Of Coquelin and the loathing English press
You know it that there are loved and hated Arsenal players in the English press. No one needs a psycho-analyst to know this; just reading the analysis after each game quickly tell him/her. In the Arsenal set up right now, no one seems to be more on the receiving end of the English press than our most beloved Francis Coquelin. And you know, now is one of those moments you love Wenger’s stubbornness, or else the way the British press is going, the next thing is to ruin the career of this young player and short-change Arsenal of one of the best talents in Emirates dressing room now.
Now, how did it all begin? Arsenal paid 35 million pounds to bring Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach. Meanwhile, Coquelin is a product of Arsenal youth setup; after many trials and loan moves he finally had a breakthrough in the middle of two seasons ago. So, having not been bought with a hefty check, many analysts in the English press have assumed he should be dropped so that big money buys, like Xhaka, should play. That has not been the case. And now, the fire is on; they are united in the ignominious attempt to burn the reputation of this young, fine French midfielder.
The reason I write this is to bring all Arsenal fans to awareness of this tribe of cast-him-down writers who have undone the Arsenal over the years. I am not a super analyst, but I am good in my perception of the game, but can they claim that having a platform to write puts them in a better position to understand the game and how it is played? But I think it is important to write this because it is already known that the Arsenal fans are some of the most popular on the internet, and sooner or later, these opinions being expressed about Le Coq will begin to affect some fans, and the next will be boo boys who will troll and force Coquelin’s confidence to drop.
I will post some of these comments I gathered online for your perusal before I write my comment:
1. Below is from ‘AlsoNamedPhil’ on the Arsenal focused website SBNation (Short fuse) in a piece tilted ‘Southampton Arsenal: the good, bad and the ugly.’ You can read the full text here. He wrote:
“Francis Coquelin. I know there’s a sense we are harsh on Coquelin… but.. honestly, I’m running out of ways to sugar coat this. Francis Coquelin isn’t a bad footballer; he’s just out of his depth. He’s not a player who belongs as a starter on a team that has aspirations for titles. He’s a fifth choice CM getting preferred over all four players better than him, not including Jack Wilshere who had to leave to find playing time. He’s a ball chaser playing in a side that demands movement and creativity. I can’t say these things are beyond him but nothing I’ve seen suggests he’s about to offer anything in the way of providing openings for attack (which means getting open for passes) or improved distribution. He drags down players beside him, such as Santi Cazorla who put in a very good shift despite having to carry the load. Today, he did his usual, out of position, ball watching until an opponent had it near him routine and somehow he’ll come away with people saying nice things about him.”
Note that in this write up, AlsoNamedPhil’ put Coquelin in THE UGLY of what happened in the match against Southampton. We shall talk about that later.
2. This is from Andrew Dowdeswell from another Arsenal focused website, PainInTheArsenal in a piece titled, ‘Arsenal Vs. Southampton: Francis Coquelin Not The Midfielder Needed’. He wrote:
“I am as big a fan of Coquelin as there is, but his game has limitations. Against the better sides, he is the perfect compliment to Xhaka, but when possession will be dominated, his effectiveness is diminished significantly, and this weekend is a prime example. Thankfully, Arsenal have Santi Cazorla as the alternative option.”
3. This is from Aidan Gibson also on Short fuse in the opinion titled, ‘2016/17 Arsenal Defensive Midfielder Preview: Xhaka, Elneny and Coquelin’. Read here. He wrote:
“Stylistically, if Xhaka is unavailable, Mohamed Elneny seems an appropriate replacement. Elneny came into the side last season as Arsenal slumped towards the finish line, initially partnering Coquelin, but then playing alongside Aaron Ramsey as Coquelin was taken out of the starting eleven. Elneny, like Xhaka, is a good passer and an intelligent player, and is a fine alternative if Xhaka has to miss a game or two.
“Coquelin offers something different, but should really be placed in the Mathieu Flamini role; that is, only starting when there is no other alternative. For all of the combative ball-winning, it often means Coquelin is out of position, requiring a real defensive midfielder to cover him. He’s not skilled enough to be box to box player, which is the role he’s been playing in pre-season, and with Xhaka and Elneny, there’s no real reason to play him as a #6, which would require the Cazorla-Coquelin midfield to be brought back. There is perhaps an argument to start him in certain big games, but his role is perhaps best as someone to close games out.”
Note however: how the author lined the names of the three DMs in the title of the article and made sure to put Coquelin’s name last, which is a stylistic way of saying he is the worst of the three.
Of all these opinions being expressed, Wenger is different. His opinion on the qualities of these players is different, and thankfully he is the manager. So Le Coq plays. But when you read these analysts, you are awed, and even sometimes angry, at the sort of disrespect they spewed with their pen. I mean; to write such trite against Le Coq is both arrant and offensive.
Now, I may not have to write everything about Le Coq—because most Arsenal fans watch him every match and actually know his qualities. My concern is to reply to some of these unfounded allegations, and put the fan reading this clear, especially to strengthen their view on what they know already.
