It is odd to recall, at a time when despite widespread reservations over many in our squad Laurent Koscielny is almost universally if not uncritically viewed as a lynchpin in our side, the complete defender even – that the very notion of such unchallenged status might once have seemed far-fetched, even elicited the odd giggle.
His debut at Anfield in August 2010 in some ways typified ‘Lolo’’s early reputation – talented, but impetuous and rough round the edges – when he was sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time, after earlier himself being the victim of Joe Cole’s red-card challenge.
Another late red card, barging over the delightful Nile Ranger, in a frustrating 1-0 defeat to an Andy Carroll header against Newcastle might have seemed to confirm the stereotype; and a wider issue was the partnership with Thomas Vermaelen, which may have appeared rather to reinforce each other’s (aggressive?) strengths and weaknesses than to complement them.
This in a season which, after briefly challenging for the title, ended, you will recall, with joyous chants of ‘We! defended! a corner!’, so rare an occurrence had that become (stop me if you’ve seen this movie before). In the context, by any standards the 2-1 comeback win against Barcelona stood out, with Koscielny’s outstanding defensive display perhaps the standout individual performance for the Gunners alongside Wilshere’s hardly-repeated bravura teenage showing in midfield.
Of course, within a couple of weeks our season had reached its nadir, with the crushing debacle in the League Cup final against Birmingham, which climaxed in the tragicomic confusion between Koscielny and Szczęsny to allow Obafemi Martins to poke home the winner in the dying minutes.
‘How many own goals by Koscielny this time?’, asked a (French – notably, he’s never been as highly rated in his homeland as by us, at least until recently) friend tauntingly c.2011 – and though I defended him, yes, it maybe seemed unlikely at the time that our now de facto captain would become such an undisputed bulwark of our club, a matchwinner at both ends and seldom the fall guy, even in tempestuous times. Thankfully, Koscielny’s and Vermaelen’s careers went on to follow the contrasting trajectories their true defensive abilities should perhaps always have suggested; and who now would begrudge Laurent his progression as a footballer and current status?