Will the injury to this key midfielder derail Arsenal's Premier League ambitions?
A great deal has changed for young Arsenal defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin in the past 12 months. A year ago, he was being sent out on a month’s loan to Championship side Charlton Athletic, whereas now the young Frenchman is one of the mainstays of Arsene Wenger’s side from week to week.
Whilst Coquelin was initially put into the first team because of injuries for Arsenal, he quickly developed himself into a very talented defensive midfielder, to the point where within only a few months, Coquelin was one of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet.
This season, Arsenal’s number 34 has once again been one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League. He has been a rock in front of the defence and has been a big factor in the good start to the season Arsenal have enjoyed. Whilst in the past, the Gunners were always seen as a team that could not win against their biggest rivals, since Coquelin has come into the side, they have beaten Manchester City at the Etihad, Chelsea in the Community Shield, and demolished Manchester United 3-0 only last month.
One needs to look no further than this to see why Coquelin’s injury suffered in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to West Brom is so devastating for Arsenal and their ambitions for this season. The combative Frenchman hobbled off the pitch and is now expected to miss three months with his knee injury.
Whilst Arsenal were still able to comfortably beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 in a crucial Champions League match on Tuesday night, how Arsene Wenger deals with this injury will have a huge effect on Arsenal’s season. Talk has already begun of the North London outfit now needing to buy another defensive midfielder in the January transfer window, meaning that this injury is doubly significant. Losing Coquelin is a bad enough scenario for Arsenal, but it is the team’s lack of top quality replacement for him that is far more concerning. For the next three months, Arsenal will have make do with the ageing pair of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, and the distinctly inexperienced Krystian Bielik.
Arteta is very experienced but the 33 year old is not seen as a player up to the standard of the starting eleven, given the fact he has lost his place to Coquelin since last campaign. The Spaniard can still play well for Arsenal, but with the next three month stretch of the season crucial for The Gunners, Arteta may struggle to keep up with the fixture list.
Mathieu Flamini is a fan favourite for his all-out committed style of play, although his lack of pace and tendency to commit fouls counts against him heavily. He played in the Champions League fixture against Dinamo Zagreb, although with huge games coming up in the next few months, his flaws could very well be exposed and cost Arsenal in big games.
Another sign of the lack of faith that a lot of people have in both Arteta and Flamini is that some are also considering Calum Chambers and Krystian Bielik as replacements for Coquelin. Chambers is primarily a centre back, but could play defensive midfield if needed too. Bielik is only 17 years old and is still settling into the Arsenal first team with only a few minutes under his belt for the full side. The lack of experience or playing time this season are both major knocks against these two.
The Christmas period is always a tough run of fixtures to traverse, and form the weeks that can make or break a season. Arsenal face a crucial final Champions League fixture with Olympiacos on 9th December in which they need all three points to progress out of the group. This is the kind of match where Arsenal will most miss Coquelin as their Champions League qualification rests on it.
Wenger will also wish he had Coquelin at his disposal for big Premier League fixtures such as Manchester City at home, Liverpool away and Chelsea at home, all due to be played in December and January. By the time Coquelin returns in February/March time, Arsenal could already be long forgotten and out of both the Champions League and the Premier League title race. For a team like Arsenal, they should be competing for the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League. You can’t sign players likes Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech to be happy with an F.A Cup, early Champions League exit and third in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger is infamous for being hesitant with spending money on players at the most crucial of times. This has often meant Arsenal don’t spend a penny in the January transfer window, although Wenger he may be forced to go against his principles and scour the market and if required, pay over the odds for a decent defensive midfielder to provide cover for Coquelin both in the present and the future.
Although the likes of Ozil and Sanchez are currently in an outstanding run of form, for Arsenal to continue to win games they will need to keep their good defensive record this season. Whilst Coquelin is only one player, his loss will be felt deeply by Arsenal in the coming months. It is up to the defensive unit to counter his loss and keep their high level with very little support if Arsene Wenger’s men are to go some way to meeting their ambitions this season.
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