In a tough game versus high-flying Everton, leaders Arsenal didn’t keep the ball as well as they usually had done so far this season. This meant that the Arsenal defenders had to be up to the challenge of defending for longer periods and to stop quality players, like Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley. While Arsenal were good overall defensively, Laurent Koscielny stood out in this game and was clearly up to the challenge.
Everton really dominated Arsenal in the first 30-35 minutes with the Arsenal creative players finding it hard to get into the game. Many fans and pundits believe Arsenal have really improved their defensive prowess. The Arsenal team has shown a solidity and a willingness to defend unlike in previous seasons. Wenger has settled on a centre-back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker, giving Arsenal that solidity and helping Arsenal do as well as they have.
Koscielny was absolutely outstanding leading in many of the statistical categories. He led the team in headed clearances and total clearances with six and nine respectively, he also highlighted his ability to read the game, making eight interceptions which was more than double what any other Arsenal player made. Koscielny won the ball in the defensive third more than any other player on the pitch and also won both of his attempted tackles and two of his three ground duels.
Koscielny made five of his interceptions in the middle third of the pitch, helping set up some Arsenal counter attacks. He also helped prevent much service from getting to the Everton players, specifically Lukaku, by making seven clearances in or around the penalty box. Lukaku was kept pretty quiet by the Arsenal defence. The on loan striker was unable to get a shot on target and he took fewer touches than any outfield starting player. Koscielny also provoked the only offside of the game. This shows how Arsenal absorbed the Everton pressure instead of trying to play a high line. Since the disasters at other grounds, Arsenal have been much less committed to playing a high line and much more willing to absorb opposing pressure, forcing 3.5 offsides per game last season compared to 2.5 this season. Since Wenger changed both the philosophy and the centre-back pairing to Koscielny and Mertesacker, Arsenal have only conceded 16 goals in their last 25 league games. I’ve written on how good this partnership is many times and it really showed stopping one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League in Romelu Lukaku.
Koscielny showed his ability to read the game a couple of times by making key clearances to cut out clear cut chances. On two separate occasions in the game, Everton were able to reach the byline and attempt seemingly open cut backs to Kevin Mirallas near the penalty spot. Both times, however, Koscielny knew what was going to happen before it happened and was able to get there to cut the ball out and kill a possibly dangerous opportunity.
People are still questioning Arsenal’s title credentials and, while this draw may bring some of the sceptics back, they have done a very good job of quieting the critics. One area that is sure to give them an edge in their title push is the new found defensive solidity. Arsenal have the best defensive record in the league and, despite some criticism from pundits, it has become a real strength of this Arsenal team. Koscielny is a big part of this defensive strength and if he can continue to be consistent with his performances, he will be a big factor in Arsenal’s title challenge this season.