It has not been an easy ride for the French midfielder by any means. However his rapid, unexpected emergence into the Arsenal side has given supporters confidence – especially when he was seemingly set to leave the Gunners.
The emergence of Francis Coquelin into the Arsenal team has been quite something, in 2015. Back in December, his future with the Gunners looked virtually over, and he was at the time on a loan spell at Sky Bet Championship side Charlton Athletic in order to gain some form of first-team minutes.
It looked increasingly certain that the 23-year-old Frenchman was set to call time on his career in north London, after failing to impress in the few chances he had to win both the fans, and his team-mates, over. But in December, he made a surprise return. And since then, he’s never looked back.
An unexpected return – which has paid off
Arséne Wenger‘s midfield options were deteriorating by the minute and at an alarming rate, too. Jack Wilshere was ruled out of action for five months, Mikel Arteta continued to struggle with persistent problems whilst Aaron Ramsey was sidelined also – all of which in quick succession.
Arsenal needed a solution, and Coquelin stepped up to the plate. Although there was some scrutiny as to whether or not he’d be an adequate player slotting into a central midfield role, or even a more defensive role at CDM, he proved his doubters wrong with immediate impact. Featuring in his first few games, it was clear for everyone to see. He was not a world-beater, by any means. However, he did his job perfectly with efficiency and purpose – which was encouraging given how the Gunners have been yearning for a player to fit into a DM role since the departure of Patrick Vieira, which seems like decades ago now.
His robust tackling, no-nonsense attitude and tireless work-rate were all just a few things on display for everyone to admire, and although strikers tend to get much of the credit in modern day footballl, no-one likes to do the ‘dirty work’, as it’s called. Coquelin on the other hand, relishes the opportunity to do so.
Although he must have been disappointed with the way in which his future was seemingly heading, he did not let that cloud his judgment or negatively affect his performances. With him in the side, it gives Arsenal more confidence going forward in the knowledge that Coquelin is there to sweep up the possible counter attacks on-show with interceptions galore.
When asked about how he felt his presence was helping the team; Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez in particular, he said: “If I can take away 10% of their defensive duties then they can have 10% more to attack and score goals – win us the game and I’m delighted.”
On his role, and reminscing on famous faces in the same place: “I remember [Zinedine] Zidane and a lot of great players saying when you took out [Claude] Makelelé you took out the heart of their team. I think players who play this position don’t want the spotlight. They like to do their job and then they leave the bling-bling for other players.”
His presence in the team has not gone un-noticed, and although he is not particularly a star name, he is finally getting some of the credit that he rightly deserves within the side. Having played in plenty of big matches, such as the FA Cup final win over Aston Villa, he’ll be hoping to continue his development as the 2015-16 campaign nears kick-off.
With that being said, plenty still have their doubts, which is understandable.
Short-term fix for a long-term issue?
Whichever way you analyse it, Coquelin was virtually out of the door – but forced his way back into the side due to unfortunate injuries sustained to other players within the first-team. That’s admirable considering the quality of players at Wenger’s disposal, but at the same time, who knows where he’d be now if those players stayed fit and avoided injury?
The fact of the matter at the moment is, Arsenal need a player that can sit in a DM role. Coquelin can do that yes, but with the sheer squad depth to contend with, will be be playing week-in, week-out? Probably not. Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are just a few names that come to mind, that could do similar jobs at CM, depending on the formation of course.
Wenger publicly stated that he was looking for a new midfield addition, not to give Coquelin competition as such, but more of a partner at defensive midfield. Assuming this would be the case, they’d line up with a 4-2-3-1 formation or equivalent, having two holding midfielders sitting ahead of the backline whilst the trio and lone striker do the majority of attacking work.
Plenty of names have been linked, after all, it’s Arsenal. Morgan Schneiderlin had been rumoured to be joining Arsenal for a number of months, but instead, he signed for Premier League rivals Manchester United. Not because Wenger did not want him, no. Firstly, he was not too keen on spending £25million pounds on a player with no UEFA Champions League experience. And secondly, because Southampton knew there was interest from fellow English clubs, he was eager not to be enticed into a deal which had plenty of risks attached.
This piece of news is sure to have encouraged Francis, no doubt. Why? It proves that he’s in the manager’s plans for the upcoming season, emphasising the fact that hard work does not go un-noticed if you continue to battle for your opportunity to flourish. Having previously shifted Mathieu Flamini out of the team, and limiting Arteta’s influence to just a bit-part role, it’s evident to see that Coquelin’s presence in the team is appreciated.
William Carvalho, Geoffrey Kondogbia (now at Inter Milan) and Sevilla‘s Grzegorz Krychowiak are just a few names that have been rumoured to be on Arséne’s wishlist. However, none have materialised, yet.
Whatever the future holds for him though, Coquelin’s story just reiterates the fact that anything can happen in football – moreso when you least expect it to.