Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny gave an enthralling interview with Journal du Dimanche yesterday whereby he discussed Arsenal’s title chances, French politics and much more. In full.
Is it this year or never for Arsenal?
The title is not won, but I prefer to be in this position than running after the others. There are still 4 months to go, it will be difficult. The Premier League is more and more equal. [Thanks to the TV rights] the average teams can sign very good players who would have signed for the top 5 up until now. But after ten years without a trophy the Cup victories did us good. We needed to get past that barrier. For three years, we have kept a framework. We know each other better, that allows us to win matches that we would have otherwise lost previously.
In Europe, what are Arsenal compared to Barcelona or compared to Bayern?
We need to progress consistently and to beef up our squad… [He rephrases] Actually we are there, but we lose too many elements [through injury] during the season. It is difficult when you cannot count on four or five people for six months. It is like that every year, I do not know where it comes from. That stops us from getting to the level of the top 5 teams.
Do you think that you will finish your career at Arsenal?
For the moment, I have no reason to go anywhere else. I have all that I need to thrive here. I have had contacts [with other clubs], but I always asked myself if it was worth taking the risk. I have seen a fair amount of players leave for a bigger club just to find themselves on the bench.
At the start of my career, I was often on the bench. I hated it. I told myself: never again. I made risky choices: by leaving Guingamp for Tours, in the National [3rd division], I did not know where I was going. But I knew that I had the abilities for Ligue 1.
At Arsenal, your positive record is polluted by sendings off and notable clangers.
I have played more than 220 matches. I have only received four red cards and I have conceded some penalties: that is not that much overall. But it is true, that I have had good matches that have been eclipsed by stupid fouls. I have worked on that. My game is based around anticipation, but, sometimes, you need to let the attacker have the ball…
You are 30. Is this finally the age where you become a starter for France?
It is an aim. Things are going well but nothing is nailed down, I have seen that clearly…
In 2013, the defeat during the qualifying playoffs against Ukraine cost you dearly.
For sure. I could have even missed the World Cup. When one looks at it closely, I played my game. But, on the penalty that I conceded, I was poorly positioned at the start. The red card, that is down to frustration.
I was annoyed by the situation. Didier Deschamps did not have a go at me, he did not need to say anything… For the return leg, Mamad [Sakho] plays and he scores a brace: it was written like that. Maybe if I did not give away the penalty and we lost just 1-0, we would not have had the game that we had in the second leg…
Can France win the Euros?
I believe so, of course. We will have to have a perfect performance through the group stage. The group is approachable, but you always have to be careful. There will be incredible expectations. To think that we have the right to finish first in our group…
Since the World Cup, we feel like a group that is together, happy to be together, with youngsters who are attentive surrounded by a few more seasoned individuals. We are going to be spending a month and a half together, we will need the atmosphere to be good.
What do you think about the Benzema-Valbuena affair?
It is damaging, but we will have to allow justice to take its course. The two players must be in pain to find themselves in this situation. They love Les Bleus, they have done a lot for the team. Without Karim, we would give ourselves a little handicap at the Euros. But we have alternatives.
What did you take away from the night of the 13th November at the Stade de France?
At the time, we did not pay any attention to the explosions, I played my game normally. At the final whistle, I winced when I saw the messages of the big screens. In the tunnel, I saw the images… I asked myself what it was, this mess. In the dressing rooms, we were all on our phones.
Then, we stayed with the Germans in the stadium. Lukas Podolski, my former teammate at Arsenal, explained to me that they had had a bomb alert in their hotel that very morning. Then we returned to Clairefontaine at 4 in the morning. With some players, we watched the TV to find out what was going on in Paris, like everyone else…
Did you want to train the next day?
No… We spoke about it with Griezmann, Schneiderlin and Lloris. On the one hand, our heads were not there. We just wanted to go home. But we needed to go and play at Wembley to show that life goes on. And it was in the end a magical moment of solidarity with our English friends. A homage to show that nothing can kill our country.
You had tears in your eyes during La Marseillaise…
It was truly poignant. I am not one to act out, but sometimes what happens inside overflows…
How is the Tulle accordion factory going, in which you have invested €600,000?
It has resumed activity and is slowly getting on track. 11 jobs have been saved. An Argentinian accordion player came to make his instruments and to promote a business that is nearly 100 years old. As I go to Corrèze when I can, I think I will visit it [the factory] on my next holidays.
As an individual from Corrèze, do you have special relationships with Jacques Chirac and François Hollande?
I knew Bernadette a bit, but not Jacques Chirac much. François, he is different…
François? Do you call him by his first name?
Yes, I do, but admittedly it is a little difficult today: he is our president after all. As a mayor, he was quite close to his administrators. Every Saturday morning, he would go past the market, he would greet everybody. Tulle, it is a village with 15,000 inhabitants. He knows my parents. I spent the day with him because he came for a tournament that I had organised: he spoke with the children, we even made him take a penalty. We ran back into each other before the World Cup. He had lunch with us at Clairefontaine.
It was friendly, it allowed him to talk about something other than politics.