LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal challenges Pedro Rodriguez of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium on February 16 2011 in London England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Next up in our player season review series is everyone's favorite Franco-Polish central defender: Laurent Koscielny.
Koscielny arrived from Ligue 1 club Lorient last summer, after performing well enough to be Ligue 2's player of the year the year before, the initial expectation was that Koscielny would be a major part of Arsenal's central defense. He played alongside Thomas Vermaelen in the season opener against Liverpool, where he picked up two yellow cards and was sent off. As the season progressed, however, and he adjusted more and more to the tempo of the Premier League, Koscielny held together an injury-prone unit while playing alongside Sébastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou.
Koscielny, in fact, played more for Arsenal this year than just about anyone not named Jack Wilshere--43 games in all, including 30 in the Premier League. He scored three goals on the season, all from set pieces, which is a little strange perhaps, considering that his aerial ability is seen by many as the weak point in his defensive game.
While at times Koscielny was susceptible to communication and positioning breakdowns (something that is not entirely his fault, to be sure), as the season progressed, he proved to be Arsenal's best ground defender by some distance. Exceptional in the tackle for the most part, attackers found it very difficult to get past him with the ball at their feet. He also showed an aggressive tendency to step in front of long passes and through balls, intercepting them just before they reached the front lines and looking to start counterattacks.
The match against Barcelona at the Emirates was perhaps the best evidence of this, as Koscielny, alongside Djourou, held strong (or as strong as they could) after Barca's opener, working well with the rest of the team to contain the Catalan threat at the edge of the 18-yard box. And indeed, it was another of Koscielny's strengths, his passing from the back, that ignited what might be the most famous goal scored at the Emirates so far. Winning the ball, he squeezed it to Nicklas Bendtner, who touched it to Wilshere, and the rest happened in about six seconds.
In the return leg at the Camp Nou, Koscielny played very well against Lionel Messi, although he couldn't prevent the goals from coming as the eventual champions weaved their patterns across the Arsenal half. For the rest of the season, Koscielny continued his steady play, although unfortunately, he will probably be most remembered for colliding with Wojciech Szczesny in the Carling Cup Final, allowing Birmingham striker Obafemi Martins to tap home the winner.
It was a blight on an otherwise good Premier League freshman season, and Koscielny looks to become an integral part of the Arsenal defense going forward alongside Vermaelen and Djourou. He can improve his positioning and his discipline somewhat, as well as his ability in the air, but on the ground, he's excellent. As the unit and Szczesny grow together, and if Arsenal defend better as an XI next year, there is no reason he cannot find even more success.
Ted's season grade: :]
Beltran's grade: B