When Wenger decided to recall defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin back from his loan spell at Charlton, it’s fair to say a few of us were a little nervous.
When we originally bought Coquelin from Laval in 2008, he found it difficult to break into the first team; the quality of Alex Song forcing him to remain on the fringes. After a season with French team Lorient (2010/11), the situation at Arsenal hadn’t changed and although we sold Song to Barcelona in 2012, the experienced Mikel Arteta quickly secured a permanent place in the side ahead of the young Frenchman.
He spent another couple of years ducking in and out of league cup games, floating in the frustrating limbo between the first team bench and our reserves, before eventually being loaned out to Bundesliga side Freiburg (2013/14).
When he was loaned out again this season to Championship side Charlton Athletic, many of us were sure he’d played his last game in an Arsenal shirt.
However, the Footballing Gods seem to like Francis Coquelin (at the moment, anyway) and gave him a chance. Due to the sheer amount of injuries in our defence, summoning him to re-join the ranks was a logical move, but did this mean we still weren’t going to sign a new DM? Was he really the cover we needed?
Although Coquelin has had many loyal supporters throughout his career at Arsenal, was he really good enough?
Fortunately, in recent weeks, the answer has become far clearer and, although we’re still some way away from having a full squad, the 23-year-old has been something of a Godsend.
Before considering the statistics that have inspired this post, it’s interesting to look back on Coquelin’s statistics over the past few seasons.
At Lorient, he made 13 appearances with an average of 1.7 tackles, one interception and 0.3 clearances per game. He also managed to score one and assist one – a bonus for any defensive player.
When he came back to Arsenal, he’d improved and was now making 3.2 tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 1.4 clearances per Premier League game; he’d even managed to reduce the amount of fouls he was making.
However, the amount of appearances dwindled and his stats started to look less convincing. Once getting semi-regular playing time in Germany, his stats began to climb again.
At the Etihad
2015 has been a good year so far for Coquelin in terms of both playing time and general improvement in his game, with the away win against Manchester City being what many – including himself – would probably consider one of the highlights of his career.
His pass accuracy has risen to an impressive 87%, he won all three of his tackles cleanly, made six interceptions and a staggering 11 clearances.
In addition, although we all love to have a laugh at heat maps, his shows he was in complete control of the midfield and his passes were accurate and intelligent.
A weak point in his game from the get-go has always been his composure and inexperience when it comes to making tackles and the amount of rash challenges he makes has resulted in four yellow cards in 12 appearances in all competitions. However, during this huge game he was remarkably calm and mature, barking out instructions to his team mates in a way you’d love to see from any of your defensive line.
Could he be the next…?
For years now Arsenal fans have repeatedly brought up the need for a “new Gilberto”; a midfield enforcer with the skill, composure and a true defensive mind-set. Time and time again, we’ve been reminded of just how hard that is to find.
We’ve pushed back attack-minded midfielders whose first instinct is to get forward, leaving us open, exposed and easy to counter-attack against.
After Sunday’s performance against the Champions, many, including the Daily Mail, are quick to draw comparisons between him and the Brazilian who helped us reach the 2006 Champion’s League final, and it’s not difficult to see why.
His sense of leadership and rapid improvement at such a young age is not only comforting to see, it’s pretty bloody exciting.