Today we continue the countdown to the unveiling of the Arsenal.com Player of the Season - as voted by the fans.
In second place is Laurent Koscielny. The French defender was a rock at the back during the run-in to the season and received 13.5 per cent of the votes.
Arsenal reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 27-year-old.
If one player embodies everything the 2012/13 Arsenal team represents, it is Laurent Koscielny. Classy yet no-nonsense, resilient, strong and with an exceptional sense of timing, the France defender has developed into one of the finest defenders in Europe. The rise and rise of this unassuming character shows no signs of abating.
But, like the team he marshals so brilliantly from the back, his season did not start with quite the same flourish as it finished. He may have scored a late equaliser at Manchester City in September, but Koscielny struggled to nail down his place in the side for those uncertain opening months of the campaign. A series of injuries also played their part in curtailing his progress, and it wasn’t until the final straight that he really began to shine.
"Classy yet no-nonsense, resilient, strong and with an exceptional sense of timing, the France defender has developed into one of the finest defenders in Europe"
“He says that he was disturbed in his preparation [in pre-season],” Arsene Wenger said. “In our final game in Cologne, he had a calf injury. It took him a long, long time to come back and after that he had many setbacks through the season. And every time he was close to coming back, he had another injury or sickness. He was sick a lot this year.”
That may have been the case, but he finished the campaign in rude health. With Arsenal’s top-four bid on the point of implosion in early March following defeat in the north London derby, Wenger made a major call and replaced his captain, Thomas Vermaelen, with Koscielny for the Champions League trip to Bayern Munich.
He was rewarded with an outstanding defensive performance and a late headed goal from the centre back that rocked the eventual winners. It was not enough to take the Gunners through, but the result proved to be the catalyst behind Arsenal’s outstanding end to the campaign. And at the heart of it was Koscielny’s partnership with Per Mertesacker.
"We talk a lot and communicate well, which is very important for centre backs,” the 27-year-old said. “In fact, that’s an aspect I think we have improved a lot in as a team this season - we’re all talking more and it’s working better for us.
“Yes [I shout more now]! My English is better so I talk more. We are defenders so we can see everything on the pitch. I think every player talks for their team-mates because it's important - just to move two or three metres, we can stop a counter-attack.”
The sight of Koscielny stepping out of defence to break up opposition attacks is something Arsenal fans have grown accustomed to since his arrival from Lorient in 2010. However, it has perhaps never been as important as during those agonising final steps towards a top-four place. As the tension ratcheted up week by week, Koscielny’s influence, authority and confidence seemed to grow exponentially.
"As the tension ratcheted up week by week, Koscielny’s influence, authority and confidence seemed to grow exponentially"
And when his side needed him most, once again he delivered. Having been the matchwinner on the final day of the 2011/12 campaign, he repeated the trick this time around at St James’ Park. It was a fitting finale for the Frenchman.
“I've had many groups in my life and this is one who has been absolutely outstanding [in terms of self-belief],” Wenger said after that game. “They've shown a combination of quality but attitude as well. I always admired the way they behaved and their focus every day in training.”
Nobody embodies that attitude more than Koscielny, Arsenal’s man for the big occasion.
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