How Koscielny became prince of the Emirates

Jack Pitt-Brooke on Arsenal defender's rise from the French third tier in just four years

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 The Independent. "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 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 to The Independent. 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!"

"As soon as the first game of the season, he does a great game, an amazing game, and we win away at Lille," Féry said. "Second game of the season, we play Montpellier at home, I think we are 2-0 down, come back 1-2, and then 94th minute, who scores? Our central defender Laurent Koscielny for 2-2. And he had such rage: I mean, you can feel that he is someone very calm, but you can feel that beyond, he had this winning mentality, behind someone who is extremely calm."

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, immediately brings the game forward: he was amazing in many games that season," recalled Féry, painting an image immediately familiar to Emirates regulars. "That season, we got the best result of the club [in history], ending up seventh."

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 for Arsenal.

It was a remarkable journey: from Tours' Stade de la Vallée du Cher, which holds 13,500, to the Emirates, more than four times the size, in just over 12 months. For perhaps the first time, he was slow to adjust, and his early months in England were difficult.

But his first season, and his time at Arsenal, turned on one brilliant performance against Barcelona. In probably Arsenal's greatest night at the Emirates, they beat the eventual Champions League winners 2-1, Koscielny producing a performance of assurance and high quality, shrugging off Lionel Messi as if he were a youth-team tyro in a training match, and starting the move that ended with Andrei Arshavin's winning goal.

From that evening exactly a year ago, Koscielny has grown to become one of the division's best. Nigel Winterburn, who knows what it means to play in defence for Arsenal, believes early hopes have been vindicated. "My place is pretty much the same since he joined the club," he said.

"I think he's got huge, huge potential. I always think we're very quick to judge people, and not give them at least a year to settle into a football club. But I think he's developing into a useful defender: he's got pace and he's aggressive."

Koscielny's performances have certainly been of international class. France coach Laurent Blanc, who was interested in signing Koscielny when he was Bordeaux manager, first called up the defender in February 2011, and gave him his only cap to date last November. With a European Championship four months away, Féry believes his former player should start for Les Bleus: "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."

France, of course, open against England in Donetsk on 11 June. With one of the Premier League's finest centre-backs to call upon, how could Blanc possibly prefer anyone else?

More on Arsenal from The Independent:

New Arsenal face an old question of credibility in San Siro

Wenger: We can become kings of Europe

Milan are forced to rely on their senior citizens

Aaron Ramsey scores – and the music stops

AC Milan v England: How English teams have fared at the San Siro

 

Zenit hope to freeze out Cardozo

Tonight's other Champions League tie sees Benfica travel to Zenit St Petersburg where they face playing on a frozen pitch at Petrovsky Stadium.

The Lisbon club won their group, which included Manchester United, to reach the last 16 with three victories and as many draws. Benfica are also the only unbeaten team in the Portuguese league and lead by five points. Their Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo is the top league scorer with 14 goals in 18 games.

Meanwhile, the Russian champions, who beat Porto in the group stage to finish second behind Apoel Nicosia, are missing seven key players. The main loss is their striker Miguel Danny, who is out for at least six months after injuring his right knee at a training camp in Florence.

 

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower