Our need for a new “DM” since 2008 have become the stuff of legend.
Since Flamini ran his contract down and some Arsenal fans were nigh on begging Arsene Wenger and the board to throw money at him, the likes of Denilson, Alexandre Song and Mikel Arteta have filled the role without ever truly convincing.
In the case of the latter two, they were far from the traditional “defensive midfielder”, favouring regular forays into the opposition half and requiring more than a little support from another deep lying midfielder.
We can argue whether it came about by accident or design – another time perhaps – but what is non-debatable is that since arriving back at London Colney just in time for the festive season, Coquelin has been a revelation at the base of our midfield. This is not least because of the distances he is able to cover vertically and laterally, and the speed at which he does so.
This mobility, so lacking in his predecessors for sustained periods, liberates the players around him against the less adventurous opponents and gives them a security blanket against those with a little more enterprise.
It is little surprise then that Santi Cazorla’s extended run in the deeper midfield role has coincided perfectly with Coquelin’s renaissance. It also provides Arsene Wenger with his dream opportunity – a chance to get as many slight, technical and creative players into his team as possible.
BC – Before Coquelin
BC (Before Coquelin), Ramsey was employed in almost every game to play alongside the likes of Arteta and Flamini, as his legs were critical not only to linking defence and attack, but also to assist his defensive midfielder and full backs in plugging the gaps that inevitably occur when you play for a team as expansive as Arsenal.
However, since Coquelin’s return, it has been an option to either play Ramsey wide or even rest him on the bench without significantly altering the dynamic of the team.
Effectively, Coquelin is able to fill the holes that invariably appear when we are caught on a counter, without requiring vast numbers to support him in doing so. Against the better teams this means that he can pick up anyone floating into that famous hole in behind the striker – as he did to such great effect against Eden Hazard last Sunday – while his teammates form a defensive block. Against the weaker sides he is able to anticipate the movement of the forward most supporting player and pick up interceptions at will.
He has shown himself an invaluable and indispensable part of this Arsenal team, yet the questions still remain. Most pertinently, Stephen Bradley raised an interesting one on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast – can he sustain his performance levels for an entire season? If he can, Arsenal are a force to be reckoned with, but consistency remains the one thing left for Coquelin to prove.
Every so often you get a snippet of information about a player which gives you an insight into their thought process. Last season, Amy Lawrence conducted an excellent interview with our Gallic destroyer at the opening of Arsenal’s Community Hub, and the morsel which grabbed my attention was Coquelin’s choice of words when asked to write an inspirational message on the wall for the youngsters to enjoy. He chose, “The most important thing in life is to never GIVE UP” with the capitalised emphasis (all his) telling you everything you need to know about his determination.
In the past, we have been blessed with characters like Alex Song, who rise relatively fast and get carried away with their own reputation. Let’s face it – anyone who wears such bold clothes, to the point where there is no hesitation on Soccer AM’s teammates feature when asked about the worst dresser – well, it’s safe to say they aren’t short on confidence.
Coquelin meanwhile has been through a fairly torrid time before landing his “dream gig”, suffering unsuccessful loans at the likes of Freiburg before ending up in League One with Charlton. When you have to fight so hard to get somewhere, you’re less likely to take it for granted.
They say actions speak louder than words. Well, Coquelin’s scrawl across a wall in North London is the action of a man on a mission.
Another query I’ve heard levelled at the Coq in the last few weeks is whether he has a limited ability and he’s just doing a job for us, that there is room for improvement on him.
Now I’m not claiming for one moment that he’s the finished article, but nor do I think it is fair to claim he has hit his glass ceiling.
In particular, his passing comes in for a lot of criticism, and at first glance his passing accuracy of 86% last season is solid if unspectacular, even when you factor in that 64.7% of those passes were forward – something of a bonus in his position.*
*I remember well back when Edgar Davids used to play for Spurs and even their own fans found it a source of irony when he managed a pass in the direction of the opposition goal.
Where Coquelin’s numbers are interesting, though, is his steady progression week on week.
At the turn of the year, he managed somewhere between 30 and 45 passes in each game, where by the end of the season he was consistently playing 50+ passes each 90 minutes. Of course, this is in part linked to the amount of possession Arsenal had in those games, but the consistency of his increased involvement was a step forward irrespective.
And if we turn to pass accuracy, Coquelin was struggling to get much above 80% in his first ten games back in the Premier League, yet by the end of the season he was regularly at 90%+, a much more respectable level for a player of his position.
He also has a surprisingly good long ball for someone often perceived to be lacking in the possession department, and he has improved his decision making on when to unleash a more ambitious pass and when to keep things safe, taking into account the position of his teammates and the state of the game. Often his misplaced passes are borne of a frustration with sterile possession, something which many Arsenal supporters in the terraces and watching on the telly fully empathise with!
It feels like the clamour for a shiny new defensive midfielder has reduced in intensity over the last six months or so, and for very good reason. In January, Schneiderlin was marketed as some sort of god, without who we would struggle to mount any sort of serious challenge. Fast forward a few months and we have a player who is at least as good and moreover has been at Arsenal for years and years. If there’s an upgrade out there, I’ve yet to see them play.
It’s still one of the positions where it would be nice to have another body, insofar as we would be in a bit of a pickle if anything happened to our game changing Coq.
However, we are now in a position where we are looking for someone to supplement Coquelin rather than replace him.
His consistency may remain the last challenge for our French bulldog to overcome, but based on his stats, his performances and most importantly his never-say-die attitude, I’m backing him to turn in another stellar season.
And that makes us a very exciting prospect indeed.