Francis Coquelin Deserves to Keep His Place With Arsenal
Another Arsenal win and another extremely solid performance from Francis Coquelin.
Arsenal have won four of their last five games in the dreaded ‘Christmas period’, which, considering the season so far, is a clear improvement. We even managed to pick up three points away from home against an in-form West Ham.
Considering our vastly superior resources, players and facilities, a result such as this is to be expected but in the wake of months of sad displays away from the comfort of The Emirates this season, the away victory over a relatively strong side came as a welcome relief. Of course, we were easily dispatched by the flying Southampton, but with a manager who sets his team up to play in the same, open, ‘free flowing’ way, regardless of opposition and situation, this was an inevitability.
Putting the phenomenal Alexis Sanchez to one side for the moment, another somewhat surprising player has emerged as a key contributor to this upturn in performance.
That player is Francis Coquelin.
(AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL)
Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He is not and most likely never will be a ‘world beater’ but he may well just be the temporary solution to the persistent defensive midfield problem that we’ve been looking for.
The incomprehensible failure to, or even seriously attempt to, acquire a truly world class midfield destroyer since Patrick Viera’s departure in 2005 is the primary reason we have won just one major trophy in that period. It has seemed for a long time that Wenger simply does not desire a traditional holding midfielder, preferring more technically gifted, lightweight footballers in the centre of the park.
Whilst remaining a good footballer, Mikel Arteta’s ageing body can barely withstand a match without picking up an injury, let alone a season. As complete as his passing is, he simply no longer has the legs or the physical presence necessary to fulfill the roles.
With regards to Mathieu Flamini, his admirable commitment does not make up for the fact that he is about as reassuring and reliable as Philippe Senderos was in his heyday. Both are repeatedly at fault for the midfield overrunning that we continue to witness, particularly against the stronger sides in this modern Premier League era of pace and power.
However, in a recent interview with Bein Sport, following the closure of the summer transfer window, even Wenger admitted that ‘we still need a physical presence with prodigious ability like Vieira or Petit’, seeming to recognize that neither Flamini or Arteta are sufficiently up to the task.
As encouraging as this sounds, do I expect us to sign such a player in January? A Khedira, Schneiderlin, Bender? I fear the answer is no.
Wenger is notoriously inactive in January with our last four windows having seen the recruitments of Kallstrom, Monreal, Eisfeld and a 35-year-old Sol Campbell as permanent signings… not a game changer in sight. Besides, the ridiculously desperate need for a central defender will most likely overshadow any potential interest in a defensive midfield addition. Therefore we will almost certainly have to continue to work with the players currently at our disposal.
As a short-term answer for the second half of the season, Coquelin has to retain his place.
(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Having been recalled in December from a fairly uninspiring loan spell at Charlton in response to the yearly ‘injury crisis’, Coquelin has now started four games in a row and has been highly impressive. Wenger had little choice but to play him, however, it’s safe to say he has made the most of his opportunity.
Whilst he is by no means world class or even a finished article, his effectiveness in our midfield over these four games only serves to demonstrate just how badly we have needed a player of his style over the years to compliment our attacking flair. What he’s been doing may not be as eye catching as the likes of Alexis and Cazorla but it has been just as important nonetheless.
Energetic, powerful, tough tackling and the ability to break up play, he has adapted from Championship to Premier League football seamlessly in a matter of weeks. He looks very calm in front of the back four and has remained well disciplined to the position in the way that players like Alex Song never could.
Coquelin may not possess the attacking qualities of our recognized first choice holding midfielder, Mikel Arteta, but with the abundance of attacking players we have this really is not a problem. He is exactly the kind of imposing physical presence we have been so desperate for in the centre of the park, adding the bite that has been so obviously missing at the base of our midfield for so long. He looks to have a similar level of fight in him to Flamini but with the physical attributes to back it up.
Although he has shown the odd moments of Flamini-esque recklessness, he's still easily the more composed of the two. If Wenger decides to alter his stubborn ways and sign a quality holding midfielder in this window, Arsenal can become seriously competitive again. Having observed the efficiency of a more conventional defensive midfield presence in Coquelin, just imagine the impact a legitimately world class one could have.
However, if, as anticipated, Wenger does not do so, he must maintain his newfound faith in Coquelin. He may not be the quality we ultimately need but does he have what it takes to do a proficient job for the remainder of the season? Absolutely.
There may be little competition,but he is the most adept and natural defensive midfielder we currently have in our ranks and thus he has to keep his starting birth… for now.