Koscielny returns to plug gap at the back

LONDON • Arsenal are facing a mini-crisis at the back ahead of their Premier League trip to Southampton today, with three of their regular centre-backs either injured or suspended.

Rob Holding was ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing his cruciate ligament last week, while Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos will both serve a one-match ban at St Mary's, having accumulated five yellow cards this term.

So it was a relief for manager Unai Emery to see Laurent Koscielny return to full fitness in midweek after seven months out following Achilles tendon surgery in May.

The Arsenal captain played 72 minutes in the Europa League 1-0 home victory over Qarabag on Thursday and is hoping to be in the running for his first league start of the season against the Saints.

Koscielny, who also missed out on a place in France's World Cup-winning squad, said the injury has been one of his toughest battles as he had to "learn how to walk" again.

"It's difficult to be injured because when you start rehab, you have to re-learn how to go step by step on the stairs, and it's difficult at the beginning, because you look like you can't be back on the pitch," the 33-year-old said. "I'm proud of myself."

Emery is planning to play Stephan Lichtsteiner alongside Koscielny or Nacho Monreal in what will be a makeshift backline facing Ralph Hasenhuttl's men.

 

Although this could be Koscielny's second appearance after his long-term injury, his manager has no worries over his ability to do the job for the Gunners, who are seeking to extend their unbeaten run to 23 games in all competitions.

The Spaniard told reporters: "This process with him is to take confidence again, take rhythm for playing matches. We are going to continue this process maybe on Sunday."

THE TIMES, LONDON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 16, 2018, with the headline 'Koscielny returns to plug gap at the back'. Print Edition | Subscribe