Will Francis Coquelin Suffice?
With January come pleas from every fan to address the blazingly evident chink in the armour of their beloved team. If you’re a Utd fan then a defender who can marshall the ragtag bunch of troops that call themselves defenders. If you’re Everton, you’d very much like a Captain who makes sure the penalty debacle Vs West Brom never occurs again. If you’re a spurs supporter, then ten outfield players wouldn’t go amiss. If you’re a Gooner, then it’s a brute of a midfielder.
Ah, yes, the fabled defensive midfielder. A player that can solve all of our ills, end world hunger and solve the sticky problem of the one-way system in Hemel Hempstead. When Flamini was signed on a free transfer at the start of last season, he wasn’t the flag-bearing, marquee player we had all prayed to our effigies of Dennis to. Little did we know The Umlauted One was waiting to serenade us with his own particular symphonies. On a side note, The Sleeveless One fitted in rather well last season and his vicious brand of shouting and vociferous pointing was a sometimes soothing balm to the burning we received on a regular basis. It wasn’t all bad though. My point is that he was an asset.
Then this season got underway, with a refreshing wave of optimism thanks in no small part to the addition of our Chilean Superhero – Alexis. A few weeks later that very wave of optimism dissipated quicker than a ‘Welcome Balotelli’ party at Anfield. Injuries racked up, results were poor and we didn’t have Wenger’s zipper faux pas to console ourselves with. Good times were lean.
We needed a scapegoat. Someone was to blame for this monumental set of blunders. Jack had been playing well before resuming his vigil atop a treatment table with Diaby. Our overtly sexual French striker Giroud had been injured early so he couldn’t don the Blame Cape. No, we needed a player who could shoulder all of the negative vibes we could mentally and verbally hurl at him. Behold, I give you an out of form Flamini.
How can one player go from being a more than adequate defensive midfielder to team liability in less than half a season? He doesn’t. He is simply out of form and being asked to fill gaps where there wasn’t before. This isn’t an excuse, it’s merely an observation. I’m more than aware that Flamini has been less use than the ribbons of fabric shorn from the sleeves he so flagrantly hacks at. We can however, take a silver lining from the woeful form of Flamini.
We can take a positive from the abysmal displays of our diminutive, temper-addled Gaul. We can find cause for optimism in Mikel Arteta missing the majority of the season. Ditto, Jack and Ramsey. If these pangs of bad luck didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have found a ready made CDM in our forgotten man Francis Coquelin.
I liken Francis to a damaged wing-mirror. Instead of doing the correct thing and replacing the faulty part, Wenger has taken the frugal path once more and used Duct Tape to fix the mirror. Look, it does exactly what a wing-mirror should do and for a smidgin of the price.
Will fans be happy? The majority won’t. They will see it as Wenger looking after a cash balance that will be there well after he departs. For the worse of the team, he refuses to spend and now he’s got Coquelin, there isn’t a hope he will buy.
Why buy a player to fill a position that is being filled so comprehensively though? Coquelin diffused attacks before they became threats versus City. He displayed expert positional sense, he tackled cleanly and didn’t try to overplay it. Instead, he laid it off to superiorly skilled players who could carry the ball better. Much like the man who defined the role – Claude Makalele.
He has exhibited this in nearly every match since his return from the footballing wilderness. My question is this however –
Did Wenger know he was this good? If so, why loan him out to Charlton Athletic?
Any fan who claims that they knew that Francis would slot in so well is worthy of a ‘Liar Liar, Pants on Fire’ Label. A lot of us kept tabs on him as it is so easy to do nowadays, but his displays on loan at Lorient and especially Freiburg suggested that not only was Le Coq an average player at best but he was a bad egg. He had run-ins with his coaches in Germany and was outspoken to a fault.
What many people choose to ignore is that Francis was played out of position regularly. Not an excuse for a lack of respect towards gaffers but it at least dispels the myth that he is a mediocre player.
The loan move to Freiburg obviously didn’t work out for the best but it has matured the Frenchman.
Now he has returned and has skill in the tackle, has a great radar and is a massive rival to Flamini for the title of ‘Arsenal’s Greatest Pointer’.
I think Wenger had no choice to recall him from Charlton as Ramsey, Jack and Arteta were out, but I don’t think he could’ve forecast the impact he was to have. The problem now is that Coquelin’s impressive displays mean it is less likely that he will dip his toe into the transfer window.
This time though, I understand his reluctance. Wenger has always believed in showing faith to players. It normally pays off rather emphatically ( Ramsey last season? ) which indicates that due to Francis playing the part of Captain Defensive Shield, he will stay in the team.
The dynamic aided Le Coq too. Ramsey played the box-to-box role in a tireless fashion and Santi was pretty much perfection.
The line-up worked and it is pretty difficult not to get carried away with the display at the Etihad. I will be objective and say that defensive reinforcements are still required. We still have to show that we can adopt the framework that was so effective against the champions.
Coquelin also has to show he can be the player he has been for the last few games. Can he do it on a consistent basis? The infuriating thing is we cannot answer that, despite him being an Arsenal player for seven years! He has grabbed an opportunity that no one could predict him getting. Now he has to keep hold of it. He’s doing a pretty good job thus far. Let’s trust he can do it.