Arsenal can be grateful to Santa Claus for bringing the solution to the Gunners patent lack of balance in the middle. A sudden but welcome revelation of Francis Coquelin in December, after an unexpected return from his loan spell in Charlton, gave Arsenal a new face. A bit of luck for Arsène Wenger, who has nurtured the young French man for years, desperately waiting for a confirmation of his potential. “Better late than never” may think the Boss, watching his player convincingly patrolling the midfield against City and Villa.
“He was a bit shy, but once on the pitch, no need to talk, he was a different animal. His passing skill was impressive for a 13 year old. And above that, he was tenacious on every challenge”. So is the memory of Francis Coquelin recalled by Philippe Macé is president of AS Bourny, a little club near Laval where the player has started his career. A perfect picture of a man who recently surprised the Arsenal fans by his defensive commitment, while most of them would have sold him two months ago. Maybe an explanation can be found in the particular journey of Coquelin with Arsenal, as the young French took his time to reach the level of expectation he has given in his first years in London.
Last November in a podcast with my friends of @RealHatTrick, former Young Gun Cedric Evina talked about 2009 Youth Cup wining Arsenal side. A side where Coquelin played a massive role. “Coquelin and Wilshere were making a brilliant partnership which was the basis of our victory. Francis was our wall in the middle. His mission was simple: fighting to bring the ball back and giving it to Jack. And he did it perfectly”.
I guess Gooners who have watched the recent games against City and Villa will recognize the way Coquelin played in those games: destroying the opposition, bringing the ball back, 2-3 touches max and a short and secure pass to the creative midfielder (Cazorla instead of Wilshere).
Click here for a fabulous example of Coquelin and what he brings that we have lacked. It is the live version of the image we see above, – “Not in my house” said Coquelin.
Same blueprint in 2009 and 2015. But in between Arsenal fans have seen a very different face of Coquelin – Laziness, lack of commitment, lack of focus, and injuries. Song was the main man in the middle and Denilson or even Frimpong were ahead him. Lorient, Freibourg, Charlton on loan and Arsenal reserve team (or injury list), but no first team spot (except in very few occasions, mostly as right or left back).
But against all odds, Coquelin found his way with the national team by being part of U19 European title in 2010. (Our Editor @goonerdave66 wrote on this in 2012) He starred alongside players like Alexandre Lacazette and Antoine Griezmann, Coquelin again as a defensive midfielder, with a nickname: “Le Ninja”.
Genuinely, all these players are now reaching their best years and aiming for glory and it now seems is Coquelin too has finally found maturity in his game.
A few days ago, Thierry Henry praised his young fellow, pointing his impressive addition to the team effort: “Coquelin is a blessing, because he was what Arsenal needed, and he will give the boss the time to found the good player next summer”. Maybe or maybe not. Maybe Coquelin will simply reach his top level and give Wenger the reason to keep him as a number one.