It has, it’s fair to say, been a slightly turbulent start to the season for our red and heroes.
Nowhere can this be more vividly illustrated than in the choices for the official Arsenal Player of the Month for August. Francis Coquelin took the award with 23% of the vote, closely followed by Petr Cech and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who took 21.3% each.
The most logical explanation for this vote is that everyone who voted had either only watched the game against Liverpool, or having watched every match we have played so far this season, has chosen to expunge them from their memory. A bit like what Jim Carrey does when Kate Winslett dumps him in the, ironically, highly memorable Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Would you let that doctor, even though he was played by Tom Wilkinson, anywhere near your memories? I’m not so sure.
Nine months ago, Coquelin’s return to the first team was a bit of a shock. What was also a shock, and a welcome one too, was the impact he made upon the first team. It was, for me, like the contemporaneous announcement of The Magic Whip, the new Blur album.
I feel like I might be pushing my luck a bit here, so that’s the last cultural reference from me for the time being…
A team that had seemed submissive and unable, or unwilling, to get down and dirty all of a sudden grew some balls. They proved it by going up to Manchester City and beating the champions, fairly comfortably too. They continued to prove it by, barring an aberration at Spurs of all places, going on a rather lengthy unbeaten domestic run.
However, that run of form, though I believe Coquelin was a huge part of it, can’t just be attributed to him. At the same time as Coquelin emerged, fully formed, like a butterfly who knew kung fu, Mesut Özil returned from three months injured. Olivier Giroud returned from his broken leg and, crucially, Laurent Koscielny finally got over the chronic Achilles tendon injury which had plagued him early season.
Coquelin also benefitted from Santi Cazorla’s reinvention as the ultimate deep lying playmaker. Could he have made such an impact on the first team without the form of the wonderful Spaniard next to him? It seems unlikely to me. You all know that I am a card carrying member of the Santi Cazorla Appreciation Society, but it seems obvious to me that, although he hasn’t done much wrong this season, he hasn’t quite got going yet. Save for that excellent performance at Crystal Palace.
He’s not alone in that regard. How else to explain Petr Cech coming second in the monthly poll despite a rather disquieting debut at home to West Ham? Okay, yes, the Liverpool game. I know, but it was one game. Oddly enough, it was also a game that Coquelin excelled in as he charged about the pitch putting fires out wherever he could find them. Boy, there were fires to be found on that Monday night.
On a recent Daily Cannon podcast, I jokingly referred to Alexis as our “agent of chaos”. It strikes me that perhaps the same might be applied to Coquelin and a part of me wonders if that’s part of the problem at present. Before you jump in at me with both sets of studs raised, please note the words ‘at present’. Also, in true chicken and egg style, I think you could also make a case that Coquelin is chaotic precisely because those in front of him are not firing. As I mentioned about Olivier Giroud a few weeks back, it feels to me that Coquelin is both a cause and a victim of our current travails.
This is best exemplified by his performance at Crystal Palace where Lee Mason basically ordered Coquelin substituted before he got sent off. I still don’t believe that Coquelin should have been sent off that day. Let’s face it though, if you’ve been essentially substituted by the referee, nobody can describe your performance as impressive. At least, not with a straight face and yet that’s exactly what Arsenal have done. Chelsea levels of delusion, right there.
What am I saying? I guess you can boil it down to this.
If any of the men who make up our attack had bothered to show up for more than the odd game during this first month of the season, I think it’s doubtful that Coquelin would even have had much of a mention this season. Really, he’s not doing anything new, is he?
But our attack is and not in a good way. I mean, we’re talking about a situation after four games when we have one, admittedly lovely, Olivier Giroud volley to show for six hours of football. People, my uncle and cousin particularly, rave about the Ox. I love the Ox and think he’s going to be a huge player for us, but he has to start delivering now and when I say deliver, you know what I mean.
I love watching him tearing up an opposition full back, I think it’s probably the most exciting sight you can have watching Arsenal at the moment, but these runs have got to start ending in goals. For him or for his team mates, I’m not fussy which. Basically, he needs to become more decisive.
I would also like to see Mesut Özil really stamping his quality on games week in week out. Don’t get me wrong, again, I don’t think he’s played badly this season, but I want to see more of the mesmeric, football as art, type of performance he gave at Crystal Palace on a regular basis. Perhaps surrounding Özil with runners who can take advantage of the German’s gifts are the key here. It doesn’t feel like we’ve done that enough since his arrival.
With the talent we have in this Arsenal side, it seems a shame to me that, at the end of the first month of the season, we’re celebrating a guy who is basically very good at running around and tackling. These things are important, of course they are, but it’s not 1994 anymore. We need the guys in front of him to show up.
This Saturday, against Stoke City, would be a very good time to start.