Yesterday’s London derby against Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup provided very little in terms of action but the post-match press conference left many Arsenal fans’ tongues wagging. The topic on everyone’s lips was the departure of Francis Coquelin to Valencia.
The departure of Francis Coquelin represents the departure of another promising youngster who never quite fulfilled his potential. Coquelin joined Arsenal as a youngster in 2008 from Stade Lavallois. He only went on to make his first bow in the Gunner’s first team in the 2014/15 season. At the time he joined Arsenal, Coquelin was highly rated in his native France after playing an instrumental role in the FIFA under 20 World Cup for France.
During his early days for Arsenal, Coquelin had two loan spells at Lorient and Freiburg. Both the loan spells were successful for Coquelin. His success in Germany made Wenger recall him to the first team squad in the 2014/15 season. In his first season with the first team, Coquelin put in some decent performances notably in Arsenal’s 2 – 1 victory against Manchester City. The impressive performance in that display made him one of the first players on the team sheet for the rest of the season in both the Premier League and Cup Games much like stats found at leading bookmakers.
At the end of the 2015/16 season, Coquelin started to find it more difficult to break in the first team squad. The trend continued until his eventual departure to Valencia as he only featured in Cup games and was rarely used in the Premier League, his only appearances coming in off the bench in the dying minutes of the game.
Considering the fact that Coquelin’s best friend who he played with in the FIFA Under 20 World Cup, Alexandre Lacazette is currently Arsenal most expensive player, it’s understandable Coquelin felt he had not developed into the player he thought he would be by this stage of his career hence a change of environment.
If this was one player moving on after finding it difficult to fulfil his earlier promise, many wouldn’t be surprised by the switch but if one factor in other players such as Oxlade-Chamberlain who many thought would be a world beater at this stage of his career, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey or even Jack Wilshere, a disturbing pattern emerges that shows that many of Arsenal’s youngsters have failed to develop into good footballers.
The question, therefore, everyone would ask is what is the root cause of this problem. Is it down to the players letting themselves down or it’s more about the man who manages them? If it was a single player, then the first reason would suffice but because there are several players involved, we are left with the latter reason, this may all be down to one man, and that is the manager.
Arsene Wenger in his early years at Arsenal was often praised for being the moulder of young talent. The success of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vierra, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Nicholas Anelka, and Cesc Fabregas among others is attributed to Wenger. However, for someone who has been praised for being a developer of talent for so long, how come he is getting it all wrong now.
They say football is constantly evolving and as such is the tactical side of the game. During the Invincibles years, Arsenal had a midfield anchored by Patrick Vierra. Vierra was such an important player for Arsenal, everything that was good about centredon him. However, after the departure of Vierra, Wenger never really had another player in the same mould as Vierra. Coquelin, however, was the next best person to fit Vierra’s role and many thought it was a matter of time before he became a permanent fixture in the team. That as we all know failed to materialise.
Wenger did not really give a reason why Coquelin failed to maintain a consistent run in the team but his acquisitions were an answer itself. Wenger never went for the physically strong midfield players rather he focused on technically gifted players such as Mikel Arteta, Santi Carzola,and Granit Xhaka (though many would argue with me on this choice).
There is a new side to Wenger that we have become accustomed to. Many of Wenger’s decisions even team selections according to many are all down to arrogance. Some say the failure to step down last season epitomised the new arrogant Wenger. However, for me, it is how he has continuously impeded player’s development through some rather bizarre team selections. We played a team with no defensive midfielder even though we had one on the bench for the better part of the last three seasons in Coquelin, Wenger has also stuck by some players even though their performances didn’t justify their first-team selections, recently that has been the case with Alex Iwobi. In essence, outdated tactics and Wenger’s arrogance have cost Arsenal some talented players and inhibited their growth.