. This stems from the fact that we have to retrofit our style based on the players that we have, rather than slotting players into a definitive playing style that we have. We’ve lacked this identity for a while now and sadly this only rests with one man and that man isn’t Laurent Koscielny. It’s Arsene Wenger. That he hasn’t been able to tailor players into a style of play is quite telling. Especially because it isn’t a new problem. It’s one we’ve had for around 18 months now. It may be due to not having the correct personnel available, however even this rests with him as the players brought in will have gone through him to be signed off. We’re now at a stage where big names aren’t as important as they once were to us, as we need to define our style first and then find the right players to slot into the system.
The lack of a genuine defensive midfielder or lack of a genuinely creative midfield has left us more exposed at the back than we would like and has in turn impacted the level at which Koscielny has to deal with dangerous situations. It’s a numbers game and the more pressure you have to deal with the more likely you’re going to make errors over time. We’ve all seen the stats that show we allow far too many shots on goal in comparison to our rivals. It’s no coincidence that we sit 5th in this table and in turn 6th in the league. The fact we allow so much more pressure directed at our goal than City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Sp*rs smacks of a carelessness in this area. We’re marginally better than Man Utd in this area and it correlates with the fact that they could indeed improve in this area of the pitch.
The bottom line is that until we remedy either the playing style or bring in a truly defensive midfielder we will continue to leave our most accomplished central defender exposed. Arsene, it’s time to help out Koscielny. Buy him a DM or fix Santi, the choice is yours.
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