A number of Arsenal stars have been making the headlines recently, with our displays in the Premier League a joy to behold.
Olivier Giroud’s fine goalscoring form has been earning him plaudits, while Mesut Özil is finally being praised for his contributions in an Arsenal shirt.
Francis Coquelin has arguably been one of our most important players this season however, and deserves to be recognised as such.
The Frenchman has been excellent since being recalled from loan late last year, and has filled a hole in our side that has been obvious for far too long.
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Our fine form is obviously down to our team performances as a whole rather than simply the emergence of one 23-year-old, but the fact that we have an 80% win rate with him in the side certainly speaks volumes about his importance.
The defensive midfield role has grown in significance over the years, so much so that a dominant midfield destroyer can often prove the difference in a match. It remains an under-appreciated position however, as when you do your job right you tend to fly under the radar somewhat.
Your impact on the game isn’t evident through goals, assists, or even last-ditch tackles. Your influence tends to come through clever positioning and timely interceptions, as well as your ability to press, harass, and mark your opponent out of the game.
Coquelin was hugely important in our dominant 4-1 win over Liverpool this past weekend, as without him we would not have been able to play – or even line up – the way we did.
The tough-tackling midfielder is defensively superb, and when deployed in a 4-1-4-1 formation allows the five players ahead of him to attack with more freedom. He regularly wins the ball high up the field, and our high pressing game against Liverpool forced a number of mistakes out of Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Coquelin doesn’t boast the same passing prowess that the likes of Mikel Arteta possess, and even Mathieu Flamini has a far better passing accuracy than his young compatriot (albeit he is somewhat less adventurous).
This may well be a facet of his game that improves over time, but for the moment he works with what he’s got. After recovering the ball high up the pitch, Coquelin is quick to lay it off to one of the more creative players in the team. The speed at which he does this means the opposition often doesn’t have time to react, with Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil benefiting from the space left available.
With passing not being one of his strong suits, it is usually left to Per Mertesacker to play out from the back – bypassing Coquelin and giving the ball straight to a full-back or one of the other four midfielders. His role in this situation is equally important however, as his movement creates space for the ball to be played into.
Coquelin moves out of central midfield and sideways along the pitch, drawing his marker along with him. This creates space straight through the middle of the park, allowing Mertesacker to pick out the likes of Özil or Cazorla.
He really has become a vital cog in the Arsenal machine lately, and it’s difficult to imagine how we would have coped without him.
We should still be on the lookout for another top class defensive midfielder this summer, as (even if they stay beyond this season) Arteta and Flamini are not adequate deputies. That’s not to say that Coquelin should not continue as our first choice however, as he has been almost faultless in 2015, and has really staked his claim for a permanent spot in the starting XI.