It is no coincidence that our recent return to form has come at a time when we have established a settled and reliable first-choice eleven.
I thought today I’d take a look at what each member of the starting team brings, why they work together so well and perhaps most importantly, why I love watching them play so much.
Wojciech Szczesny — Got into the team on the back of a couple of good FA Cup performances and Lukasz Fabianski’s injury and has performed admirably. His Nicklas Bendtner-like confidence on and off the pitch is to be admired — his Twitter updates are hilariously self-assured! — and he has backed it up with his performances on the pitch. At a time when Fabianski looked to have improved our goalkeeping position Szczesny has taken it to another level. Obviously well-liked by his teammates and adored by supporters hoping for a solution to our goalkeeping problems, Szczesny communicates well with the defence and brings a calm at the back that has been missing since, well, as long as I can remember. From a supporters point of view that calm could be purely psychological but the fact is that I feel safer when he is there than I have in the 12 years that I have supported this club. And that’s saying something.
Johan Djourou — It has been an absolute delight to watch Djourou develop into a commanding central-defender this season. Unquestionably rusty in his opening few performances after a year out with injury, in the absence of Vermaelen Djourou has become arguably our most important central defender. Bizarrely criticised by a few friends of mine for lacking pace, Djourou is as quick as any big centre-back in the league and at 6’4 has the height and aerial ability to match it with the best strikers around, as evidenced by a superb performance against Didier Drogba in December. For years Arsenal supporters have been crying out for Arsene Wenger to bring in a big central defender who increase our physical presence in the defensive third but in my eyes, Djourou is that defender. Abou Diaby once described him as the calmest man in the Arsenal squad and Djourou’s increasingly-effective partnership with Koscielny has been a highlight of the season.
Laurent Koscielny — Came in for criticism earlier in the season for not being ready but has responded in style. Brought into the squad by Wenger for tenacious will to hassle opposition strikers early and an uncanny ability to win the ball in one-on-one situations, Koscielny is the ideal defender for tracking a player like Wayne Rooney. Has made some errors of judgment over the course of the season but his desire to press his man sets the tone for the rest of the team and perfectly compliments Djourou’s more relaxed style of play. Koscielny is a statistical marvel: our most accurate passer and best tackler and as a 26-year-old playing his first season in England (and just his second in top-flight European football) Koscielny strikers me as an astute, intelligent learner and exactly the type of player that you can count on to fulfill the instructions given to him. Will only get better as the season moves forward and his experience grows.
(Part 2 & 3 to follow over the next days)
Have your say on Part 1 of Loving Arsenal’s First Eleven by leaving a comment.