First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Francis Coquelin’s career in 16 words. The Frenchman has stared failure in the eyes time after time, and come out victorious. Nearly 2 years on from steadying a drowning Arsenal ship, the combative midfielder finds himself in the midst of an all too familiar mid-season witch hunt, the chosen victim for the Arsenal “faithful” to single out is the 25 year old. Are there any true justifications to the madness? You’ll often be told of the Frenchman’s supposed inferior passing capabilities, or of the disciplinary tight ropes he often walks in games. Every picture is tainted by its lens, and only with the whole image in shot will we see the true story.
Recalled from Charlton in December 2014, Arsenal desperately sought a savour to reinforce a struggling fleet, ill-equipped to face the harsh rigours of a tormenting Premier League season. Alexis Sanchez could only provide so much support, the weight was begin to show on the Chilean’s shoulders, he was being worn into the ground, he needed help in dragging this depleted army back to allied territory. Francis Coquelin embodied the Commander, barking orders at those in-front of him he marshalled the Arsenal midfield superbly, with this epitomised by the battle at the Etihad, where he and his diminutive general Santi Cazorla sent shock-waves throughout English football with a shock 2-0 win against the Champions. The two offered a style that had not blessed itself in an Arsenal shirt for years, combative beauty. Coquelin and Cazorla, The Beauty and The Beast.
Next came an assault on Old Trafford, the theatre of nightmares for the Gunners. Once again the duo ran the show, Coquelin again leaving Arsenal fans awe-inspired by his miraculous defensive prowess that we simply had forgotten could exist in an Arsenal midfield. He did his job, the team did their job, Danny Welbeck showed Manchester United the services they were missing, Coquelin showed Arsenal the services they’d been missing.
Statements were made.
For the remainder of the season the Frenchman was a mainstay in the team, not only bringing defensive assurances, but allowing Arsenal to finally utilise Ozil to his capabilities by freeing up Cazorla to find the German play-maker with his magic. A remarkable turn around in the midfielder’s career was capped off by dominating on one of the biggest stages in England, the FA Cup final, which saw Arsenal run out 4-0 winners. It’s no coincidence that Ozil had one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt with the presence of Coquelin on the pitch.
Coquelin is not the reincarnation of Vieira as his influence upon the team made him out to be in the 2014-15 season. The Gunners were so heavily deprived of a tenacious ball winning midfielder that when we were finally blessed with one we instantly gave into the hype, we deceived ourselves into thinking the Frenchman was the perfect footballer, with all attributes of his games mastered. Of course, this wasn’t the case. Whilst excelling in his role as a ball-winner, the 25 year old has his limitations, he isn’t going to dictate the tempo of the game, he isn’t going to thread incisive passes between the lines, this isn’t Francis Coquelin. Why therefore is he lambasted?
The answer is simple, the Gunners fans fail to understand that we won’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. Coquelin saved Arsenal from drastic failure and ensured stability, the fans should be indebted to him for that fact alone. Since his introduction into the Arsenal team better players have been bought, yet the midfielder still starts. Is this fault? Certainly not. He trains at such an intensity that Wenger feels he is justified in the selection of the Frenchman. Therefore, why is Coquelin the target of this scapegoating? Is Granit Xhaka the better player? Yes, but Coquelin isn’t choosing the team every week, it is Arsene Wenger.
The 25 year old can only do what is within his limitations, and he is one of the Premier League’s finest in doing so. What is beyond is realms of possibility he should not be slaughtered for, it’s down to Wenger to decide where his faith lay, Xhaka or Coquelin, and whilst the 24 year old has performed whenever called upon, to dislodge Wenger’s faith in someone is a monumental task. It’s not so much as the £35 million man gaining the trust of the Gunners manager, it’s about ensuring the faith he has in him has foundations dug deep, a skill Coquelin has mastered.
So, you’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about Francis Coquelin, and the role he plays at Arsenal, rumours have been spread, you draw your own conclusions, i’ll leave you with this. A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has even put on its shoes.