He’s an aggressive Frenchman who plays on the front foot, is unafraid of getting up the pitch, pops up with a stunning goal from time to time, and, of course, floors opponents left and right like some kind of, uh, French wrecking ball. He may be the best centre-back we’ve seen since our move to the Emirates. What’s more, he’s in the conversation for best Prem centre-backs of his era. William Saliba? No. Laurent Koscielny.
We’ll get to Saliba in a minute. I suppose that my earnestly if not professionally photoshopped image that accompanies this post from the earliest days of this blog gave it away. Yes, it was on this day in 2010 that we signed Laurent Koscielny from Lorient. Set aside that howler against Birmingham, his refusal go on the US tour, his Bordeaux shirt reveal. Koscielny was one of the best defenders we’ve had, and that’s all the more impressive when you consider the partners he worked with compared to those the contenders had. Bould, Adams, and Keown had each other. Campbell had Touré. Djourou had Senderos and Squillaci (just checking to see if you’re paying attention). Kos? He had Vermaelen, who made him look cautious. He had Mertesacker, who turned slower than an aircraft carrier. Mustafi, Sokratis, Luiz, Chambers, Holding… just typing these names gives me PTSD. I can’t imagine what it did to Kos.
Let’s touch on the manner of Koscielny’s departure. Back in May 2018, Koscielny ruptured his Achilles against Chelsea. This didn’t just end our Europa League campaign; it meant that Koscielny would miss out on a chance to win to contribute to les Bleus‘ World Cup triumph. It also meant that a transfer back home to a French club or for a lucrative golden parachute in China was off the table for then-33 year old, unsure of his future as Wenger retired that same summer.
From there, the tale takes a dark turn. After seven months of grueling rehab during which Koscielny struggled to cope with how it felt to miss out on that World Cup (at one point, he even said to Canal Plus that he “wanted them to qualify but at the same time, I wanted them to lose”. Upon his return, Unai Emery, desperate for results, promptly ran Koscielny into the ground. He played four games in 13 days and was asked to play a fifth in 16 away to League One Blackpool in the FA Cup but withdrew after suffering some stiffness in his back. Self-preservation? Possibly.
He was playing full 90s in the Prem and Europa League and close to it in the League Cup and FA Cup. Between April 11 and April 24, Koscielny started five games in just two weeks, all full 90-minute appearances. The only matches Koscielny missed across all four competitions were due to injury. He told L’Equipe, ““I didn’t feel I could play 40-50 matches and I didn’t want to end my career with injuries.” With Gazidis gone, Arsenal’s contract offer had been reduced to one extra year on diminished terms.
He had offers from Lorient and Rennes but chose Bordeaux due to its proximity to Tulle, Koscielny’s birthplace. You might remember that Koscielny made a sizable donation to save an accordion factory there, something that inspired me to suggest a song for Koscielny based on Gogol Bordello’s “Start Wearing Purple”. Alas, that never came to pass. Despite his desire to leave (and belief that the club would allow it), Raul Sanllehi and Emery had other plans and wanted to keep Koscielny until none other than William Saliba was ready to join the first team (he spent the 2018-19 season on loan to St. Etienne).
By the time he took off the Arsenal shirt to reveal his new Bordeaux shirt, Koscielny had spent months feeling like the life had been squeezed out of him, down the drain like molten toothpaste, used and spat out. I don’t blame for a second. He gave almost a decade of service to this club without ever complaining or agitating for a move. He gave every match his all, even when he had to know that every moment of maximum exertion was shaving minutes and days and weeks off of his career, if not exposing him to a less than ambulatory post-career life. If you’re still salty about that moment, please re-read what I’ve written and ask yourself how you’d feel.
Back to Saliba. The big news of the day is that he’s renewed his contract, staying with the club until 2027 on weekly wages somewhere around £190k. He joins a list of players fighting for a chance to play for the Arsenal. Like Koscielny, his injury showed us just how much we depend on him. I hope that, like Koscielny, he spends the better part of the next decade here, picking up where Koscielny left off.
Sorry to have gone on for so long about Koscielny. I have to admit that he’s been one of my favorite players of the last ten years or so, and I wanted to take a chance to set the record straight.