After struggling for the first half of the 2014/2015 season, Arsenal have been the Premier League’s form team of 2015. A lot of this improvement can be put down to the introduction of Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman has provided a platform that has provided the Gunners with some much needed defensive solidity, and it has allowed their creative players to shine. The team has functioned well with him in the team and that shows with the 75% win percentage when he plays. But it does seem like we have seen the limitations of the 24 year old in the last few matches.
Before I go any further, let me make this clear; I don’t think Coquelin is a bad player, he’s a good player and a great ball winner. He has a place in this squad and in the first team. I’m not calling to sell him but he does have shortcomings.
For all his defensive prowess the Frenchman is very limited on the ball. He is good at keeping it simple, winning the ball, and passing off to a teammate. That’s not always a bad thing, but the game against Swansea was a good example of how that’s not always ideal. Swansea sat in a deep defensive block. They had very few attacks and there wasn’t much defensive work for Coquelin to do. That essentially made him obsolete, because of his limited ability on the ball.
Coquelin is a classic destroyer. He is one of the best pure ball winners in the Premier League. Five to ten years ago that may have been fine to have, but the position has evolved since then. The defensive midfielders don’t need to be playmakers creating chances, but they do need to be able to help dictate the game and move defences side to side. The team that most people would say is the best in world football at the moment, Barcelona, have the best defensive midfielder, Sergio Busquets. The Spaniard is a very good defender, but he is also has loads of attacking intelligence and is excellent technically. It’s not just Barcelona, if you look at the best teams in world football they all have defensive midfielders that are passing outlets as well as good defenders. Bayern Munich have Xabi Alonso, Chelsea have Nemanja Matic, PSG have Thiago Motta, Atletico Madrid have Gabi etc. (Neither Real Madrid or Juventus use true defensive midfielders, they have deep lying playmakers with other midfielders alongside them).
The top teams have complete defensive midfielders. That’s the problem for Coquelin. He’s a great ball winner and a good defender, but he’s not a complete midfielder. He’s a good player that will have a place in the team next season and he provides something this current Arsenal team doesn’t have. But, Arsene Wenger can upgrade upon his French midfielder and will need to if he wants to compete at the highest level. After goalkeeper, Arsenal will need to find a more complete midfielder, someone that does the defensive job of Coquelin, but also one that’s better on the ball and can help dictate the game.