Laurent Koscielny believes he has upped his game since arriving at Arsenal because he has to adapt his game on a weekly basis to combat Premier League strikers of all shapes and sizes.
Drawing comparisons with the type of hitmen he faced when plying his trade for Lorient, the French international stressed that he is no longer fazed by the physicality of life in England and actually thrives on ‘going to war’ with opponents.
“When I was in France, I liked to ‘stick’ to the forwards, because I had the ability to go in front of them; it was easier for me, because those forwards were not as strong as they’re here, when you’re sometimes playing against huge guys who weigh 90 kilos and are still able to switch direction.
“I told myself ‘wait a bit, move back one or two yards’. That way, I can see whether his first touch will take him left or right, I can intercept, and initiate play from the back.
“England, in the past, it was ‘hoof it’ – but that’s over. You’ve got every kind of striker: a Drogba, who is so strong his back to goal; Peter Crouch, who’s 2 metres tall; Kun Agüero, who’s 1 metre 50, but who’s so fast!
“It’s not the worse for that: you taste everything, you improve more quickly. You encounter a different problem every week. One week, it’ll be header after header, because you’re playing a team like Stoke, who like to play long balls; the next, your job will be to pass the ball out of defence.
Having spent only one season in the French top flight before moving to Arsenal, it’s fair to say that Koscielny was certainly thrown in the deep end last season. Sent off on his debut at Anfield in August 2010, he later kept Lionel Messi quiet during the Gunners 2-1 win at the Emirates in February before playing a fateful part in Birmingham’s Carling Cup final winner after a mix-up with Wojciech Szczesny.
While last year may have been a personal rollercoaster, this season, despite the club’s erratic form, Koscielny himself is a far more consistent force in the centre of defence. Indeed, while both Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen have occasionally been caught napping, the former Lorient man has often been on hand to sweep up.
Talking about the work done on the training ground and how it has allowed him to enjoy not just the tactical battles but the rough and tumble, Koscielny continued:
“The diversity of the attacking players you face pushes you ahead. In my first year at the club, I was a novice. To play against opponents as different as I had to made me improve.
“We worked on my positioning – because of the physical impact of English forwards. But, wait, even if I’m someone who likes the beautiful game, I also enjoy the physical side of it. ‘Go to war’ – no worries!
“English referees aren’t as card happy [as French ones], and I’m not unhappy that they let the game flow a bit more. In France, it’s constant whistling. The halves don’t last 45 minutes, but 40! Here, there’s no play-acting… when it’s tough, it’s tough. And it isn’t the worse for it. There’s no cheating, and that’s a good thing.”