Is Francis Coquelin the man to save Arsenal from defensive insecurity?
In recent years many football fans have enjoyed the quality of the passing play displayed by Wenger’s Arsenal. However they have also been quick to point out their vulnerabilities when defending. This is often pinned down to a lack of a defensive midfielder, or at least a lack of quality in that area. In my opinion this has been a problem ever since the days of Viera came to an end. Some say Alex Song was the man to protect the back four, but he was as much of a playmaker as he was a robust tackling machine.
Now there’s a new man in the heart of the midfield and he goes by Francis Coquelin. The defensive midfielder was brought back from Charlton Athletic after his third loan spell of his career, to return to the Emirates. And since he’s been there results have improved and you can clearly see why. He’s disciplined and relishes in midfield battles. He makes an average 3.58 tackles per game and win 67.65% of aerial duels(Squawka.com).
A game that highlighted the impact of Coquelin was Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City away at the Etihad. The Gunners were rigid and hard to break down. They won 56% of the duels against an opposition midfield which contained Fernando and Fernandinho. Coquelin showed his ability to sniff out any signs of danger when Jesus Navas broke free for a counter but Coquelin executed a timely tackle to stop him in his tracks.
However an alarming statistic from that match was the possession statistics: Arsenal only managed to scrape 35.3% to Man City’s 64.7%. Could this be due to a change in style from the addition of Coquelin? Is Coquelin, in fact, the man to end Arsenal’s history of defensive insecurity?
He’s definitely qualified in the department of defence, but questions arise when examining his ball-playing skills. His passing accuracy stands at 83%, which seems reasonable, however when compared with Mikel Arteta’s 94% and the style of Arsenal’s play it becomes significantly less impressive. And whether he has the ability, technique and control to dictate a game from deep is doubted and therefore leads us to question whether the search for a defensive midfielder must continue.
If the best option is to bring in a defensive midfielder from a different club, then who are the top players that could be swayed into a move to the Emirates?
One option is Sami Khedira of Real Madrid. There were a lot of stories linking the club with this player last transfer window, however eventually nothing came of it. Khedira was a part of Germany’s World Cup success and is well-known for his high work rate and his ability to play as well as his ability to defend. The fact that he hasn’t seen a lot of game time for Madrid could lead to him leaving Spain’s capital city and looking for playing time elsewhere.
Another option is William Carvalho of Sporting Lisbon. The 22-year-old had an Arsenal bid rejected of £13 million plus Joel Campbell, however that may have been in part due to a third-party ownership adding complications to the deal. Now the midfield destroyer may be more easily acquirable, this may be the signing Wenger has been looking for to buff up his midfield.
The third option to consider is The Saint’s key man Morgan Schneiderlin. Looking at his performances in the past few seasons and looking objectively at the statistics he is the man Arsenal need. He has the ability to read the game, win duels and pick the right pass. At 89% completion rate he is by far the best passer of the four. Not only that he has shown he knows how to organise and keep out opposition as he currently plays for the team with the best defensive record in the football league. There have been many rumours linking him with other clubs and Arsenal will have missed a trick if they fail to snap him up.
Although Coquelin has put in solid performances at just 23-years old he is inexperienced enough to do the holding midfielder role alone. However like Vieira had Petit, one defensive midfielder isn’t always enough. As Coquelin develops his game he could become a part of a strong midfield pairing in the future and therefore should still be seen as a key asset for Wenger.