Arsenal have struggled mightily in the past at Old Trafford. They had not won there since 2006, but Arsene finally turned his theatre of nightmares into a theatre of dreams with Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Manchester United, sending them to Wembley for the FA Cup Final. Time after time the Gunners were beat by Manchester United, even under David Moyes, but Arsenal finally ended their terrible run in Manchester.
One of the reasons Arsenal have been unsuccessful in past is that they didn’t have the correct balance to their team. They often missed a mobile player to shield their back four and do the dirty work. It looks like they may have found their new man to do those jobs in Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman has had am incredible last three months coming back from a loan at Charlton to being one of the first names on the teamsheet at Arsenal. He’s just the kind of player Arsene Wenger needed and the team once again benefited from his presence in a big game.
Arsenal are known for their flair players in midfield, but Coquelin is there to add some more industry to the team. The Frenchman won 14 of his 21 duels in the match, made four tackles, an interception, and one clearance. Despite being up against the man mountain that is Marouane Fellaini for most of the match he won three of his four aerial duels. He knew he wasn’t always going to beat Fellaini for strength, but Coquelin focused on his positioning for the second balls when United went long to Fellaini and that meant the Frenchmen had eight ball recoveries. He did a good job of keeping the play ticking over completing 75% of his passes.
For all the flair players Arsenal have in midfield, the only two midfielders that are really willing to sacrifice going forward to do the dirty work for the team are Mathieu Flamini and Coquelin. Flamini, while he tries, can’t do the job because he’s not Arsenal standard. Coquelin was thought to not be Arsenal standard, but he has come in and proven everyone wrong.
Coquelin is a ball winner. He’s very tough in the tackle, very disciplined in his positioning, and is effective without the ball, something many of Arsenal’s players aren’t. As his heat map above shows, he rarely wonders past the half way line and if you watch him he is rarely in front of the ball. His mobility allows him to shield the back four much more effectively than say Mikel Arteta. He has become vital part of the balance.
Just having a player like Coquelin in the Arsenal side helped them in this one. So many times Manchester United have caught the Gunners on the break. The entire mindset of the team was more conservative it wasn’t just the Frenchmen, but he certainly helped to make sure they were difficult to counter against. United were never able to get too many free flowing counter attacks with Arsenal players caught up the pitch. Some of this had to do with Arsenal’s less cavalier approach, some of it had to do with the slow build up from United, but Coquelin also played a major part in sweeping up much of the danger from United.
I don’t think this was by any means Coquelin’s best game at Arsenal. I think he’s done better in other games, but his influence was key in this one. Along with their more responsible approach to the game, just having someone like the Frenchmen helped Arsenal. After years and years of hapless performances and results at Old Trafford, Arsenal fans finally have a performance and result to really be proud of at the theater of dreams. Arsenal are off to Wembley after a great performance from the entire team and, specifically, Francis Coquelin.