Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Sead Kolasinac struggling in Arsenal's stormy season under Arsene Wenger
Last Updated: 06/03/18 4:22pm
Sead Kolasinac arrived at Arsenal to high expectations, but it has been a difficult debut season for him so far. Nick Wright examines the situation ahead of a crucial week for the Gunners...
There was optimism at Arsenal when their deal for Sead Kolasinac was confirmed at the start of June. Arsene Wenger's side had finished the previous season strongly, overcoming Manchester City and Chelsea to lift their third FA Cup in four years, and their first signing of the summer seemed like a shrewd piece of business.
Kolasinac came with the physicality and aggression Arsenal are often accused of lacking, and there was pedigree too. The left-back had just been named in the Bundesliga Team of the Year after three goals and five assists in 25 appearances for Schalke. To get him on a free - before the transfer window had even opened - was seen as a coup.
Wenger said Kolasinac had "all the attributes to adapt to English football" and the early signs were encouraging. He started by coming off the bench to score Arsenal's equaliser in their Community Shield victory over Chelsea in August. By the end of October, he had contributed three goals and three assists in 11 appearances in all competitions.
Arsenal's start to the season had not been without its problems, but they were within touching distance of second-placed Manchester United and progressing smoothly in the cup competitions. Fast forward four months, however, and they are in disarray. The early-season optimism has evaporated and Kolasinac's fortunes have declined dramatically.
His place in the team has been uncertain since December, when Wenger opted to revert to a back four for games against West Ham and Newcastle. Ainsley Maitland-Niles earned plaudits for some of his performances in his place, but the manager's preference for a 20-year-old central midfielder at left-back said a lot about how he views Kolasinac.
Wenger has suggested the Bosnia and Herzegovina international is not suited to playing in a flat back four and it is not difficult to understand his point of view. Schalke's former sporting director Gerhard Zuber talked up Kolasinac's defensive prowess in an interview with Sky Sports back in July, but there has been limited evidence of it at the Emirates Stadium so far.
In fact, Kolasinac has taken a lackadaisical approach to his defensive duties at times, preferring to focus on bombing forward than tracking back. Having averaged more than six tackles and interceptions combined per 90 minutes at Schalke last season, he has averaged just three at Arsenal.
For all the threat he carries going forward, there have been question marks over his passing, too. Kolasinac has completed less than 70 per cent of his passes on four separate occasions in the Premier League this season. His overall completion rate of 79.3 per cent is the second-lowest of any Arsenal player to have played a minimum of 500 minutes.
It's unusually low for an Arsenal defender and it appears to have been noted by Wenger. Kolasinac was sidelined by an ankle injury for three games at the start of January but he was left on the bench for five consecutive Premier League outings after that. Since returning to the starting line-up last month, he has lacked confidence as well as sharpness.
His attacking contributions have masked defensive frailties at times - most notably in the home meeting with Ostersunds in the Europa League. Kolasinac scored Arsenal's goal that night, but only after he was repeatedly exposed in the first half. The Swedish minnows targeted him and it paid off when he failed to intercept the pass which led to Hosam Aiesh's opener.
Kolasinac was dropped for the Carabao Cup final - eventually coming on for the injured Nacho Monreal in the first half - but he struggled again when he returned to the starting line-up for Arsenal's Premier League meeting with Manchester City a few days later.
Instead of strong, he looked sluggish; instead of powerful, he looked clumsy. "The problem with Kolasinac is that he can't move his feet," said Gary Neville in the Sky Sports commentary box. "Manchester City, every one of their players can. So when they change the direction or a quick combination around him, he's struggling badly."
That theme continued against Brighton on Sunday. Kolasinac was not near enough to Pascal Gross when he delivered the right-wing cross for Glenn Murray to double Brighton's lead at the Amex Stadium, and he was fortunate not to be shown a second yellow card when he flattened Ezequiel Schelotto in the second half.
Kolasinac is not the only Arsenal player to have struggled lately and the team's broader defensive issues raise questions over coaching as well as quality, but what's certain is that he needs to summon a response. Wenger lauded his "strong and determined attitude" back in the summer. Now is the time for him to show it.
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