By Nick Ames
Laurent Koscielny believes that he can handle all of the physical challenges thrown at him by Premier League strikers.
The defender’s second season at Arsenal has been a big success, with the 26-year-old proving a model of consistency at centre back - and occasionally on the flanks.
Having faced Stoke’s Peter Crouch last week, he may well have to deal with the stern test posed by Grant Holt on Saturday as the Gunners look to secure three points against Norwich.
But Koscielny is ready. “I think I’m definitely better than last year - I now know this league and its players and am accustomed to the physical challenges," he told the Official Matchday Programme.
“I try to be strong against these players, to stand firm and keep the ball away from them. It’s very important to win these duels and to come out with the ball – our quality is to play from the back and that means that the defenders need to be the first people to take the ball.”
Koscielny believes that, far from suffering second-season syndrome, he has grown in stature as his time at the Club has progressed.
“I think the first year here was a learning experience for me,” he said.
“For me this is the best league in the world and you face strikers of many different qualities, so you need to be able to stop them. The games are intensive, everyone plays to score and to win, it’s different from the French league all round.
“I’ve learned a lot, as I say, and this season I’ve felt better. I’m more confident, and when you feel good – both on and off the pitch – you can give more for the team.”
Norwich look sure to provide as intensive a workout as anybody. Koscielny was impressed by Paul Lambert’s side when Arsenal won 2-1 at Carrow Road in November, and knows they’ll be a tough nut to crack.
“I played right back that day, and I thought Norwich looked a good side,” he recalled.
“They’ve continued to do well all season – they try to play football and it will be a difficult game. But it’s very important for us to win because we have Spurs and Newcastle waiting to capitalise if we slip up. We need a good finish at home, in front of our fans, and I’m confident we can do it.”
- Read the full interview with Laurent in Saturday's Official Matchday Programme. Click here to subscribe