Arsenal have plenty of contenders for who has been our best player of the season. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and Santi Cazorla have been particularly impressive, and helped us to an excellent year that will give us lots of belief and momentum heading into the next campaign. But, if you were looking for our most important player, there are few candidates more deserving than Francis Coquelin.
The 23-year-old began the season as one of those young players that have had opportunities, but looked destined for an unspectacular career at a slightly lower level. In November, Championship side Charlton signed him on loan. The Frenchman did well at The Valley, making a string of solid performances for a team that is experiencing a hefty transition currently. However, an injury crisis meant that Arsene Wenger brought him back, and few could imagined the impact he would have.
By mid-January, Coquelin had featured in seven games, and had only been on the losing side once. Nevertheless, his contribution went largely under the radar. However, in their next game, he put in a performance that made everyone sit up and notice.
Manchester City may have watched their season tail off into disappointment, but back in January, they were one of two teams that looked set to battle it out for the title. Travelling to the Etihad – where Manuel Pellegrini’s men had only lost once in the league – was a daunting fixture. Largely because of Coquelin, we went back to London with three points.
In a surprise move, Arsene Wenger adopted a different strategy for the game. Rather than try to pass it around a very talented City side, it was decided that we would sit deep, soak up City’s pressure, and hit them on the counter attack before they had realised they had lost the ball. For it to work, the defence needed extra support, someone happy to sit, ready to patrol. Coquelin – still battling to prove himself – did a job of immense maturity, which allowed Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud to score the goals that welcomed in this new, strong Arsenal side, that added a bit more substance to our undeniable style.
Since then, Coquelin has only been on the losing side on one more occasion in the league. But, according to the Daily Mirror, he is happy for the likes of Sanchez and Giroud to continue to take the plaudits, as any credit heading their way means that he is doing his job correctly.
“If I can take away 10% of their defensive duties then they can have 10% more to attack and score goals and win us the game and I’m delighted,” he said.
His contentment comes from seeing other players before him become an integral component of a system that uses a similar holding midfield role, including the most famous exponent of the position.
“I remember Zidane and a lot of great players saying when you took out Makelele you took out the heart of their team. I think players who play this position don’t want the spotlight. They like to do their job and then they leave the bling-bling for others,” he added.
If the season began from his first appearance of the season, we would be level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table, having played a game less. Perhaps next season, with a full campaign under his belt, Francis Coquelin may be one of the men pulling the strings, and guiding us to the Premier League title.