'He was born strong': Wenger hails Gunners' new boy Kolasinac
When Arsenal go to Stoke City this evening they will have a new bulwark to prepare them for the physical onslaught. Too often over the years they have gone to places like the bet365 stadium and have been roughed up, knocked over and sent back to London with nothing to show for it. In nine Premier League visits, they have won there just twice.
But this year they have a new weapon in their back line, a man with more presence and substance than any other Arsenal defender for years. Stoke City have a lot of muscle - but not as much as they used to - but no-one as strong as Sead Kolasinac.
The big Bosnian-German left-back is one of only two Arsenal signings this summer and his free transfer was quickly forgotten when Arsenal spent £50million on Alexandre Lacazette. And yet his brief Arsenal career so far has been a triumph, two great games out of two. He looks perfectly equipped for the rough and tumble of Premier League football, which is not always the case with Arsenal's signings, although Wenger did deny he feels Arsenal got "bullied" last season.
But with Gabriel heading back to Spain to join Valencia this week, after a disappointing two-and-a-half years, Kolasinac already looks the better option.
Wenger is understandably delighted with Kolasinac, his strength and his adaptation to the English game. "He has started well," Wenger beamed at his press conference this week. "Maybe he is our strongest player, he is so naturally strong."
Wenger said recently that Kolasinac was "born strong", rather than having inflated himself in the gym, but his Arsenal team-mates say he is no stranger to pumping iron. Kolasinac looks like a defensive end from the NFL, Theo Walcott has called him an "absolute animal" and said he is not easy to get around. But the big Bosnian has impressed with the precision of his tackling, and the fact that with his power he does not need to foul.
"He uses quite well the strength of his body without violence," Wenger said. "When he intervenes it doesn't look to be a foul, he just uses his body strength. It is an important quality to help adapt to the Premier League." It certainly stands out compared to Gabriel's rash tackling.
What is especially surprising with Kolasinac is that he is nimble on his feet, and when he starts running down the left he is difficult to stop. With Nacho Monreal not as incisive as he used to be, Kolasinac gives Arsenal a new option on that side. "He's absolutely perfect for the Premier League," Walcott said after the Community Shield. "You can see the power, the pace. It's beautiful to watch."
"He has the capacity to repeat runs," Wenger pointed out on Wednesday, "and we noticed when we watched him play that he is quite dangerous in the final third. He already has some assists since he came here. Overall maybe he is not a glamorous dribbler, but the quality of his runs are very efficient." His thumping header at Wembley rescued the Community Shield for Arsenal.
Kolasinac is already very popular with the Arsenal fans and Wenger has noticed how the crowd, in the Community Shield and in last Friday's Premier League opener, have taken to him. "The determined attitude gets to the crowd, and that gives a swing to the team," Wenger explained. "You can see that with him. When he intervenes, he provokes happiness."
Kolasinac joins the growing ranks of German or formerly German-based players at Arsenal, along with Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka, who was signed from Borussia Monchengladbach last summer. Arsenal saw Kolasinac playing for Schalke, where he ran down his contract, and pounced. "I think it was a good opportunity in Germany because we knew he was at the end of his contract," Wenger said. "Watching him, I thought he had the quality. I met him and he had a good spirit and a good attitude. It was a no-brainer for us."
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