I remember travelling down to the West Ham away match just after Christmas. The Arsenal team news broke and Arsene Wenger had decided to partner Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini in the middle of the park. Unsurprisingly, he came in for some stick. Arsenal won 2-1.
Injuries to both Flamini and Mikel Arteta saw Coquelin come out of the New Years Day defeat to Southampton as the only player who could hold his head up high. His performances continued to impress in the FA Cup against Hull.
Yesterday, Flamini was fit, but Wenger decided to remain with the 23 year old Frenchman. In doing so, Coquelin put in his best performance in an Arsenal shirt to date, bossing the game against Stoke City.
Defensive midfield is certainly a position we need to strengthen. Flamini is not good enough, and Arteta no longer has the legs to play the role – although he does have the brain.
I think we can all agree, we need a new 1st choice defensive midfielder, a back up defensive midfielder, and then Arteta moving to 3rd choice – ensuring we keep his experience and training ground influence. Arteta is still good enough to play at home against many Premier League sides, as well as be part of a two if we want to go more defensive.
With Coquelin’s impressive performances, have Arsenal stumbled in a semi-solution to our midfield problem?
Now I am not going to be as crazy as to say he should be 1st choice, he should not. But there is a good case to be made that he could fill the ‘2nd choice’ role, providing back up to whoever comes in.
What Coquelin does is put himself about. He is certainly all action, covering a lot of ground, never shirking a challenge. Against Stoke, he competed for every header. Even when he was up against 6ft 4in Stephen N’Zonzi, he went in as if he expected to win the ball.
Defending is clearly not a problem.
In his 4 starts for Arsenal since returning from his loan spell at Charlton, his defensive statistics are outstanding:
The interception stat is what interests me most. 16 interceptions, including 7 against Hull in the FA Cup. This highlights a player who can read the game ans has positional awareness. The likes of Gilberto Silva and Claude Makelele always had a high interceptions to tackles ratio. Who needs to tackle if you stop your opponent recieving the ball?
Coquelin can play too.
In the last 4 games, he has averaged 51.25 succesful passes a game, with a pass success rate of 83.1%.
Yes, it might not be up to Mikel Arteta’s high standards, yet, but it does show some potential.
For me, he deserves to currently keep Flamini out of the side. what now needs to be considered is whether he is has shown enough to deserve a new contract (it expires in the summer) – and with it a chance to be back up to whatever defensive midfielder we might sign.