Saturday proves Coquelin is invaluable in the current Arsenal set up by OJ
The last time I wrote about Francis Coquelin not many fans were actually in tune with my arguments. Then, Xhaka was very much new. Bought for 31 million pounds, there were lots of vibes around him. The British media do not rate Coquelin high; after all he was an academy brought up. This is easy to see, with loads and loads of derogatory reviews and commentaries. But my argument was simple; that beyond the commentaries which were subjective, Coquelin is the one of the best if not the very best in his position in EPL. Just compare statistics with every other player in his position, and this becomes evident to you.
The other day against Chelsea, Conte chose to line up 4-3-3, playing Matic and Kante who are defensive, and Fabregas who is attacking. Arsenal set up with Cazorla and Ozil, both attacking and Coquelin as the only defensive. Yet, Arsenal outplayed them, out-defended and out-attacked them, before Le Coq was injured. A lot has been said about that match and the understanding between Koscielny and Mustaphi. But since then Coquelin has not played two matches, and the base of Arsenal midfield has become a concern again. I don’t know who else notices this.
Now, let us look at it again from the point of view of Arsenal set up. Arsene Wenger plays Coquelin at the base of three man central midfield which includes Ozil and Cazorla. Of these three, only Coquelin is the defensive minded. The other two are not just forward minded, but many who watch the premiership would tell you they range from lagging to sluggish when it comes to defending. That means the onus falls on Coquelin to do more to cover them and give balance to the team. Wenger knows this and has also said it.
But many of us, Arsenal fans, do not buy into this. Our first notion is that Xhaka is a better player. I am not contending this; I am only saying that strength varies and Coquelin has his own, which serves Arsenal set-up better for now. And I asked that fans do not join the British press to clamour against him. This will not bode well either for Coquelin or Arsenal. Le Coq needs his confidence to remain at a robust high it is at the moment. And Arsenal need the calmness they play with when Coquelin plays.
I think that the argument I made then has been strengthened by the last game against Swansea on Saturday. Wenger chose to start Xhaka rather rush Coquelin who was coming back from injury. We can ignore the gifting of ball to Siggurdson, which could happen to anybody, but then note that Coquelin has not committed such costly mistake before — unless I missed that and would love to be forgiven if I did.
Rather let’s focus on the rash tackle and the red card. Coquelin is such an effective tackler that even when he gets a yellow, Wenger is not often tempted to pull him out of the match, because there is little fear he will commit two bookable errors in one match. This is something many Arsenal fans take for granted. And he plays so many games without having a red, and helps us maintain balance, either when we are chasing a game or needing to score.
I wrote in my piece then that Xhaka’s discipline on the pitch is still a doubt. And despite his wonderful passing skill, one silly error could cost us games, something Wenger knows very well, and decides to keep Cazorla/Coquelin partnership which has delivered in many big matches. Well, Saturday proves that Wenger was right, and my argument too has been right.
Meanwhile, Le Coq’s statistics are still high, but the media will never hype him. The love-hate him the way they love-hate Arsenal. They like us in the measure people like something they think has a natural default, something they know is good but will not pass their rating for excellence, something deep down in their minds they don’t really want to be the best, because it represents to them the classroom example of something one level short of perfect. Le Coq has outplayed all the defensive midfielders in England in the last one year. Yet they rate him below some of the worst of them. I need not say more.
Let us at Arsenal ignore them and rally behind our own.
Okeke Job Izuchukwu,
Pukyong National University, Busan, South Korea.