Arsenal football club are known for their free flowing football. It is a trademark of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and a lot of this comes from their abundance of diminutive creative midfielders, like Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez, and Mesut Ozil. The gunners have had trouble getting the balance in midfield right over the last few years. Arsene Wenger has tried the likes of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in the defensive midfield position over the last couple of years, but the midfield has often still lacked the solidity needed. To the surprise of everyone, 23 year old Francis Coquelin has stepped up over the last few weeks and restored balance to the Arsenal midfield.
Francis Coquelin’s Arsenal career seemed dead in the water at the beginning of the season. The Frenchman’s loan to Charlton in November seemed like it was the last nail in his Arsenal coffin. Yet, against all odds, Coquelin has received another chance due to the injuries to Mikel Arteta along with the poor performances and injury to Mathieu Flamini. The Arsenal academy product has grabbed this chance with both hands and has impressed everyone producing performances that no one though he could produce.
Francis Coquelin came to the Arsenal academy at the age of 17 in 2008. After making a few appearances for the first team in the League Cup, the young midfielder went on loan back to France for the 2010-2011 season. The Frenchmen came back to Arsenal and got his shot with the first team in the 2011-2012 season and 2012-2013 season. While he did impress at times, Arsene Wenger essentially deemed the young midfielder not good enough and loaned him out to Freiburg without any real plans for him coming back into the first team. Coquelin did not impress too much in Germany and Arsenal looked to sell him in the summer. At one point it was rumoured that the Frenchman had been sold back to France, but that did not come to fruition meaning that he stayed at London Coloney. He was then loaned to Championship side Charlton Athletic before being recalled in mid December.
Coquelin has provided defensive ability and solidity to Arsenal that Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini just can’t provide at this stage in either of their careers. Arteta plays the defensive midfield in a different way to the two Frenchmen. Arteta relies more on his positioning to stop danger before they start, but he can be caught out with his lack of athleticism and lack of mobility. Mathieu Flamini is closer to Coquelin than Arteta, but the 30 year old can’t always do exactly what he wants and needs to do. Flamini often lacks athleticism as he is getting older, tactical awareness and technical ability often making him a liability for Arsenal.
Statistically, Coquelin has easily outperformed the other two defensive midfielders at the club on the defensive side of the game. The 23 year old wins more tackles per game, he is better in the air, he wins a higher percentage of his 50 50s, he makes more interceptions and more clearances per game. The former Charlton loanee is a player that is really up for a scrap and he wants to defend. Arsenal have often been criticized for being tactically naive and have thrown too many bodies forward. The 23 year old is more astute with his positioning and is much more willing to stay back and preemptively get in position to defend should they turn the ball over. The Frenchman’s positioning has been solid and is getting better as he gains more experience. Defensively, the Coquelin that we have seen for his first few games back is a big upgrade at that defensive midfield position
The biggest weakness in the young Frenchman’s game is his lack of technical proficiency. He’s not the most technically gifted player and isn’t able to dictate games in the way that Mikel Arteta can do. Coquelin isn’t going to be that midfield metronome, but he doesn’t have to be. He can be very good at his job if he just makes the simple passes that keep play ticking over and allow the more technically gifted creative players to play their game. There will never be a shortage of those creative players for Arsenal, so if Coquelin can just create a platform that allows them to play their game he is doing his job very well.
Francis Coquelin put in a magisterial performance at the Etihad Arena on Sunday vs Manchester City to help Arsenal get their first win away to City since 2010. While his performance in Manchester was easily his best in an Arsenal shirt, the 23 year old has been steadily impressing both Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger. According to reports in the media, the Frenchman has impressed Wenger so much that Arsenal have offered Coquelin a new contract with his current one set to expire. Is Coquelin the long term solution to Arsenal’s need for a defensive midfielder? Personally, I’m not convinced that he is the solution long term, but he does seem to be Arsenal’s best option for the rest of this season. With Mikel Arteta having picked up a fresh injury earlier in the week and Mathieu Flamini not being a very good footballer, it looks like Coquelin will a long run in the first XI. This will give him a chance to prove that he could be Arsenal’s defensive midfield solution long term or at least prove that he can become an important member of the Arsenal squad for the future.