10 April 2013

Koscielny rumors further prove our ascendancy (and his).

Yet again, a key player of ours is linked with an away-move. Yet again, the interested team is one of the giants of European football. Yet again, we worry that one more player will be lured away, enticed by the prospects of the trophies on offer. When it comes to Laurent Koscielny, we should rest a little easier with the knowledge that he has just signed a long-term deal.  In the short time that he's been here, he's impressed me enough that I would love to see him sporting the Arsenal cannon for quite a while. Rather than fretting about Bayern's flirtations, we should accept this for what it isconfirmation of his quality, of Wenger's ability to find and develop talent, and of Arsenal's ascendancy in European football, not that we've reclaimed a position among the greats but that we're rising in the eyes of our competitors.

It is after all partly due to Koscielny's performance against Bayern that they're interested. He scored on the world's stingiest defense and helped organize one of our strongest defensive showings of the year, against one of Europe's most-prolific offenses, on their pitch, as they got increasingly nervous. Their interest is a confirmation of his growing reputation, so I hope the message sent to Bayern was akin to a polite "thank you, he is quite a nice defender, but he's not available." After all, he signed that new contract back in July 2012, one rumored to be around five years long.

[deleted my mistake here about Koscielny making the leap from Ligue 2; Koscielny played for Lorient after they were promoted to Ligue 1]. Koscielny's promotion to the Prem was not without its hiccups, it's true, but he's become such a reliable defender that it's hard to imagine a starting XI without him. Indeed, I'm actually relieved that Mertesacker is the one who saw red, as it gives Wenger an excuse to put Vermaelen in without having to rotate Koscielny out (not yet, at least).

So when it comes down to a club like Bayern inquiring about him, he should feel quite proud. They hardly need to shore up a leaky defense in the same way that Barcelona might need to by pursuing Vermaelen (a move I addressed a while back heresimilar logic if different circumstances). The broader trend is unmistakable, although it comes with a heavy caveat. Our players now regularly draw the covetous eyes of Europe's biggest and best, which proves our players' quality, of course, and also indicates the regard other teams have for us. Yes, we find ourselves scrambling in our own league and crashed out of the Champions League, but we would be remiss to neglect the attention we continue to draw.

The caveat (one that is most certainly on everyone's minds) is that we absolutely cannot be seduced by  this attention. After all, the poisonous flip-side to such flirtations is when the player chooses to consummate. We've been burned too many times in the past by Man U, Man City,and  Barcelona, to name a few. The key difference with Bayern is that Koscielny is not in the last year of his contract, so he doesn't have that lever to pull and he seems less likely than certain others to try even if he did.

Along similar lines, it's rumors like this that highlight the importance of qualifying for the Champions League. The good news is that it's now ours to lose, thanks to that game in hand over Spurs. If we qualify, we can sleep a little easier knowing that our current players will have that to look forward to, and we can dangle that same carrot to other players as we continue to re-establish ourselves as a great team for which the best players would like to play. Maybe some of them already do.