Laurent Koscielny the Catalyst Behind Arsenal's Top-Four Recovery

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballFeatured Columnist IVApril 8, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates defeating Stoke City after the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

At one stage this season, Arsenal looked dead and buried.

Tottenham were comfortably ahead in the race for UEFA Champions League football, the Gunners had dipped as low as eighth in the English Premier League table and many had already concluded that the race for the top four was done.

But one man formed the basis of Arsenal's resurgence, and that man was Laurent Koscielny.

The Frenchman finished the 2011-12 season very strongly and looked a certainty to man the centre of Arsene Wenger's defence come the start of 2012-13.

Injury prevented him from taking his spot, though, and so commenced a merry-go-round of central defensive trials as Wenger attempted to find his strongest pair.

Thomas Vermaelen, the captain of the club, was a mainstay be it centrally or on the left. That left a dogfight between Koscielny and colleague Per Mertesacker to take the other spot.

Some Gooners suggested a switch to a three-man defensive line was necessary to incorporate them all—it's an ideal way of masking Mertesacker's lack of pace and frees up the full-backs into wing-back roles.

This indecision and uncertainty harmed the side's form for more than four months. It's arguable that the only position that doesn't prosper from squad rotation is centre-half.

But Wenger stuck to his usual 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid and kept the faith in his players. Questions were asked, but eventually form picked up—Koscielny displaced Vermaelen in the starting XI and formed a consistent, formidable partnership with Mertesacker.

Of the final 10 games Arsenal played, eight were won, two were drawn and none were lost.

That's title-winning form, and the minimal five goals conceded during that time was the perfect reaction after losing 2-1 to Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Over that stretch, Koscielny was the Gunners' most influential player.

His contribution in the final two games underline his style, commitment and clutch ability to come up big when needed.

Against Wigan Athletic, when tensions were running high at 1-1, the Frenchman made an acrobatic hooked clearance to stop the Latics taking the lead. His side, growing in confidence, went on to win 4-1.

That left them one victory away from assuring Champions League qualification, and that victory came courtesy of Koscielny's solitary strike in a 1-0 victory at St. James' Park.

Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs had been caught out of position early on only for Laurent to bail them out with some superb defensive covering. After Mikel Arteta came off injured, the Frenchman took on leadership responsibilities without the armband: vocal, commanding, dominant.

Koscielny is fully appreciated by Arsenal fans and is now the unquestioned No. 1 central defender at the club.