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Arsenal's defensive improvement of late can be largely attributed to the France centre-back, who has emerged as a shock transfer target for the German champions

ANALYIS
By James Goldman

It was the night when a teenage Jack Wilshere stood tall against Andres Iniesta and Xavi, the night when Robin van Persie embraced Arsene Wenger so tightly that you could never imagine them being parted and the night when Lionel Messi was shackled by Laurent Koscielny.

Two years on from Arsenal's iconic - but ultimately futile - victory over Barcelona, much has changed.  

Bayern Munich have seen to it that Xavi and Iniesta are no longer the yardsticks for midfield excellence, Van Persie now shares his goal celebrations with Sir Alex Ferguson, while Koscielny has gone from a defender capable of occasional excellence to one of the driving forces behind his side's pursuit of Champions League qualification – and Pep Guardiola has taken note.

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Of all the glamorous and exotic names to be linked with Guardiola's impending Munich makeover, Koscielny's is perhaps the most underwhelming and surprising. After all, how do you reinforce a defence that kept Barcelona at bay for 180 minutes with the minimum of fuss, never mind one that has shipped just 14 goals in the Bundesliga this season?

A defender once considered fragile of mind and body would not appear to be the most obvious answer but, such has been Koscielny's improvement since he returned to the team in place of Thomas Vermaelen, it is little wonder that Europe's heavyweights are beginning to register interest.

Reassuringly, Arsenal appear intent on being bullied no more by those who come calling for their elite performers, just as Koscielny now refuses to be intimidated by some of the Premier League's more agricultural opponents.

The 27-year-old has long been considered a centre-back of class and composure, a defender who pickpockets opponents rather than silences them with the sledgehammer approach. While he has struggled against the roughhouse methods of Andy Carroll and even Grant Holt in the past, he has regularly excelled against many of the game's more nimble-footed attackers.  

LAURENT AND ORDER

KOSCIELNY'S SEASON SO FAR
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
YELLOW CARDS
RED CARDS
31
3
5
1
Sergio Aguero was stifled into submission on Arsenal's vist to Manchester City early on this season, while Van Persie, a successful penalty conversion aside, was largely marked out of his return to north London on Sunday, repeatedly eased off the ball if not already beaten to it.

Indeed, in one-on-one situations there are few better currently plying their trade in England's top flight. Vincent Kompany, widely acknowledged as the Premier League's beacon of defensive dominance, boasts a tackle win rate of 80 per cent which is bettered by the former Loirent man.

Koscielny has won a mightily impressive 73% of his ground duels this season (10% more than Kompany) and despite a significant height disadvantage boasts a higher aerial duels win percentage (62%) than the towers of power, Rio Ferdinand and Jan Vertonghen, the two centre-backs who were voted into the PFA Team of the Year last week.

Crucially, the lapses in concentration that undermined much of his good work in the early part of his Arsenal career – the error that gifted Birmingham City the League Cup being the highest profile example - appear to have dried up.

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A propensity for scoring own goals - the Frenchman put through his own net four times over the course of the last two seasons - has mercifully abated. Moreover, he has made just a solitary mistake that has led directly to a goal being scored this season.

In possession, Koscielny stands as one of the most accurate defensive distributors in the league. Although his pass-completion rate is lower than that of Vertonghen, Ferdinand and Kompany, that can be explained by the fact that he attempts significantly more forward passes than that triumvirate.

It would be churlish to suggest that Arsenal's vastly improved defensive record - they have conceded just four goals in the eight games since the France international returned to the starting line-up, only one of which came from open play – but certainly he has taken a lead role in ensuring that his side are no longer a soft touch. Learning the language has certainly helped.

"Yes [I shout more now]! My English is better so I talk more on the pitch," Koscielny told club's official website in April.

Having waited three years to see the £10 million signing mature into the defender whom Wenger always claimed was worthy of wearing the famous No.6 shirt, Arsenal will hope that Koscielny is not about to embark on an intensive German language course.

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