Amid talk of Arsenal signing a new central midfielder, we take a look at the prospects of Francis Coquelin.
There has been plenty of talk this summer of Arsenal signing a new central midfielder to partner Granit Xhaka.
That sentence is plenty damning for Coquelin, who has gone from first team regular to potentially being one of many to leave the club. Whatever shape Arsenal’s midfield takes next season, it doesn’t appear to have room for Coquelin in it.
The main reason for that could simply be down to skillset.
Coquelin resurrected his Arsenal career by adding aggression and tough tackling to the Arsenal midfield. He was regarded as the perfect counter-balance to Arsenal’s technicians, the one to do all the dirty work and allow the likes of Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla to play.
While Coquelin can still provide this, his lack of ability on the ball has been a problem.
There have been numerous times when Coquelin has been subbed off after 70 minutes when Arsenal are chasing a game due to the Frenchman’s inability to be progressive with his passing.
Likewise, only Santi Cazorla has looked a good midfield partner for him, as the Spaniard’s supreme passing could compensate for Coquelin’s lack of ability in a way neither Ramsey or Wilshere could.
Nonetheless, Coquelin did keep his spot in the Arsenal team for the beginning of last season at the expense of new £34m signing Granit Xhaka. It was a decision that mystified many fans, but there was some merit to it as Coquelin impressed with his ability to press high up the pitch and win the ball back.
While he couldn’t do much with the ball in the final third, his energy and tenacity were useful during a period where Arsenal were pressing more aggressively. Xhaka’s own clumsy style of defending served to strengthen Coquelin’s position.
But then, Cazorla picked up a season ending injury, and Arsenal’s ball circulation suffered as a result. Xhaka had to come into the team to help with Arsenal’s passing. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger was looking for a way to put a fit again Aaron Ramsey into the starting eleven.
In the end, Coquelin was dropped, and the Xhaka-Ramsey partnership was born.
That partnership went on to flourish in the final 10 games of the season, aided by the extra security of a third centre back. Coquelin only appeared when one of them needed a rest, and found himself coming on as a late substitute to help Arsenal see out games.
In Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1 system, there appears to be little room for a ball winner like Coquelin.
He can’t provide the passes from deep in the way Xhaka can. He can match Ramsey for energy and work rate, but not his creativity or timing of runs into the penalty area. Arguably, Mohamed Elneny or even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are better options in that Ramsey role.
Coquelin’s best hopes of being a regular again would depend on Arsenal switching back to the 4-2-3-1, but even then, you’d think Wenger would still see Xhaka and Ramsey as his best partnership.
Should Arsenal decide to sign a central midfielder this summer – perhaps Nice’s Jean-Michael Seri, or Schalke’s Leon Goretzka – Coquelin’s prospects would look very bleak.
It wouldn’t be at surprising if this ended with him leaving the club, either this summer or next.