Coquelin's Script Optioned, Schneiderlin, Isco, Giroud, and Longing for Cech
Arsenal's 2014/15 season has come to an end. It was a year of progress for the Gunners, with dramatic story lines of cynicism, surprise, and triumph that supporters of the Club will not soon forget. The 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in the FA Cup last weekend will leave a sweet taste in the mouth over the summer as those loyal to the badge reflect on the campaign.
Few writers in Hollywood could have scripted a better tale than Francis Coquelin's last grasp at relevance. There is no question that Arsenal's success this year is largely due to Coquelin. Many a man throughout history has sacrificed, sweat, given their blood and tears, and toiled in tireless dedication to live out their dreams. For some, the opportunity never manifests, for others the door doesn't quite open wide enough to slip through; Francis Coquelin, after being signed by Arsene Wenger in 2008, despite his best efforts, seemed to have come up short in his pursuit of a professional playing career with Arsenal Football Club.
He was sent on a loan odyssey that included FC Lorient, SC Freiburg, and up until December, Charlton Athletic. Analysis of Coquelin's development over the years charted middle of the road technical acumen, average pace, limited passing range, a low success rate for take-ons, and lack of influence as an attacking threat/creator, Coquelin was decent at many things but never excelled in one particular area, a versatile utility player showing obvious potential, but someone who couldn't decide who he was meant to be on the pitch.
That all changed in December. Wenger's squad, decimated by injury, and lacking any recognized defenders, looked to the young Frenchman as a stopgap call up. It was a move that always looked to be short-lived. No one could have predicted the impact Coquelin would have on the squad, as stopgap became stalwart, and over the course of the next five months, his determination and focus made him one of the best defensive midfielders in European Football.
How'd he do it?
According to Arsene Wenger, he "analyzed what he is good at: defending in midfield." The Professor, who went on to say "he's a sitting player who can win the ball. He restricted his game to that and you make your success in life with what you're good at."
A rudimentary explanation but perfectly on point.
Coquelin returned from Charlton determined to prove his doubters wrong. It was his last best shot at doing so. He evaluated the situation, the personnel, or lack thereof, around him, and having no doubt absorbed the countless articles, TV commentary, and sniping from pundits and past players alike during his seven year connection with the Club, recognized Arsenal's lack of a true midfield enforcer.
Coquelin made a conscious decision to become the missing link, he seized the moment, he changed his game and changed his destiny, and in doing so, changed the fortunes of the Club.
'The Policeman', as Thierry Henry recently dubbed him, shortened up his play, emphasizing efficiency and tenacity, studiously reading angles, anticipating when to close space, funnel, and halve the field, conjuring a spirit of grit and unrelenting metal by never backing down; intercepting the ball and breaking up play, his energy and commitment to regaining possession proving invaluable. Coquelin stopped trying to do too much. He made winning possession of the ball and presenting it to Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil his objective on match day.
It's hard to go wrong with that blueprint, and by following that simple framework, Francis Coquelin became Arsenal's most important player in 2015.
His excellent contribution this past season should equate to a starting spot with the team from North London next season.
He has earned it.
Nonetheless, the Club still need to sign Morgan Schniederlin.
That may seem like a hasty jump from praising a player to calling for reinforcement, but it's nothing of the sort. The two can play together. It doesn't have to be one or the other. A midfield of Coquelin, Schneiderlin, Ozil, and Cazorla would be menacing both defensively and going forward. It would free up Arsenal's virtuoso duo, even more, to create and provide for the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck.
It would also allow, dare it be mentioned, for Wenger to go back to his cherished 4-4-2.
If the only player Arsenal buys all summer is Morgan Schneiderlin, his signing alone makes next years potential starting 11 look very similar to that of the Invincibles.
That's something to get excited about and is the reason Schneiderlin is such an important piece of the puzzle.
Building two French pillars of strength through the middle of the park would give Arsenal the backbone they need to challenge Chelsea.
All that being said, the magisterial Santiago Cazorla won't be around forever, and Arsenal need to sign a player to fill his shoes after next season.
That players has to be Real Madrid's Isco.
Arsene Wenger has to strike while the iron is hot. His team is an attractive side to come to these days. Having proven they can once again win trophies, and are very close to something special, Wenger has to pounce while and when he can. Isco is destined to become one of the top five players in the world over the coming years, and if he has any interest in joining the Gunners, the Club must bring him in.
Where does he play, where does he fit in, who does he displace? It's not easy to answer those questions considering the existing star-studded midfield at the Emirates, but undoubtedly, Isco is of such enormous quality and potential, that if available, he has to be bought.
As the hot months of summer steam in, and the smack of the FA Cup win begins to wane, fade, and melt from the mouth of supporters, they will be examining Olivier Giroud and the debate will rage on the need for another striker.
A clear mind is needed when considering this subject.
Olivier Giroud doesn't have to score 30 goals in the Premier League for Arsenal to win the title. Giroud can be the main striker for the Club, score 12-18 goals, provide 5-10 assists, and Arsenal can be champions. After all, Arsenal scored 71 goals this season in the league per whoscored.com, only 2 less than the vaunted team of 2003/04, and just 2 less than this year's champion, Chelsea, who scored 73.
Scoring goals is not a problem for the Club. The goals will come from a combination of players, up front, and through midfield, because that's how Arsenal are built. There are 4-6 players currently in the first team that can score 10-20 goals a season from midfield depending on if they get hot and avoid injury. There is no lack of firepower in the team.
Giroud is the perfect hub for Arsenal's midfield geniuses to combine with and his overall ability seems taken for granted far too often.
He is very,very good at playing the target, and more importantly, strikes the right balance for the team.
If Coquelin had played for the entire season, and at the same or similar capacity as he did in 2015, the title race would have been much, much tighter. Focusing on a striker isn't the most important thing this summer. Giroud is up to the task, and based on his career trajectory, he will be even better next season.
Talk of signing another goalkeeper is a conversation worth having, as neither of the keepers at Arsenal are indispensable. David Ospina's numbers are impressive, on paper he is one of the best goalkeepers in the league. But Ospina doesn't inspire confidence in his defenders. He doesn't particularly dominate the box, command his team, distribute well, and there are some founded concerns about his lack of size as a modern day net minder.
If an upgrade is available, namely Petr Cech, he is worth pursuing. His championship experience and command of a back-four would make an immense difference for the entire squad. He is young in goalkeeping years, at 33, and still hungry enough to help get Arsenal over the hump. The respect and authority Cech would garner from his peers would be priceless, and he is one more needed ingredient that would make the Gunners, if coupled with the signing of Schneiderlin, title contenders...