This season, Arsenal has played 4 matches in all. Coquelin played in 3. Against Liverpool, we lost by 4 goals to 3. Against Watford, we won by 3 to 1 (Coquelin did not play). Against Southampton we won 2 to 1. And against PSG, we drew 1 to 1.
From all the games so far, few facts are clear. In our first match, the defence was bad. Our main defensive partnership did not play. We had to rely on Chambers and new boy Holding. Of all that was wrong in that match, none was the midfield. But some section of the English press has Coquelin to slay.
In the game against Southampton, the problem was not the defence; we conceded just an own goal, which for all intent and purposes was a mistake. Also, like always against us, Southampton played very well. But that did not mean they dominated us in the middle of the pack. Yet, a section of the English press calls for Coquelin’s head, as if he was the one who failed to score or give the final pass in a match which only what we lacked were goals. In the game against PSG, we saw a totally dominated Arsenal, especially from the wings where Serge Aurier dominated Monreal. Despite the way PSG played, our central defensive position was much protected. PSG onslaught came more from the wings, including their goal. And Arsenal fans here on JUSTARSENAL saw fit to vote Coquelin their man of the match for his outstanding play in the middle. But some among the British press call for his head.
Now, let’s ask: why does Wenger call on Le Coq always. Some say it is because of his established partnership with Cazorla. Some others say, it is because of Wenger’s familiarity with his play. Either may be true to some extent. But nothing takes away the fact that Le Coq is a fantastic player in his position; one of the best, if not the best in the Premiership, and always gives his utmost best when called upon to play. He has one role to play in the Arsenal set up, and that is to break up the opponents’ play, and in that, his statistics are high. According to Whoscored.com, this season, he is already better than N’golo Kante, whom Chelsea shelled big sum to buy, and who plays week in week out and is highly appreciated and revered by the English media and Chelsea fans.
Let us look at the game against Southampton for example, Coquelin made 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 6 ball recoveries. According to statistics after the game, that was more than all Arsenal players combined. And to consider that he does all these without necessarily getting red cards is a big advantage.
It is important to note also that Coquelin has been playing since the return of Cazorla and Ozil. While understanding and partnership may explain it, one must also understand that both Ozil and Cazorla are importantly attacking minded players, and actually both are woeful defending. So, Arsene needed a combative and effective defensive shield behind these two, in these two very important big matches we played last week. And not just because of defence, but also ball playing. Coquelin is a great dribbler (according to whoscored.com, 1.33 per match, compare to 0.75 for N’golo Kante and Xhaka) and efficient passer of the ball. Truth is, apart from the hatred of the British press, Coquelin does not have much obvious weakness for his position in the Arsenal set up. When Cazorla was injured last season, he partnered Ramsey and Elneny in games and did well.
But still I do know and cannot say if Wenger chooses Le Coq ahead of Elneny for the reasons I mentioned above. Elneny is also good. But for Xhaka, I have a good guess why he is not playing regularly yet, or why Coquelin is still preferred ahead of him. [Whether it was the game at Southampton or PSG], Xhaka could not play because his disciplinary record is very poor. Wenger already knew our midfield would be tested to the full stretch in those games. So, surely he would not rely on Xhaka who has propensity to collect cards, because of mistimed tackles. His show against Liverpool when he came on late and Switzerland game against Portugal in world cup qualifier serve as easy reminder of this concern. It will take some time for Xhaka to mould into Arsenal kind of
discipline. And Wenger cannot and should not be forced to play him to serve a section of British press.
Meanwhile, the Arsenal we knew has not turned up this season. We barely win our games. In fact we win so unconvincingly. In the played matches, if we must be sincere and face the facts, the problem has been in the final third. Our attacking set-up has not clicked. Theo Walcott, Ox Chamberlain, Lucas, Giroud, Ozil, and even Sanchez — they all have been so unconvincing and shone in flickers. Both against Southampton and PSG, we were so easily dispossessed at the final third. In fact, it was so frustrating to watch PSG game, because the Ox was completely out of his depth, almost always surrendering possession, meaning we hardly tested their goalkeeper all night. The ineffectiveness of the men on the wings have also been blamed for Lucas no show against Southampton and Sanchez’s subdued show against PSG. And this is true. We do not score goals. This is very much unlike Arsenal; our problem of old is defending, not scoring goals.
But note also that when your attackers are easily dispossessed, your defence are easily put under pressure. Yes, the failure in the final third always means our defence have to do much more work defending the attackers’ inability to keep possession. Yet, despite that, we did not concede goals because of the vigilance of players like Coquelin.
In essence, the problem in this team so far this season, is not defending. Surely not! Apart from game against Liverpool, we have not conceded more than a goal per match. Rather the problem is attacking and scoring goals. And surprisingly, those who slay Coquelin have not said words on Theo or Ox. These two have played more matches and just were simply out of their depth. Nor have they said anything about Ozil who didn’t have a great game against PSG. So you understand; this is not about analysis. It is about sentiment. It is not about statistics. It is about feelings. But every Arsenal fan who watches our games week in week out knows what Coquelin brings to the side, and must not join in the campaign to castigate one of our best players.
Okeke Izuchukwu Job
Pukyong National University
Busan, South Korea