Mid-December 2014 and Aaron Ramsey has become the latest name to be added to Arsenal’s long injury list in the company of fellow injured midfielders such as Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere. Undeniably, Arsenal are already short of midfielders and as news began to arise that loan-ranger Francis Coquelin had been recalled from a loan spell at Championship side Charlton Athletic, chaos followed. Fans took to social media, directing their frustration at the club, in particular at manager Arsene Wenger, for not buying a much needed Defensive Midfielder during the Summer transfer window, and instead relying simply on Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini to do a sufficient enough job for the club.
Francis Coquelin however joined Arsenal from Stade Lavallios back in 2007 at the young age of 17. Loan spells at Lorient and SC Freiburg were to follow two years of playing for Arsenal’s reserves and at the beginning of November after starting the 2014/15 season either on the bench or once again back with the under twenty-one side, Coquelin was sent out on loan to apply his trade in the Championship. In sending his young star out on loan to Charlton Athletic, Arsene Wenger would have been hoping Coquelin could follow in the footsteps of former gooner Alex Song, who himself joined The Addicks on loan before becoming a regular in the first team. Although Wenger may have hoped for much a different outcome to Alex Song’s final days at Arsenal, resulting in a player with whom many Arsenal fans lost patience with and subsequently and wanted to sell as soon as possible.
Yet even after the return of Coquelin, Arsenal fans still expected the capture of an established defensive midfielder in the January transfer window. And after losing to Southampton in the first Premier League game of 2015, fans, more than ever before, became that bit more eager for Wenger to splash the cash and sign a midfield anchorman. But in typical Arsene Wenger fashion, the Frenchman obviously chose to continue with his career-defining philosophy of persevering and thus, developing young, talented hot prospects within the club. Consequently, Arsenal acted swiftly in the window to bring in another unknown youngster, this time from Polish league – Krystian Bielik, hailing from Legia Warsaw. The price has reportedly been quoted at around £2.7M plus add-ons after several phases of negotiations.
So as Arsenal failed to act in bringing in an established defensive midfielder, their trip to the blue half of Manchester would prove to be an important barometer of whether or not they would be exposed in this area, or whether a forward-thinking approach with a young replacement was the right way forward. And in a game where both teams needed a win,, with one team challenging for the top and the other simply for a place in the top four, this was to be a true test of Arsenal’s all round stability.
And it really is amazing how much ninety minutes can change everything. Francis Coquelin after frequent uncertainty, scrutiny and criticism from Arsenal fans went from zero to hero status in the space of ninety minutes. A well commended and disciplined performance from the Frenchman in the middle of the park pleased both Arsenal fans and football pundits throughout football. After an impressive match against the reigning Premier League champions, this in hindsight looks to be the spring-board which has propelled Coquelin to stardom and often a place in the Arsenal starting XI, as every following game he has continued to impress.
Thankfully for the future of Arsenal’s midfield, there really has been a clear and substantial development in his performances, and I am pleased to say that I have always thought that if Arsene spent as much time with a player as he did money, that the player would then have the potential to go progress in their career with Arsenal. His loan spell at Freiburg looked to be a turning point in his career, giving a false impression about his abilities to many Arsenal fans, creating an image of instability and looking like another young player who has failed to grow into Arsenal’s future starting XI. Although it must be remembered that Coquelin was never played in such a central defensive midfield role at Freiburg, and was preferred more as a winger, or even a full-back and this could therefore explain the false impression he created. With no doubt, he obviously has some tricks up his sleeves but clearly, the role he is best suited to as shown through Arsene Wenger’s persistence with the youngster is quite clearly not what Freiburg had in mind. Coquelin continued to struggle before being dropped and even branded one of the biggest Bundesliga flops of the 2013/14 season, whilst nowadays he has slowly but surely become one of the first names on Arsene Wenger’s teamsheet! And despite rumours linking Coquelin with a move to QPR, his determination to break into the Arsenal starting XI looks to well and truly have paid off.
Recent comparisons after returning to the Premier League have unfairly seen Coquelin compared to the likes of Nemanja Matic, Fernandinho and Morgan Schneiderlin, and simply looking at these stats below, it’s quite obvious Coquelin isn’t up to their standards yet. Not only does he lack the experience of his counterparts, but he has failed to show it on such a consistent basis like those he has been compared to. Admitedly, when he has played, many would say his performances warrant such a comparison as he has been as good, if not better, on occasions than the mentioned players. And in my opinion, when they say statistics don’t tell the full story, it’s true – they don’t. His rise to prominence has been remarkable and for as long as I can remember, it has been a long, long time since Arsenal had a player at their disposal that throws themselves into tackles and plays with the sort of aggression that Coquelin has. Coquelin really looks to be a man of brawn, with a tall, muscular build that finds no difficulties in taking the ball of players he is faced with. His youthful energy is best exemplified too, from his display against Manchester City where many would argue the Frenchman limited David Silva’s influence on the game virtually to nothing.
In comparison to current Arsenal midfielders, his pass completion looks to have exceeded many people’s expectations, beating both Mikel Arteta’s and Mathieu Flamini’s by a huge margin, increasing by the game. Plus not forgetting Mikel Arteta’s recent and regular injuries alongside Flamini’s complacency and defensive errors which lead to the conceding of goals, Coquelin looks more and more attractive as an option to shore up the centre of midfield for Arsenal.
But is Francis Coquelin simply a short-term filler or a long-term Arsenal legend in the making?
Well, recent performances would suggest he fits in well to the current system of play, tactically and into Arsenal’s formation. Sitting in the centre of midfield just in-front of the back four, he has begun to put all the skills he’s acquired throughout his younger years into action, setting a perfect example to anybody wanting to play in such a role, how to make important interceptions for example. And whether or not it’s co-incidental but his introduction to the side has led to the blossoming of Santi Cazorla, who really has begun to flourish, none more so than in Arsenal’s defeat of Manchester City.
Therefore when you take into account all the factors that surround Francis Coquelin’s inclusion into the Arsenal side, I really do believe that the talented youngster is the best short term fit. Moreover, I also don’t think it is time to put anything to risk by moving Jack Wilshere into that position just because he seemingly plays in a deeper role for England. Yes, we can’t forget Coquelin’s prior inconsistencies, but at this moment in time, despite only having played a few game for Arsenal’s first team in the English Premier League, he his form has been remarkable. If he continues to perform the way he is currently doing so and maintains his level of consistency long-term, then it is difficult to see the Frenchman being omitted from the side and dropped. Whether or not he is a permanent solution will only become apparent over time, but at this moment in time I would say he is simply what Arsenal need right at this very moment in time and I think it’s more than fair to say most Arsenal fans will agree. But we must be clear, should he maintain his current form throughout the rest of the season, who knows what the future holds? We could already be looking at a future French national and quite possibly, Arsenal’s long-term successor to Patrick Vieira.
Article written by: @Vivek_AFC