Francis Coquelin – The Defensive Midfielder Arsenal Need?

Sitting with my hands on the keyboard staring at the screen, the subtle realization of not having written anything for a while grows on me, as I find a witty way to start my blog.

Being an Arsenal fan hasn’t been easy off late.  Most of us are frustrated with the inconsistent results and nervy performances. The problems in the squad are for everyone to see. The one that jumps out  is the lack of depth on the bench specially in the striking department. Chamakh on loan to West Ham means we only have Giroud as an out-n-out striker while Walcott’s self confessed desire to play CF remains to be backed by his performances there.

Not going to get drawn into discussion about our striking options. We need one more world class striker, just going to leave it at that.

What I really want to talk about is the midfield. Going by the general reaction of the fans and the shouts of wanting a DM in the squad you’d think we really lack options, in midfield,  on the bench. With the January window coming to a close we are seemingly unlikely to see an addition until the summer, so I look towards the options we already have. A similar unsung hero like Aaron Ramsey, one who divides the opinions of the Arsenal faithful, could Francis Coquelin be that player to balance our midfield?

Coquelin arrived at Arsenal in 2009 from  Stade Lavallois as a young technically adept player, just the way the Arsene Wenger likes to buy them, spotted by Gilles Grimandi while on International Duty with France at the U-17 EURO Football Championship. He made his debut for Arsenal in a 6-0 thrashing of Shefield United in the League Cup. Games after that were few and far between for him for the first couple of seasons, mainly due to injuries, after which he was loaned out to FC Lorient for the 2010/11 season.

Francis Coquelin was predominantly deployed at RB at Arsenal in his early career as an effort to build his defensive capabilities in tight areas, touches and passing.  A very similar situation to how Aaron Ramsey was used as a RW this season to better his development as CM. There is no doubt Arsene Wenger sees him as a DM but will he have a part to play in the squad for future matches remains to be seen. Unlike the pure Defensive Midfielders who like to screen the defense, Coquelin is a versatile player who can double up as a box-to-box midfielder also when need be. He is a ball winner in the middle of the park, and possesses the vision to play a defense splitting pass too, something Arsenal have lacked off late.

“What Coquelin is doing is quite good, His qualities help the team to defend better. He has that ability to fly into people and win the ball back, and that’s something important.” – Arsene Wenger

With the likes of Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby he might have to wait a little linger to break into the first team but the potential is definitely there. With Coquelin included that makes 6 players in the Central Midfield area which are available for Arsene Wenger to choose from.

Having a further look at his performances as a DM, Arsenal have lost only one game in the Premier League this season in which Coquelin was used (start+substiute), the 2-1 loss to Chelsea in the recent game being the only one.

Arsenal’s record in the EPL with Coquelin featuring. (2012/13)

When rotation is needed his availability has provided an outlet for us. With Diaby’s consistency being a perpetual ‘IF’ for us it seems Francis could make that DM slot his own in the coming years. I personally see him as a potential starter and the Boss’ reluctance to dip into the market for another midfielder reiterates that point.  So, if AW decides to stick with Le Coq how could Arsenal lineup?

Possible Formations:

While not differing from the already in place 4-2-3-1 system a few possibilities as to how and where Coquelin can be deployed.

  1.  

This is just a prototype system where we can drop Diaby for Coquelin.  Also either of Santi Cazorla or Jack Wilshere can play in the #10 role. Very unlikely to happen, but for arguments sake here Coquelin sits just in front of the defense, not pushing too forward, which gives Arteta the freedom to roam forward as the CM. This formation can also double up as a make shift 4-1-4-1. Coquelin acts as the ball winner and sits back to break up counter attacks.

   2.

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This is perhaps the most balanced system Arsenal can deploy in terms of personnel available. Mind you it doesn’t mean it’s the most effective as we saw against the loss to Chelsea a few days back where the team didn’t turn up at all. It has it all, a box-to-box midfielder in Diaby, a Defensive Mid in Coquelin and a false winger in Cazorla. As we saw in the second half against Chelsea this team turned up to play some of the most brilliant football reminiscent of the old Arsenal.  Also the exclusion of Arteta from the lineup while he’s available  doesn’t seem to be possible.

Options:

The recent slump in form and consistency in midfield can be chalked up as a direct result of the injury to Mikel Arteta. He has been the anchor in our midfield, directing the play  and his loss has been felt as seen in our performances. While we could argue the need for a strong defensive midfielder with a physical presence one can not rule out the importance of  a ball winner in midfield. Look towards what a splendid job Sergio Busquets does for Barcelona, what Alex Song did for Arsenal. They are different players to Coquelin but they are ball winners. My point here is that with a little game time and molding, Francis Coquelin could be the answer to the midfield problem. Someone who is disciplined and does his job by the book.

While having said that I can’t see him getting any proper game time ahead of Arteta, Diaby or even Aaron Ramsey. Options in midfield are a plenty but I won’t argue another addition to death, keeping in mind it would hamper Coquelin’s game time even more. He definitely has the ability to succeed for this team and I can see the Boss putting his trust again in youth rather than bringing someone in. When the team needs a different approach to a match or when rotation is needed during a tough period of the season he should be played.  Also I can’t see why he can’t  be a starter for the FA and Capitol One Cup games.

With a little effort from both player and manager I can see Le Coq being that strong Defensive Midfielder this team lacks.

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