Having started just 20 of Arsenal’s league matches in the previous campaign, Laurent Koscielny was mainly overlooked by Fantasy managers as the 2013/14 season got underway. Hampered by calf, back and thigh problems, the Frenchman seemed a little too injury-prone for our liking as Per Mertesacker kicked off the season as many managers’ preferred route into Arsene Wenger’s back-four:
This time round, though, Koscielny was able to steer clear of the treatment room for the majority of the season and started 32 of the Gunners’ 38 league fixtures – despite ending two points behind his fellow centre-half, the Frenchman proved his worth by serving up an average of 4.8 point per game, eclipsing Mertesacker’s 4.5 ppg.
Perhaps surprisingly, given their comparative game time in the previous season, Koscielny started off at the same price as Mertesacker in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game. Whilst the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil were quick to shine further up the field, Wenger’s team struggled to justify our interest and by the end of Gameweek 8, Koscielny had treated his owners to a single clean sheet and one bonus point, helping him to a measly 15 points.
Arsenal then found their feet defensively and embarked on a run which saw them concede just once in the following six fixtures. Having dropped to 5.3, Koscielny climbed to 5.4 before the 6-3 mauling at City forced us to reassess their prospects – immediately, though, the north London club bounced back with a run of two goals against in the subsequent six matches earning the Frenchman a further 0.2 price rise.
By the end of the season, Koscielny had scored twice for the fourth successive season – equalling Mertesacker’s two-goal haul – and had earned 24 bonus points to the German’s 23. A total of 155 points was his best return since arriving on these shores and considerably greater than the 2012/13 tally of 83 points, though Koscielny remained fairly under the radar all season – rising to a season high of 5.7 compared to Mertesacker’s 6.6, Koscielny ended with an 8% ownership, whilst the German resided in 25% of Fantasy teams.
Given that Arsenal’s two centre-halves finished in the top six defenders positions and Wojciech Szczesny ended second amongst keepers, it looks odds-on that Wenger’s main men are set to move out of last term’s mid-price bracket.
Having served up 11 clean sheets at home (compared to six away) and conceded only 11 times at the Emirates, the Gunners’ home record bodes well for their defensive prospects next time round. The main concern surrounding investment in Wenger’s defence – particularly if they are to move into the premium price bracket – is their poor record on the road against sides near the top of the table. Considering that Wenger’s men shipped 20 goals away from home against the rest of the top five, benching their defenders for such matches, whilst looking the safest option, dents Koscielny’s appeal a little, given that we’d have no qualms over playing Chelsea’s backline or Everton’s full-backs in the same games, for example.
In terms of defensive alternatives, neither Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal have nailed down the left-back berth, though the situation regarding Bacary Sagna’s contract situation may prove of interest. If the Frenchman ends up departing the Emirates, Carl Jenkinson could be handed a chance to finally cement a regular role in the back-four and potentially offer us a cheaper option into Wenger’s defence.
Ultimately, though, Koscielny and Mertesacker will be the main targets again, with a move to 6.0 or over ruling Szczesny out of the picture. Providing Koscielny can keep pace with the German’s goal threat, his ability to deliver clean sheet bonus points on a more regular basis may persuade more to acquire his talents next time round – the Frenchman picked up bonus from 12 of his 17 clean sheets. Whilst Mertesacker collected bonus from only nine of his 16 clean sheets – highlighting how favourably the Bonus Points System is weighted towards the former’s style of play.