Arsene Wenger must be a pretty relieved man right now, because the recent injury picked up by Francis Coquelin could have been a huge blow as it came along at the same time that the player who would most likely have replaced him in the side, Mohamed Elneny, has gone off to play for Egypt in the African Cup of Nations.
Even a month ago the Gunners may have been in big trouble, but as the manager has been saying recently, the summer signing Granit Xhaka has really come on with his defensive work of late and that means that we should have no problem getting through the next few weeks until the return of Coquelin.
Even though the Swiss international midfielder conceded another penalty in Arsenal colours this week, the boss does not feel that he is a liability as it was a harsh decision and Xhaka is clearly learning and adapting to English football all the time.
Wenger said, “He has conceded a few and I agree he has to stop that. But always it’s… is it really a penalty or not? I think he was unlucky on both occasions, but he has to adapt. Especially on the other night it was a really soft challenge. Because if it’s a penalty, why is it not a foul on Hector Bellerin [for Bournemouth’s third goal]? It’s not even similar. The challenge on Hector was much bigger. Xhaka was a bit unlucky but he has to correct that.
“I don’t think so. You can see in his game he is not a dirty player. Overall I am quite happy with his defensive evolution. He is less spectacular in his tackling and he stays more on his feet. He uses his body better to win the challenges and his recovery runs are stronger when the ball goes behind him. He is much more focused defensively than before. He has improved a lot on that front.”
The man he will be replacing over the next few weeks has also been impressed with Xhaka since he signed for Arsenal, as Coquelin told the Arsenal website that he sees the Swiss as a very well rounded and complete player.
The French midfielder said, “His quality on the ball, his range of passing, passing the ball from deep [is great]. He has a final ball. He is a complete player. I don’t know how many caps he has for Switzerland and he’s only 24. He’s still adapting but he’s doing great.”
It is clear that Wenger sees Xhaka as more of a box-to-box man than Coquelin but the games we have coming up are all the sort you would expect us to dominate, so are Wenger and Coquelin right to be confident that Xhaka can ensure that our injury problems cause no damage?