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Laurent Koscielny: “It is not easy for everyone to play high up the pitch.”

Arsenal defender and French international Laurent Koscielny has given an extensive interview with L’Équipe this morning. Highlights.

Do you feel as if every defender is judged in the same way?

It is difficult, there are different styles. It is like with strikers: you have players with styles like Olive (Olivier Giroud) or Lukaku, more physical, and others who are quicker, like Agüero. At the back, it is the same. Mamad (Sakho), Raph (Varane) or me, we do not have the same qualities.

Aside from that, you always talk about a pair. Some people believe that you need to complement the other, with a #4 or #5 as a stopper, but look at Barca, Piqué and Mascherano have pretty much the same qualities: good in terms of the restart, difficult in terms of getting past them.

Look at Leicester this season. This team has a centre back pairing with two big lads (Morgan and Huth) and they did not concede many goals. I think that there is no ideal central defender. I repeat, what counts, is to find a pairing that works, that communicates well with each other.

You are the defender in the Premier League who defends the most on your feet, you tackle very little, you are someone who executes some of the most interceptions, you make the least fouls, and, still, you remain an individual who is constantly questioned. Why?

Ukraine vs France (In 2013, when he was sent off)

Really?

Yes, I think so. I reckon I will drag that along with me for a while. I was often painted as this individual who got lots of red cards, who conceded a lot of penalties, and I think that, from this point of view, I have been tamed.

Aside from that, to be clear, these were never attacks. These were simply lapses in concentration. But people usually only remember the worst and what I did against Ukraine stayed in their heads.

What do you have to do to become renowned as a central defender?

Win titles? I do not know. Maybe… Leicester became champions and Morgan was in the best XI of the Premier League. Is he better than me? Could he play for a top four team?

Arsenal likes possession and to play high, which leaves a lot of space behind the defence. Is it harder to be a defender in a team like yours or for a team like Atletico Madrid who plays lower?

Of course! When you defend deep, it is not just your defender who does so. Everyone has their job. It is a block. I watched the second leg of the Champions League Quarter Final between Atletico and Barca, Grizou (Griezmann) was 25 metres away. That is certainly helpful for defenders.

Everyone has their position, their distance between each player, everyone knows what they need to do. For us, when we are high, our attackers are in front, and, behind, we have to be concerned with keeping concentration to keep on course. We are in danger if we play against teams who like depth. That is our style.

We want to be high up on the pitch, to win back the ball as quickly as possible so that we have as short a distance as possible to go back towards and in front of the goal.

Like the French national team?

We want to maybe play a little more deep. We release the ball from the very back and take a lot more time to build. As soon as we lose the ball, we drop a lot in order to deal with this depth despite that, sometimes, we could maybe stay a little higher.

Is that easier for a centre back then?

What is easier, when you are in place, is the interceptions. And when you are higher, you are more at risk. In situations such as one vs one in the centre, with Arsenal, you cannot afford to make a mistake.

Do you have more 1 vs 1 situations to deal with for your club than with your national team?

Yes.

If you were at Atletico Madrid, would you have basically no 1 vs 1’s to face?

Practically none.

You would be a star…

(he smiles)

At Atletico, Godin and Gimenez are considered so. And for Miranda before them, it was the same.

I can see what you are saying… For me, I do not attach an enormous amount of importance to that. I know simply that I enjoy myself more by playing for a team that has the ball instead of being positioned deep and to restart with a long period of possession.

I prefer to recover higher up the field and as quickly as possible. That allows us, defenders, to avoid great runs and efforts to bring the ball forward. We are in less difficulty physically by being a high block and by recovering balls in such a way.

A central defender who is able to play for a team like Arsenal can you adapt more easily to play for a team with a deeper defensive block, rather than the other way around?

Yes, I think so. It is not easy for everyone to play very high up the pitch.

Which examples inspire you?

The two at Barca. They stay very, very high up the pitch. Despite that, they are rarely put in danger. But Barca, as soon as they lose the ball, they put such a pressure on their opposition that they win the ball back very, very quickly. And the defenders have the ability to deal with it.

At Lorient like at Arsenal, have you always adopted this philosophy?

Yes.

Would you not be tempted one day to play for a team of the profile of Atletico Madrid?

Sometimes, we play deep for Arsenal. I remember a match against Manchester City in 2014/15, where we won 2-0 at theirs. We played the entire match very deep, by leaving them to have the ball.

Did you enjoy that?

Yes, because, facing us was Manchester City and we won. But to play an entire season like that…

At the same time, the Atletico Madrid philosophy elevates the importance of the defender…

For sure. They are always in a position to attack the duels. They are never in a dangerous position, in a hurry. And one second, you have to find your position, to know how to position yourself in terms of your attacker. There is a capacity to react which is stronger. By staying within your twenty metres, you are relaxed. You know where everyone is and you are already in place.

At Arsenal, if you lose the ball, me, I run towards my goal. And when you are running towards your goal, it is difficult to make an intervention. On crosses, there is always the danger of scoring an own goal.

Back to the first question: are central defender always judged in the light of the same criteria?

It is difficult your question… There are some who are made more to play in teams who play deep that you would not put in another team, with an average line. Despite that, it is true that defenders at Arsenal or in the clubs of that calibre are more judged on their mistakes. Because we will always be more in danger in our situation. But we enjoy ourselves more.

And where do you derive that enjoyment from?

I find it when I manage to intercept the ball in the middle ahead of my attacker as he was setting off for a counter. And in the end, it is my team that goes off to attack, to deliver a blow in the attacking phase. Mentally, for the opponent, that is tough.

This season, with Arsenal, you are the defender who has intercepted the most amount of balls in the Premier League: 3.8 per match. Have your progressed in this domain this season?

I do not think so. I have always liked to feel the passes coming and being able to get ahead to it of my attacker. I have always had that.

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