Koscielny: Our start was a catastrophe
Defender Laurent Koscielny has admitted Arsenal's players doubted both themselves and manager Arsene Wenger after their dreadful start to this season. The Gunners won just once, courtesy of Andrey Arshavin's freak goal against Swansea, in their opening five Premier League games, in which they were beaten 8-2 by Manchester United and 4-3 by eventually relegated Blackburn.
A remarkable turnaround since has left them in third place going into this weekend's final round of fixtures, but Koscielny admits confidence was at rock bottom as that dismal run followed the summer departures of key midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and a deadline-day scramble to replace them.
The former Lorient centre-half admitted to France Football, in an interview reproduced in English on Arsenal.com, that the club's struggles even led to question marks over the performance of iconic manager Wenger. "The beginning of the season was a catastrophe," he said. "We'd lost players who were key to our system. We recruited late, and it took a while for us to gel.
"We were 'whopped' at Old Trafford. Everybody thought we were dead and buried. But you don't lose your football (ability) like that, like snapping your fingers. It can happen that a grain of sand falls in the machine, and the machine stalls; then you start to have doubts about your qualities, your club, your coach, everything.
"We had to put the house back in order. And everyone did their bit - the coach, the club - because we were in a critical situation. The squad wasn't giving enough for the club, and was aware of it. We got back to work, we told each other the things that needed to be told; after which, one win, two wins, confidence comes back, and things follow from then on. The new players gelled in the squad, and here we are."
The goals of Robin van Persie have been crucial, earning the Dutchman both the Professional Footballers' Association and Football Writers' Association player of the season awards and lifting the north London club into UEFA Champions League contention.
"It's his season. I'm really happy for him," said Koscielny. "It's the first time he hasn't been bothered by injuries, and you can see the difference. I try not to kick him too much (in training) - I go soft on him! We try to be reasonable: the season is so long."
While league results have turned around, the 4-0 hammering by AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash - which saw Arsenal eliminated despite a 3-0 second-leg win - was another low point in an up-and-down season. "The biggest regret is, perhaps, the first leg against Milan, when the game completely passed us by," Koscielny said.
Looking ahead to the new season, he added: "Arsenal's place is among the top four clubs in England. A club doesn't 'die' like that, and the players realised it. The most important thing is to get that third place. Then if we keep our key players, if we bring in players who can bring something extra, if we make a good start in the league, then, yes, we'll be contenders for the title."