Laurent Koscielny's lack of commitment to the cause indicative of wider problems at Arsenal
The captain has refused to travel with the team on their pre-season tour of the US
Perhaps Laurent Koscielny’s Arsenal career has come full circle. It started amid disciplinary difficulties and could end among more. Yet the nature of his infractions has changed. Arsenal’s captain was sent off on his debut, so long ago that it was the Liverpool bow of the other red-carded player, Joe Cole. If Koscielny could sometimes be too committed for his own good, now the opposite is the case.
By going on strike and refusing to travel on the pre-season tour of the United States, Koscielny delivered a vote of no-confidence in Arsenal. Turning 34 in September, with a solitary season left on his contract, the Frenchman does not represent the future, but, besides being an indication of his determination to return to his homeland, it was a damning verdict on their prospects in what could have been his valedictory year in London.
Koscielny’s conduct is wrong. The worry is that his assessment feels correct. Arsenal’s summer feels an exercise in illustrating how far they have fallen behind. Opening offers of £15 million (Dh69m) for Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney and £40 million (Dh184m) Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha respectively felt like trying 2015 prices in the 2019 transfer market. If neutrals may welcome the thought of sanity returning to fees, such bids were doomed to failure.
They also highlighted a fundamental issue: Arsenal do not have very much money. That is still worse when there are several gaps to plug in the squad. A small budget has to be split too many ways. Arsenal also require a back-up goalkeeper, a centre-back – perhaps two if Koscielny goes – a midfielder, and maybe a second winger. The cost of defeat in the Europa League final became apparent for a club who parted company with Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Petr Cech without receiving a fee for any.
Arsenal required arrivals. Instead, they have had inactivity, rendered worse by rejection, both of their offers and from their captain. Ideally, they needed Mesut Ozil to go, though his colossal wages always made that unlikely. A fundamental issue is that Arsenal lost the wrong attacking midfielder: they won 71 per cent of games Ramsey started last season and only 53 per cent when he did not. When injury brought the Welshman’s Gunners career to a premature end, they promptly lost their next three matches and, in effect, their chance of a top-four finish.
With notable exceptions like Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have too few players who are in their prime, who fit Unai Emery’s demands and who have the quality to return Arsenal to the top four. The age profile is wrong, with sizeable continents of the ageing and the emerging while some of those in between, like Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac, show too many defensive shortcomings to be dependable.
Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi offered encouragement in their maiden campaigns and Rob Holding kicked on under Emery’s guidance but while Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and the defensive target William Saliba have plenty of promise, it is unlikely to be realised in Koscielny’s time.
If Emery’s first season in England always promised to be a transitional year, it is easy to imagine that his second will be another. Perhaps that is the conclusion Koscielny reached; that there would be no happy ending for him. Nacho Monreal, another of Arsenal’s veteran defenders, suggested relations can be patched up. “Yeah, why not?” he said. “What I would like is that they fix the problem and I think they will do it.”
Yet if not, it will add a crisis of captaincy to Arsenal’s other issues. Emery named five captains a year ago. Cech and Ramsey are already gone. Koscielny could follow. That only leaves Ozil, rarely trusted in the tougher games, and Granit Xhaka. The Arsenal armband, iconic when worn by Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, could go to the Swiss by default. It would be part of Koscielny’s legacy.
Updated: July 16, 2019 08:04 AM