By Julien Laurens
Laurent Koscielny is not a big talker, on the pitch or in the media. Usually, he simply lets his feet do the talking and so far, so good.
However, after strong season the French centre-half, 28, merited pride of place on the front cover of the Arsenal Magazine. And - with some persuasion - he agreed.
But once he opened up, there was no stopping him: his childhood, Per Mertesacker, his daughter's pre-match ritual, Mesut Ozil, and his toughest opponent yet…
When you reflect on the defeat against Aston Villa in the first game of the season, did you think at the time that it was just a blip or that it was the start of a tough season?
A bit of both, I think, to be fair. In the last two seasons we started the league poorly. And I thought, is it going to be the same again, where we fall behind everybody else and then we have to fight hard to come back to finish in the top four? Then I looked at the game again. I’m not sure it was a penalty and my second yellow was very harsh, too. Overall, it wasn’t a bad game from us but it was still a defeat, at home, in the first game. The fans wanted some new signings and there were none at the time so it was all a bit complicated. Maybe it was a good thing in the end to lose that game.
Read the the full interview with Laurent in our latest edition
Do you feel that the game against Tottenham on September 1 was a turning point in the season?
Yes, I think so. It’s always a special game. You can’t lose those games. That win was important to keep the momentum of the Fulham win a week earlier. We sent a message to everybody saying, 'we are here, we are solid and focused, we will start better than usual and, with that strong start, we will compete for the title'.
How do you explain the improvement from last season?
We kept nearly the same squad as last season. You can choose to buy lots of new players for £100 million plus or buy one! The boss decided he preferred quality to quantity. He bought Mesut Ozil and 10 minutes into his first game he gave an assist to Olivier Giroud at Sunderland. Maybe Mesut was not what people thought we were missing but he only needs one opportunity and he gives an assist. The difference is there and that’s why we’re more efficient in front of goal this season. He gave more freedom to other players, too. He is our superstar. Others feel less pressure than before his arrival and we have more confidence.
What has also changed is a renewed team spirit...
Yes, we all fight for each other, all run for each other. Some of our forwards probably hate working defensively but they do it because they know that if they do we will win the game. When you see the game at Newcastle or against Liverpool where we all played as a unit defensively, it makes a big difference.
Has the spirit improved from last season?
It was always there but more perhaps towards the end of the season. At the start of the season, we were more in doubt. Robin van Persie left and it was complicated to deal with everything. We can feel this season there is something special in the squad. We have all understood that we can achieve something together.
The team seems capable of grinding out victories more often this season...
It’s true but people have to understand that we cannot play our usual game for 90 minutes in every game. Physically it’s impossible. We can’t be 100 per cent all the time in the way we play. So there will be some moments in some games where we lack quality, where it will be more difficult, where it won’t be pretty football but we stay strong, we graft and we never give up. Mentally, we are stronger than ever. We’ve won some games this season that we would have never won last season.
Personally, how do you assess your season so far?
I think the mood in the team makes all of us better and stronger. The results help as well so you feel more confident than if you were bottom of the table. I can try things that I would not dare try if we were bottom of the table. I keep working hard but I have felt very good so far.
Mentally, we are stronger than ever. We’ve won some games this season that we would have never won last seasonLaurent Koscielny
Have you reached a new level?
I keep improving. No one will ever be perfect but you can always improve. Experience is a big factor. You can deal better with the pressure of certain games. My game has not changed much compared to when I was at Lorient but I am obviously a much better player.
Do you take a lot of risks in your game?
Yes, of course. I always anticipate. One day I will get caught but that’s my game. I have to take risks because that’s the way I play. When I intercept the ball it’s a risk I took to get it. That’s what I do best but it can lead to mistakes too. When I’m on the pitch I need to go for it. I need to battle.
Per, on the other hand, is the opposite...
Exactly – he is more assured. We are complementing each other. We have different qualities and when you add them together it makes a very good partnership. I cover him because he knows I have the pace. I know that everything that comes facing us is for him. He knows that I go for the interception, on crosses he goes for the marking because he knows that I am going to anticipate.
What did you take from where you grew up?
I am from that world. There are things that I understand but that I would never do, like going out every weekend, like eating out all the time. I grew up and was educated differently. I was taught to respect people, to be a good person. I am educating my children in the same way. On the pitch there were times when I struggled. I had to toughen up mentally and I did. I had to make tough choices and I made sure they paid off.
Olivier Giroud had a song pretty quickly from the fans, but there’s still nothing for you! What’s going on?
I don’t know! Maybe I need to have Olivier’s nose or his hair cut! Or maybe they don’t like me (he laughs again). Before I retire, I am hoping to have my own song!
Theo Walcott suffered a bad injury at the start of 2014. How did the team react?
It was a shock. It’s tough for us as he’s an important player for the team and for him it’s tough as he will miss the World Cup and the end of the season with us. He will come back stronger, though. He knows we are all behind him, that we will always be there if he needs us. We will support him like we support Pat Rice. He will have to stay positive and we have to help him to stay positive.
Theo will unfortunately miss the World Cup but all being well you should be part of it. Are you excited?
Playing a World Cup is great and in Brazil it will be even better! So I can’t wait. It will be a dream come true. Everything comes together to experience a beautiful adventure. Our group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras is maybe easier than others but, at that level, there are no easy game. It will be tough but we can qualify for the last 16. That’s the first objective. We turned things around to qualify with a fantastic second-leg win against Ukraine in the play-offs. The team has started a new story with a new mentality. So bring on the World Cup.