Amid the mess, drift and discord of a difficult season at Arsenal, one story suggests Arsène Wenger's instincts are as acute as ever. Laurent Koscielny, the centre-back signed after just one season of top-flight football, has blossomed into one of the finest in the Premier League.
Had Koscielny started in the Barcelona academy his performances would have been impressive enough. But for a man whose first clubs were Guingamp and Tours; who was playing in the French third tier four years ago; whose career has since then been an inexorable march to the European elite; it is as remarkable a story as that of any recent Arsenal star.
To watch Koscielny, now 26, this season has been to watch a player with complete mastery of his game. His prescience without the ball, his anticipation of opponents, his authority in the tackle, his grace in possession, his precision in passing, all tell of a defender with few superiors in England or even in Europe.
And this is a defender who spent 2007-08 in the Championnat National, the third tier of France. He joined Tours from Ligue 2 side Guingamp in 2007, impressing then manager Daniel Sanchez, now in charge of Valenciennes. "He reads the game well," Sanchez told i. "He has tactical quality, the quality of reading the game, but also great physical quality."
It was the following season, back in Ligue 2 with Tours, that the groundwork was laid for Koscielny's eventual move to Arsenal. Not just from the excellence of his performances, but thanks to a phone call from his manager to an old friend.
"In the second year, when I had seen that he had great potential, I called Arsène Wenger, I told him about the player," recalled Sanchez. Arsenal scouts soon went to watch Koscielny, but a move from Tours to Arsenal would not have been smooth. "It was difficult for Koscielny to go from Ligue 2 in France to the Premier League in England," continued Sanchez. "So he needed an intermediary level."
Enter the Ligue 1 side Lorient. "Guingamp is not far from Lorient, so we had been following him for a while," Lorient club president Loïc Féry revealed. In June 2009, after two good seasons at Tours, Koscielny moved. For some it might have been too much of a vault, but when asked how quickly it became clear that Koscielny would excel, Féry was brisk: "From his first game!"
This quiet defender made a big difference even in the top flight, showcasing the gifts which have made him a success at Arsenal. "He was physically impressive, his speed was impressive, his quality of passing, brings the game forward: he was amazing," Féry recalled.
Such success in France could never evade the attentions of Arsenal, particularly given Wenger was already aware of Koscielny. With William Gallas, Mikaël Silvestre and Sol Campbell on their way out of Arsenal, Wenger made his move. In July 2010, Koscielny signed. It was a remarkable journey,
In his first season he turned on a brilliant performance against Barcelona. In probably Arsenal's greatest night at the Emirates, they beat the eventual Champions League winners 2-1, Koscielny producing an assured performance.
From that evening exactly a year ago, Koscielny has grown to become one of the division's best. His performances have certainly been of international class. France coach Laurent Blanc first called up the defender in February 2011, and gave him his only cap last November. With a European Championship on the way, Féry says Koscielny should start: "When you look at who's playing as a central defender [for France], they don't play the same type of competitive game that he plays."