Today we continue the countdown to the unveiling of the Player of the Season - as voted by the fans.

Laurent Koscielny is next on our list. The French defender finished fourth with 4.29 per cent of the votes after a brilliant campaign at the heart of the Gunners’ backline reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 26-year-old.

There were times during Laurent Koscielny’s first season at Arsenal when he was dismissed by some observers as simply not being cut out for English football. Forget the improving performances, his calming influence at the back, his sensational display against Barcelona - he just wasn’t good enough apparently.

Those critics are nowhere to be found these days. The 26-year-old enjoyed a sensational second campaign for Arsène Wenger’s side, fully justifying his manager's faith when he signed him from Lorient following a meteoric rise in French football.

“We found him in France of course, from a smaller team. But you could see that there was something special there,” Wenger said. “I believe that last year you could already see the potential, but he did not have that dominance in the duels that he has found this season. That makes him, I personally believe, one of the top-class central defenders in the Premier League.”

Not many would disagree with that assessment, least of all his team-mates, who have come to expect the level of excellence the classy defender delivers week in, week out.

“He has done amazingly this season and I don't understand why a lot of criticism was there in the first season,” Thomas Vermaelen said. “He is [good] all round. He is quick, strong and good with the ball. There are just a lot of things about defending that he is really good at and that is why I like him.”

Injuries to his fellow centre backs saw Laurent's defensive partnerships chop and change. Despite this, he was the epitome of consistency. His reassuring presence, composure on the ball and ability to spot danger helped his side through some of the more difficult times.

Not only that, Laurent had the confidence to go forward when the situation allowed and Arsenal fans will long remember his rampaging break from the back to win a penalty in the 3-2 FA Cup comeback victory against Aston Villa in January. He has also developed the knack of scoring goals when his side needs them most, claiming the openers against both Fulham and Milan.

But Laurent's most telling attacking contribution came in the final game - and the final half - of the campaign. With Arsenal locked at 2-2 against West Bromwich Albion in a game they had to win to secure Champions League football, Laurent was in the right place at the right time to convert the winner. It seemed fitting that Arsenal’s most improved player of the season scored their most important goal.

It is not only Arsenal fans who have noticed the huge strides Laurent has made. France coach Laurent Blanc - no mean defender himself - handed the 26-year-old his first cap in November in Les Bleus' 1-0 victory against the USA, and he has been selected for the national team’s squad for Euro 2012.

Not bad for a man initially deemed not good enough for English football.

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29 May 2012