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Wenger says Arsenal duo are two of the most improved since cup final blunder

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (centre) of Arsenal and Laurent Koscielny react after a defensive mistake leading to the Birmingham City winning goal during the 2011 Carling Cup final. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (centre) of Arsenal and Laurent Koscielny react after a defensive mistake leading to the Birmingham City winning goal during the 2011 Carling Cup final. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Sunday, February 2, 2014
7:00 AM

Arsene Wenger insists that Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny’s improvements since their gaffe cost Arsenal the Capital One Cup three years ago shows that transfers are not always the answer to a club’s problems.

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The north Londoners had been heavily linked with Schalke’s Julian Draxler but Wenger ruled that out on Friday morning.

Swedish international midfielder Kim Kallstrom quickly emerged as a replacement target and the 31-year-old, who arrived with a back injury that will rule him out of tomorrow’s London derby visit of Crystal Palace, did sign on loan from Spartak Moscow.

That was not enough to placate Gunners fans who wanted a big name signing or a new striker to boost their Premier League title bid.

But Wenger has been here before, especially with his goalkeeper, when a dip in the Pole’s form saw calls for him to be replaced. He resisted and now feels the stopper and Koscielny – who was also scrutinised in his first season at the club – are two of the most improved players he has.

“I was questioned on that, especially on Wojciech because there was pressure there,” the Frenchman said on keeping faith with both.

“The goalkeeper is 24 and that’s still very young for a goalkeeper at that level. Since this season he has proven that it was the right decision.”

Szczesny and Koscielny were involved in an 89th minute mix-up that saw Birmingham score the winning goal in the 2011 League Cup final, but Wenger believes the response of the duo since highlights the benefits of keeping faith in players.

“Since this [cup final] incident between Wojciech and Koscielny they are certainly two of the most improved players and at that stage you could have questioned the two,” he said.

“That shows you always have to be open-minded because they were, at the time, two inexperienced players and they have improved tremendously since.”

Wenger also insists that Koscielny is now one of the best defenders in the top-flight.

“He has a combination of qualities; a good reading of the game, good anticipating, great commitment and speed, good on the turn, good on the ball and he has improved a lot on his control of himself.

“He’s more serene, has gained a lot of confidence and for me he is one of the better defenders in the Premier League.

“He had a tough spell. Last year I took him out of the team for a while but that’s where I give him credit.

“He came back, took it in a positive way and came back in a very convincing way.”

Arsenal can return to the top of the Premier League for at least 24 hours with victory over Crystal Palace today at 4pm.

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