It’s hardly out of the blue but there is a momentum building behind the tattle in the back pages that Baku will be Laurent Koscielny’s last game for the club. It’s only 12 months later than originally planned; the injury suffered in Madrid put paid to plans to return to France last year.
Milan find themselves cast as suitors. Of course they are, but I’d prefer them to take their original choice of Shkodran Mustafi. Koscielny’s departure may save the hapless German’s Arsenal career; that’s one hell of a leaving present.
More likely is a return to Ligue Un. Mid-table Rennes and relegation-haunted Monaco are the current choices; will either appeal? At 33, does he have that many options? He’s 34 as the new season endures its first international break so finishing in the top flight is a luxury.
The situation, if true, is the first test of Raul’s new ethos. Koscielny is at the end of his career and Arsenal must look to the future. Will we let him go so easily? Is there a role for him in the first team at the Emirates? He saw first-hand how time caught up with Per Mertesacker. The physicality and pace of the Premier League is unforgiving for an ‘old man’ and that may strongly influence the former France international’s thinking.
Reports link us with Samuel Umtiti (€60m) and William Saliba (€30m); guess which one we’ve got the funds for. Unless, of course, Raul can negotiate a deal with his former colleagues. Transfer talk never ceases to amaze me as those who castigate the club for only having £40m to spend this summer then fill column inches with tales of players who smash that budget to pieces.
Kos Making The Right Choice Is Hard
But the question for Unai Emery to answer is whether selling Koscielny is the right decision? There is a place for statistics in measuring player performance; it’s a lot more tangible than the gut feeling of a scout or manager.
However, there is an intangible to take into account: the player’s influence in the dressing room. Koscielny divides opinion as captain. He is a quiet man on the pitch which is no barrier to the job as Bobby Moore proved. Sorry, Laurent, but before we move on, I don’t think anyone can make a case for you being in Moore’s class as a player.
Therein is a perceived problem at Arsenal: we’re all too quiet. Years ago, we were too nice and I suspect the two terms are interchangeable to many people. It strikes me there is a lack of leaders in the dressing room which is nothing new. The previous regime found this a common complaint but a lot depends on how you view leadership.
In a football sense, that may well be driven by age; your age, to be accurate. I’m of a generation where the shoutiest, in your face, kid was deemed to be captain material. Regular shouts from the touchline revolved around “Get into ’em!” and “Clear it!” which in truth meant kick it as hard as you could, as far away as you could. Anything which landed at the centre-forward’s feet definitely wasn’t lauded as a great pass.
And I was raised on a generation of captains who followed that lead, albeit with a little more guile. McLintock, Adams, Vieria; hard men but inspirational captains. A lot has to do with the quality of players around them and in that sense, Koscielny is hampered.
You’ve Got To Be In It To Win It
We’re not a title-winning or even title-chasing side. Not yet, although we could be. The squad has some very good players but those individuals are weighed down by the inept, the average or the needing a good kick up the Arsenal.
Koscielny is a quiet man and those three groups need vocal guidance, maybe even a hint of physical violence if they don’t pull their weight. That isn’t happening but Koscielny, in his personality, is the ideal captain for Arsène Wenger. Neither wants confrontation, preferring persuasion to confrontation.
Compare Koscielny to Vincent Kompany. The City captain balanced the old ways with the new perfectly. Vocal when needed but also a calming influence, leading by example. Kompany’s way is probably what Arsenal need right now.
Part of the answer Emery must find if Koscielny leaves is who takes the armband. Is it that important when you have an animated coach on the touchline constantly barking instructions? I think it is; a captain can galvanise in ways a coach cannot, use different techniques. A coach’s criticism can destroy a player’s confidence; a team-mate wearing an armband can be told to “F-off” in response. Saying that to a coach is a spell on the bench and stories in the back pages; it’s a different relationship.
Ultimately, however, the decision is whether we can replace Koscielny if he goes. Does our budget stretch to buying a good defender? A better than good defender?
I presume that won’t happen unless we have someone lined up. We’re just one injury from Mustafi in the starting line-up; that ought to scare the coaching staff as much as it does me.
When Age Is More Than A Number
Sokratis, 31 in a fortnight’s time, and Monreal, 33, are the experience. I guess the Spaniard is probably in his last season at the club given his age but that’s enough to help others. How injury affects Rob Holding is critical. He was developing into a strong centre-back before misfortune struck at Old Trafford. Can he return to that form which made him a first-choice at the club? I hope so.
Dino Mavropanos, meanwhile, could do with a season on loan. He looked rusty following his spell on the sidelines and regular first-team action will aid his development. The promising start when he joined needs to be resurrected and built upon.
Now, what was it I said the other day? Ah yes. “The transfer window can do one until after the 29th”; that worked out well, didn’t it.