I think we can be fairly confident that even though Wenger has only won one major trophy these past 10 years he often finds something eventually when all seems against him to come out smelling like roses. This time that miracle is Francis Coquelin.
This season, there were times that Arsenal were so far off the pace that there were constant calls for his head. The injury list we had in the first few months of the season made his transfer dealings (and more so his reluctancy to purchase a world class defensive midfielder) in the summer never more so apparent to all around him that maybe he’d slipped up…..Again!
So for the first few months we scraped by with a very un-athletic Mikel Arteta, who seems to have more time in the mirror than he does on the pitch these days due to injury, and also Mathieu Flamini who scraps about like a Jack Russell barking at bigger dogs down the park that nobody including his own team mates give a monkey’s about. He thinks by pulling his shorts up and rolling up his sleeves makes him Arsenal’s answer to Ray Winston or something. I said at the time when we got him back that he was useless. This was a player that left us to join AC Milan, and then who came back cap in hand when he was way past his best. Something that AC clearly noticed. For Arteta, the guy clearly had talent, and his passing accuracy the season before last I think was better than Xavi. But age has caught up with him and its clear he won’t be a Giggs and play much more after this season. Anyway enough on those two for now.
Then roll in November. The squad again took a few more injuries and suspensions and due to the transfer window not opening for a further 6 or so weeks Mr Wenger had to go back to Charlton and ask for Francis Coquelin to be returned who we’d sent out on loan. At this time, Coquelin’s biggest claim to fame would have been appearing in Alex Ferguson’s autobiography mentioning him in the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford a few years back. A player that had never cut the mustard for this great club and had been given enough chances was probably looking at the exit door come January himself. Then, he gets a call back to Arsenal and got run of games under his belt. Since his man of the match display against West Ham on the 28th December, Coquelin has only missed four minutes of game time in the Premier League (12 games). A run that has seen Arsenal take 30 points from a possible 36. An unbelievable achievement, and might even have been a bit more.
Now I am not saying that this is all down to one man because we had a lot of players return but he has given us a new dimension, a new style, a new grit and determination which was probably first realised when under the spot light in the win over Manchester City at the Etihad. This is a player that has taken the common fragile Arsenal and made them a force to be reckoned with again. This is a player who has broken his nose twice in that period and continued playing…. who does that? This was a player that had been so far out in the cold he’d started to turn blue, but then he saw an open door, he strolled in, lit the fire and the fattest cigar possible and took his place at the head of the table where an angry Flamini, who had been telling everyone he was the hardest man in the house, was sitting but he duly got up and sat in the corner…. He knew as usual he’d growled at the wrong dog this time again, and the Coq was in no mood for puppies.
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So where does this now leave us? Coquelin for me has been probably our most valuable addition to the side. Oh you may argue Sanchez, or Giroud but this is a player who has been with us since 2008 (7 years) and who was right under our noses all that time, his record in the 12 games he has started is second to no other player in the same period. There is still talk that we may still be in the market for a defensive midfielder, and maybe so, but how could you bring a player in now that would keep the ‘Coq’ out? I can’t see it. He has been offered, and signed, a new contract.
Wenger I am sure has taken credit for the grooming of Coquelin, but I would say that him and Arsenal are very lucky to have him now and I bet they can’t believe their luck. The Coq himself is lucky that an opening appeared and he should be delighted that he’s taken it the way he has.
I look forward to seeing him up against Henderson and Coutinho on Saturday. It should be a test for him, but I would imagine certainly Coutinho would be less looking forward to it.
I would say that due to his recent performances it is unlikely we will see Flamini play for Arsenal again, and potentially even Arteta whom I can see playing in the US or perhaps making his own yoga DVD. Who knows.