After his impressive debut in the Community Shield back in August, Arsenal fans waxed lyrical about Sead Kolasinac.
The 24 year old scored the leveller for the Gunners against Chelsea at Wembley but it was the way he applied himself against the bitter rivals that endeared the fans to him. Not only was he calm in possession, he also added the physicality and aggression arguably not seen from a left-back since Gael Clichy left in 2011.
Kolasinac continued that form on the opening day clash with Leicester, against whom he made a number of crunching tackles and had a willingness to drive forward. Although in that match he played as a wide centre-back, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s departure for Liverpool soon saw him shift to a more natural left wing-back role.
Strong performances over August and October saw him voted the club’s Player of the Month for both periods, highlighting a hugely positive start: especially for a free signing from Schalke.
In recent weeks however, the Karlsruhe-born man’s form has dropped. That can be put down in part to the change of system from 3-4-2-1 to 4-2-3-1, with Arsene Wenger appearing reluctant to start Kolasinac as part of a regular back four. He was concerned, perhaps, that Kolasinac’s extreme physicality sometimes leads to rash decision-making out of possession, which can be more costly with only two centre-backs in situ than with the insurance of three.
The Frenchman has therefore opted for Nacho Monreal in the left-back slot, alongside centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi with Hector Bellerin retaining his place at right-back.
That though, only explains half the story. There was a brief period before the switch to 4-2-3-1 when Wenger still favoured the wing-back system, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the preferred option in Kolasinac’s position. There were rumours that the 24-year-old, who already possesses great upper-body strength, does not go to the gym as much as one might expect.
The problem is that gym work is not just important for muscle building, it also helps a player’s endurance. Such a habit didn’t hinder him in Germany, where the tempo and intensity of matches isn’t quite as high. Perhaps it is no surprise therefore, that he is finding the relentless nature of the Premier League a challenge to adapt to. The standard here dictates that a lack of stamina, or a defensive mistake which Kolasinac can sometimes be prone to, is punished.
He is still young, but having had a period to fully adjust, now is the time for him to rediscover his early-season form. With The Gunners looking to end the season on a flourish by winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League, Arsenal desperately need Kolasinac to iron out those errors, develop a stronger stamina and show his true ability.