A little over a year ago, Laurent Koscielny dropped to the pitch of the Wanda Metropolitano, the Frenchman frantically clutching his right ankle as Arsenal’s Europa League hopes were shattered by a ruthless Atletico Madrid.
As the nearest player to the incident, Diego Costa was forced to plead his innocence before replays later proved football’s biggest bully had played no part, instead it was an achilles injury – one that Koscielny had been nursing for years, that finally caught up with him.
Following his surgery and subsequent rehabilitation, by the turn of the year the Frenchman has effortlessly reinstated himself as Arsenal’s best defender.
Now, after nine years in north London, the 33-year-old could be about to bid farewell to the Gunners with a fairytale finish in the Europa League final against Chelsea.
There’s no denying Koscielny’s status as the modern day ‘Mr. Arsenal.’
A captain built in a completely different mould to the original ‘Mr. Arsenal’ Tony Adams, the Frenchman is an Arsenal legend in his own right.
Neutrals might choose to ignore it, but Koscielny was once among the top bracket of centre-backs in the Premier League.
Often tarnished with the same brush as his comical defensive partners over the years – Sebastien Squillaci and Mikael Silvestre to name just two, Koscienly wasn’t just the best of a bad bunch but a truly world-class centre-back when at the peak of his powers.
That’s not totally excusing the Frenchman of his past indiscretions, of which there have been a few in the past nine years – most notably the shared howler with Wojciech Szczesny in the 2011 League Cup final defeat to Birmingham.
However, since *that* sorry day at Wembley, Koscielny has evolved into a Premier League stalwart, vindicating Arsene Wenger’s decision to take an £8million punt on an unknown quantity from FC Lorient.
The Frenchman finally found his forever home in Arsenal’s backline alongside Per Mertesacker and for two years the pair enjoyed an elite-level partnership.
Back in 2013, Koscielny’s performances even seduced then Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola into making a £20million bid for his services, before the Frenchman promptly ended speculation of a move by penning a new long-term contract with the Gunners.
That same contract will come to an end next year, fuelling suggestions that the Europa League final could be Koscielny’s final game in an Arsenal shirt and perhaps even the last of his career.
The form of the 33-year-old since his return from injury has been a throwback to the Koscielny of old and left Arsenal fans frustrated that his encouraging partnership with Sokratis looks set to only be a short-lived one.
Koscielny’s miserable 2018 was compounded by missing out on France’s World Cup winning campaign, when had it not been for his ruptured achilles, he would have captained his country in Russia.
The Frenchman’s gruelling path back to Unai Emery’s first-team and subsequent fallout with national team manager Didier Deschamps, was superbly documented by Arsenal’s media channel.
Even in the twilight of his career, the man affectionately referred to as ‘Lolo’ by fans and team-mates alike, continues to leave everything out on pitch.
Koscielny himself has no doubt been surprised by the physical levels he’s managed to achieve following such a serious injury and is finishing games in visible pain.
Emery has been left with no choice but to test the Frenchman’s ageing body to the extreme following a spate of injuries at the heart of Arsenal’s defence.
A torrid 90 minutes against Southampton, in which Danny Ings exploited his ring-rust, is the only occasion this season in which Koscielny has looked his age.
Vincent Kompany called time on his Man City career by securing a historic domestic treble for the club that his leadership has changed forever.
Although Koscielny’s goodbye to Arsenal won’t be as trophy-laden, much like Kompany’s, it will signal the passing of the torch from a modern-day club legend onto the next generation.
With the exception of Aaron Ramsey, no player in the current Arsenal crop is more deserving of a successful send-off.
A win in the same competition in which Koscienly’s career almost ended 12 months ago would be a fairytale ending.
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