Is one mistake really enough to stop Laurent Koscielny from being remembered as an Arsenal Legend?
By Rob Worthington
Laurent Koscielny left Arsenal last summer in a fashion which was completely uncharacteristic. During his time at the club, the Frenchman’s conduct was exemplary. He stayed with Arsenal through good times and bad, despite interest from clubs of superior status and was rewarded for his loyalty to the club as he assumed the role of captain upon Per Mertesacker’s retirement. Then, during the latter stages of his Arsenal career, he acted like a true captain to play through the pain barrier when he could have very easily hung up his boots after a horrific injury in 2019. So, Laurent Koscielny can be remembered an Arsenal legend. Right? Well, his actions in August 2019 have meant this view of the former French International has been tainted for many Arsenal fans. In brief: his actions were absolutely bizarre. Koscielny did originally return to training at the beginning of pre-season, however, after a day of returning, he decided enough was enough. He refused to attend Arsenal’s London Colney training complex and withdrew from Arsenal’s US Tour squad. The club released a statement announcing that they were “very disappointed” in their captain. To make matters worse, Koscielny went on to demand that the club released him for free amid interest from his current club Bordeaux. Arsenal, rightly so, refused to comply with his demands and collected a fee of £4.6 million for the veteran. However, when Koscielny did finally join Bordeaux after an uncomfortable saga for everyone involved, this was when the weathered ties between the Arsenal faithful and their former captain were shredded. I must say, given Koscielny was my favourite player for a number of years, I among many other gooners was deeply offended by what came next. In a club announcement video portraying the signing of Laurent Koscielny on Bordeaux’s Twitter page, the former Lorient man was seen pulling off his Arsenal Europa League final shirt to show off his new Bordeaux shirt lying below the famous red and white. Ian Wright spoke for all of us when he responded to this video through the following tweet: “This hurts. The level of disrespect. You should be ashamed for the way you’ve left the club after 9 years! Got what you wanted and still trying to have a dig. Hope it’s worth it in the long run.” Bang on Wrighty, this hurt.
Speaking to L’Equipe, Koscielny went on to explain his side of the story. He claimed that he had an agreement with the club that he’d be released that Summer despite having one year remaining on his contract, that he “didn’t feel he could play 40-50 matches [that season]” and that he has “gone down a level to take more pleasure”. He went onto say that he was “always upstanding, respectful and loyal” to Arsenal which made him feel as if he was in a position to have the opportunity to decide where the final days of his playing career would be situated. Don’t get me wrong, Koscielny deserved to be scrutinised for this mistake, although there is undoubtedly another side to this story. Just a year before his departure, Koscielny was still Arsenal’s best defender as he led the team to a Europa League semi-final only to be stretchered off after an injury to his achilles. This injury did not come out of the blue. For at least a year prior to the game against Atletico when the injury was sustained, Koscielny had been receiving weekly treatment to help him play through a lingering Achilles injury. This game was the final straw for a badly damaged Koscielny Achilles. A 32-year-old reaching the end of his playing days had no right to fully recover from this injury. Unfortunately, Koscielny never truly did. He could not play more than a game a week after his 2019 return, hence, an agreement was supposedly reached between Koscielny and the club that he would leave in the Summer. Enter Raul Sanllehi’s propaganda machine. After Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League, the club realised they did not have the funds to go out and bring in a world-class centre-back. After forking out £72 million for Nicolas Pépé and an unsuccessful pursuit of Dayot Upamecano, the club had to make a compromise and bring in David Luiz. This was never the club’s plan. Arsenal instead wanted Koscielny to stay one more year, supposedly breaking the promise made to him by the club, so the Frenchman was forced to throw his toys out of the pram and was portrayed by the club as the bad guy. His actions once he joined Bordeaux were inexcusable, but before then, his actions were completely justified. Koscielny, alongside Nacho Monreal and Bacary Sagna, was one of the most consistent performers of the Emirates era. The Frenchman formed the most formidable central defensive partnership of this period with Per Mertesacker. The Bordeaux centre-back was one of the key contributors in delivering three FA Cups to the Arsenal faithful and simultaneously ending a thirteen-year trophy drought. All the while, he was shunning interest from Europe’s elite. Laurent Koscielny was a true club man.
Unfortunately, his legendary status lies on a thin line right now. Nonetheless, there is a way in which it can be salvaged. Kos, if you are somehow reading this article, all that is needed is a simple apology. Football fans do have long memories, but it’s not impossible to regain their favour. Koscielny’s time at the club was everything we could’ve wanted out of a player and he was a crucial cog in Arsène Wenger’s machinery.
Legend is a word which is thrown around far too freely in modern football- nevertheless, concerning the Emirates era, Koscielny during his 9-year stint at the club was the personification of the word. Now, after an atypical act of disrespect, the ball is in his court and he must act quickly if he wants to regain his legendary status.