Francis Coquelin’s injury is likely to have massive ramifications on our campaign, but there’s one things that may need to change during his absence, and that’s Santi Cazorla’s role in the team.
The French enforcer is set to be out for at least two months with knee ligament damage (via IBT), and we’re short on decent options to replace him in midfield. He has formed an excellent partnership with Cazorla, and the two compliment each other superbly. We don’t have any other players who can replicate what Coquelin brings to the team though, and that could be bad for the Spaniard.
A large part of the reason the midfield partnership has been so effective is the balance it brings. Cazorla has improved defensively since dropping into that deeper role, but he doesn’t have the pace, strength, or tackling ability to do the job of a defensive midfielder. He’s been playing as a deep lying playmaker, and is often responsible for starting our attacks and playing the passes that help us transition from defence to attack.
He was able to perform in this way thanks to Coquelin, who did the majority of the dirty work in midfield; running around, flying in with tackles, intercepting, blocking, and making sure he was in the right place at the right time. Coquelin would then drop the ball off to Cazorla, who would carry it forward, spread the play to the likes of Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, or Aaron Ramsey, or play it up to one of our strikers.
We’ve already seen that Mikel Arteta just isn’t capable of replacing Coquelin, and if anything he is more of a Cazorla. Mathieu Flamini offers qualities far more similar to his compatriot, but he still fails miserably in every category when you stack him up against Coquelin.
We won’t have the defensive stability we’ve relied on recently without Coquelin, and we won’t be able to replace that with just one player. We’ll therefore need someone more defensively minded alongside Flamini, which means Cazorla is out.
With injuries playing havoc with our side at the moment, Arsene Wenger doesn’t have a huge amount of options. But when we have a few of our sidelined stars back, there are a few candidates for the role in midfield.
Aaron Ramsey offers something very different in midfield, and the industrious midfielder certainly has the legs to get around and harass the opposition. A midfield pairing of Flamini and Ramsey is likely to be our best option until Coquelin returns, although obviously our attack will suffer slightly.
Jack Wilshere could also be an option on his return, while a partnership of Flamini and Arteta may even be better than having Cazorla in midfield.
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The diminutive Spaniard has unquestionably been one of our best players this season, and really thrived in his deeper role alongside Coquelin. Things have changed though, and our defence could be left constantly exposed with him in midfield.