Is Francis Coquelin the Final Piece in Arsenal's Jigsaw?
Much has been made of Arsenal’s underlying issues and what exactly is missing from Arsene Wenger’s side. The defensive unit of this Arsenal side has repetitively been brought into question. The continued improvement of Francis Coquelin has been one that many fans did not see coming, let alone many media pundits. It was widely reported that among the much needed arrivals in the summer, an essential was a defensive midfielder. Wenger’s lack of decisive action means that this is still an area that many feel needs to be addressed in January. Rather than displacing Coquelin, this would most likely add depth in support of Coquelin.
The French 24 year old has already clocked up ten appearances this campaign and is a vital part of Arsenal’s defensive unit, as he was for the latter half of last season. All in all, Coquelin has made a total of 50 appearances for Arsenal; 30 of which came in 2014/15. The tough-tackling midfielder became an ever-present following his recall from Charlton on December 12th last year, cementing his place in the Arsenal XI, which is something that seemed an extreme improbability on 3rd November 2014 when he left for The Valley.
How does Coquelin compare to the best in the Premier League?
Although he had limited appearances in comparison to the top holding midfielders in the league, he still made a huge impression from December to May last season. In just 22 premier league games, Coquelin made 79 interceptions, 8 blocks, 59 tackles and 68 clearances. This just goes to highlight the effect he had on Arsenal’s midfield. In comparison, French team-mate Mathieu Flamini fell short in the same categories and played one league game more. It is easy to see why the industrious midfielder is so highly regarded by the club and fans alike. In fact, Wenger even singled him out suggesting he would cost in the region of £50 million in today’s transfer market.
This term, Coquelin has continued his impressive personal form, although his club’s overall performance has been one of inconsistency. In his seven league games thus far, he has made 25 tackles, 15 interceptions, 3 blocks and completed 9 clearances. He was in impressive form as were his team-mates on Sunday afternoon, making home advantage count against Louis Van Gaal’s men and eventually running out comfortable winners in an emphatic 3-0 victory.
Coquelin marshals the midfield with great aplomb, giving Arsenal some much needed grit and a combative element they have lacked since Brazil World Cup winner Gilberto Silva left the club. The Frenchman has always given his all in an Arsenal shirt, even when the elements seemed firmly against him. Some fans see Coquelin as captain material in the near future and although it is too early to say whether or not that is a possibility, in his current form he is one of the first players on the team-sheet.
With Arsenal’s lack of competition in the area that Coquelin plays, he has taken advantage of the fact that only Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini offer any challenge to the role. It is hard to imagine a centre-midfield pairing that isn’t Coquelin with Santi Cazorla for Arsenal these days. The understanding that has developed between the two has become one good enough to challenge the very best on their day. Coquelin’s defensive awareness gives Cazorla and fellow creator Mesut Özil the freedom to relinquish their defensive responsibilities and do what they do best in the final third of the field.
The first time this was highlighted on the big stage would have been away at the Etihad last season, an uncharacteristically solid performance saw Wenger’s men take all three points in a 2-0 away win. Goals from Cazorla and Olivier Giroud proved that Arsenal do indeed have the tools to upset the top two of the Premier League, it is now just a case of consistency.
Coquelin’s on-going development
The first impression of Coquelin is that of a humble one. He has already repaid the faith shown in him while also demonstrating how grateful he is to be plying his trade at such a big club. Whether his chance came as a result of good fortune, it clearly makes no difference to the player. He has alluded to the importance of Robert Pires, who on occasion trains with the first team. The Arsenal legend is someone Coquelin idolised growing up in France and has been more than happy to take advice from the World Cup winner. He has shown the kind of fight that typified Arsenal in the first half of Wenger’s reign, culminating in the 2004 ‘Invincibles’ squad.
The former Stade Lavallois player has yet to be capped at senior level on the international stage but you would imagine it is now only a matter of time before he links up with the likes of Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane.
Is this finally the season that Arsenal win the title?
It could be another big season for Arsenal and Coquelin especially, as he looks to continue the vast strides he has made in just 10 months. A France call-up could beckon as well as a possible Premier League title charge. The unrelenting issue that Arsenal still haven’t addressed however is squad depth. The Gunners are still void of options when the likes of Coquelin, Ozil, Walcott and Sanchez are fatigued or injured. That is the one thing that could hold the squad back from sustaining a serious tilt at the title.
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