Before the start of this season 24 year old French midfielder Francis Coquelin was a name that many fans had forgotten about, the name of a player that is usually discarded and sent out on loan more for yet another season rather than wait for the odd League cup tie to come around.
Following this season’s exploits where Coquelin has shown considerable leadership qualities it is expected that come next season the defensive midfielder will surely be a big player in Arsenal’s much mooted Premier League title charge.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing though at the Emirates for the Frenchman who has been capped for his country at every level except Senior, which will only be a matter of time.
Coquelin arrived from Stade Lavallois back in 2008 at the ripe age of 17 years, he had a handful of appearances and was treated with kid gloves like most players that arrive at the Emirates are at that age.
Loan spells followed in 2010-11, he was sent back to France and spent a whole season at Lorient where he played 24 league games and scored one goal. He didn’t leave the club again until the 2013-14 season where he went to Bundesliga outfit Freiburg where he gained some valuable experience in a very competitive league.
This season was widely thought to have been a make or break season for the 24 year old who was sent on loan yet again to League one side Charlton but only played five games before being recalled due to an “injury crisis” at the club, injuries to club captain Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini saw Wenger left with no option but to throw the inexperienced holding midfielder in at the deep end.
As the old Jimmy Greaves quote goes “It’s a funny old game” and Coquelin is testament to that, had it not been for the injuries to Arteta and Flamini he may have never kicked a ball in anger again for Arsenal. As luck would have it he has been one of the unsung heroes and shining lights of an impressive second half to a campaign that was looking like a train wreck in the first few months.
There is little doubt that Arsenal are solidified by the Frenchman’s inclusion, in the 22 league games he has played Arsenal have kept 11 clean sheets and conceded only 14. This is dramatically different to the 18 games earlier in the season without him, his team mates conceded 18 goals and kept only five clean sheets. Coquelin‘s importance is there for all to see.
This season was the second worst start in the Arsene Wenger era, this left the fans fighting amongst themselves and Wenger‘s position bordering on the indefensible. There were opinion polls coming out every weekend with many wanting him to go.
The biggest gripe for fans was the defensive issue that had not been acknowledged since the departure of reliable World Cup winner Gilberto Silva back in 2008, a comparison that could be made with Coquelin on this season’s performances.
There have been many encouraging signs in the attacking third with the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, the vastly improved Mesut Ozil and the application of midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla. For me Coquelin has been the thing that has held together this campaign.
His stand out performance was away at Manchester City in the 2-0 win on the 18th January, this was the turning point of Arsenal‘s season. In recent years they have encountered heavy criticism in the top four clashes especially away from home, and rightly so. Following the victory at the Etihad there seemed to be more belief in the Arsenal squad, this belief saw them only lose two more league games all season.
Coquelin has been the most improved player this season and you could argue much like the situation Harry Kane finds himself in at Tottenham, he has benefited from the loan system.
Were it not for his inclusion back into the Arsenal squad this season there may well have been significant movement in the transfer market this January resulting in the signing of a much needed defensive midfield player, strong performances against Stoke City at home and Manchester City on the road showed that Coquelin was more than capable of holding his own in the Premier League.
The improvement of Coquelin has been immense and he has transformed his game since the confidence shattering 8-2 loss Wenger‘s side suffered at Old Trafford back in 2011. That was a massive learning curve for the Frenchman who will be expected to go from strength to strength next season.
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