Arsene Wenger announced in his pre match press conference that captain Mikel Arteta was back in training with the team and is due back to full fitness in three weeks. The Spaniard has been out with calf and ankle injuries since he went off in the Champions League win at home to Borussia Dortmund in November.
Due to his injury Francis Coquelin was recalled from his loan at Charlton to fill the void in midfield. This couldn’t have worked out better for Wenger as Coquelin has established himself in the first team since returning to the club. He had always shown promise in his previous stints in the team but never quite lived up to this potential.
Arteta’s return brings an interesting dilemma for the manager; does Arteta go back into the team straight away? For me the manager can’t disrupt what has been a successful lineup, apart from defeats to Tottenham, Southampton and Monaco they have put together an excellent run of form since the turn of the year.
We have known for a while that Mikel Arteta struggles to play in multiple games in a week, his body is just not up to the challenge anymore. Twice this season already he has gone down with muscle injuries, after playing in a second game in a matter of days.
Something else to think on however is that Arteta is currently completing his coaching badges with an eye on taking a role perhaps at Arsenal once he retires. Many players do this towards the end of their careers to make sure they are able to stay in football once they decide to no longer play and he undoubtedly has huge respect from Wenger and has his ear. Could this future be at Arsenal?
Having a captain that isn’t necessarily a regular can be seen as a negative on the squad however while he works towards his qualifications he can assume an almost player/coach role, helping the team even when he is not on the field. Our previous captain, Thomas Vermaelen who left for Barcelona last summer, didn’t seemingly have the same kind of leadership attributes that Arteta has shown in his time at Arsenal.
Every successful team needs veteran presence in the dressing room and Arteta can do exactly that, the coaching badges will only enhance his effect on the team which certainly has a lot of young players who may need guidance from fellow pros. One only has to think back to 2002 and imagine the positive influence Dixon would have had on Lauren or in 04 envisage Keown mentoring Toure.
In certain games this season and last Arteta’s lack of pace has been exploited and this where Coquelin adds a bit more mobility, which is crucial in thwarting potential counter attacks, a strategy that many teams endeavour to employ against us.
Arteta is more than capable of being a midfield against a majority of teams but when it comes to the top level of opponents he can be found out, this is where Coquelin has excellent so far this year; impressive performances against Manchester City and Manchester United away have shown how important he can be to this team.
Wenger will be wise to use him sensibly otherwise he could be looking at another spell on the sidelines. Francis Coquelin has certainly earned the right to stay in the first team but Arteta’s experience and calmness in possession will definitely be a boost for the squad.
Although we have these two players for this midfield anchor position, this summer will be key in finding an upgrade in that position. It’s been most observers’ opinion for a while that this is an area we have to improve if we want to challenge for Premier League and Champions League titles.
In many ways the return of Jack Wilshere will pose more of an issue for Arsene Wenger because in the area Jack wants to play we have a lot of quality and players like Ozil and Cazorla in good form.
With players finally coming back from injury (and hopefully staying fit!) the squad looks in a strong position to push on to secure 3rd position and maybe even 2nd if Manchester City slip up on any more occasions. Also let’s not forget we have another FA Cup semi final to look forward to!