Why is everyone picking on Francis Coquelin?

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


  1. Mo1 says:

    I don’t need to read all that to see what everyone can Clearly see, Coq yes is good but not brilliant not a Kante not by a mile.

    Yes he does have a clear weakness n that is his passing n lack of nouse in positioning, I have watched him carefully many a times this season & last where he just bombs forward or goes way ahead of play in the opposition half, leaving us exposed.

    There’s no doubt xhaka is better more physical which us much needed in the prem, brilliant passe n reader of the game who can control the midfield.

    It all falls on the manager and how he rotates them all, against teams where we are going to control yes xhaka must play, away from home physical games coq /xhaka, or even El neny need to be paired.

    Yes coq is good enough to be in the squad but the opinion of some that he may not be good enough for our first x11 at times is fully justified I say.
    .opposition n tactics is all down to the manager, he can save all this bashing if gets it right unfortunately as we all know that doesn’t tend to happen to often.

    1. Tidan2 says:

      I don’t really think you have any idea what you are talking about and most of that was fluff.

      How is Xhaka more physical, apart from simply being bigger?

    2. NY_Gunner says:

      You just described Ramsey’s style of play…

  2. Fatboy Gooney says:

    I haven’t read anything lately that has suggested that Coquelin was getting a bashing ?, if anything, I thought that he has been performing rather well, so I don’t really understand the need for this Article and It’s also a bit unfair to be judging Perez amongst the flops, since he has only played 60 minutes for the club. ?

    1. bran99 says:

      True, and it’s a very long article

  3. NIKK says:

    And this is from an another blog…Coq excites but he can’t pass or turn defense into attack and importantly he doesn’t score the goals…113 games or something without a goal.

    So when Arsenal fans spend basically 10 years without a Patrick Vieira type defensive midfielder, it’s understandable that Francis Coquelin is going to strike an excitement chord with fans. He’s mobile, tenacious and he slides around the pitch like a good old-fashioned Roy of the Rovers hero. We love that. But look, that’s not how you’re supposed to play that role. This is a Xabi Alonso quote from Simon Hughes book, Ring of Fire.

    “I love to tackle. But if I could avoid it, I think I have done better in my job. If I tackle, sliding across the floor, it means that I – or someone else – have been caught out of position at the start of the move and that drives me crazy because team shape and balance is crucial. At Bayern, this is what we practise all of the time: ‘shape, shape, shape’. If you spend too much time on the ground, it means your positioning is not so good.

    1. Incarnate says:

      In the modern game, DMs/CMs come in different shades and styles, we have the enforcers like Yaya Toure who not only muscle their way through the middle of the park but manage to impose their teams game plan on the match, we have the Xhakas and Alonsos who can turn defence to attack with a beautiful long pass, Coquelin plays an uncomplicated game of retrieving the ball before it becomes a major problem an pass it on the nearest ball playing team mate. Our game plan is usually quite complicated but with a Coquelin on the pitch, his is the simplest part of our game.

      1. Fatboy Gooney says:

        Oh dear,?
        We have no Game plan and thats what complicates things lol ?
        Wenger just picks the team and lets them get on with it,
        If there was any evidence of tactics etc you would have seen Wenger barking out orders or using sign language from the technical area.

        1. NIKK says:

          Like against PSG last Tuesday.

          1. bran99 says:

            PSG manager never sat in that match, Wenger was sitting 98% of the match

          2. Fatboy Gooney says:

            Spot on and there Manager burnt more calories than some of our player’s… Especially the Ox ?

          3. Fatboy Gooney says:

            @ Nikk
            Every time I saw Wenger in the technical box,
            he either had his arms folded, hand on hips or was waving his arms at the fourth official. ?

  4. ThirdManJW says:

    For the fans who do not think Coquelin’s good enough for Arsenal, as Admin have just pointed out, I wonder how they feel about other players then? I am a big fan of Coquelin, and his aggression is badly needed in an Arsenal team that has gone soft under Wenger. I would to see Coquelin, and Xhaka get a run together as I feel they could form a solid partnership.

    If Coquelin isn’t Arsenal quality, then the same should be said about: Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Ramsey, Walcott, Ox, Perez, Welbeck.

    1. Fatboy Gooney says:

      Hahaha ? And yes at some point the same has been said about those player’s you mentioned, excluding perez because its too soon to judge him.

  5. Twig says:

    Mate, everyone has a right to hold an opinion. Don’t get yourself all worked up.

  6. Tas says:

    I’m surprised that the press and the pundits have time to pick on Coquelin these days i’m sure they have a better target in Paul Pogba the 100+ Milon Euro man who hase gone missing 🙂

  7. rkw says:

    this kind of discussion is just a reflection of the fact that it is unclear what kind of football arsenal play these days …. coquelin is a decent player but overrated by many fans because he did fill a gap a couple of seasons ago when he came back from charlton and did it well… but like ramsey running around non-stop is not in itself the defining feature of a quality footballer for a DM tackling, positioning, link up play and passing are equally important coquelin is excellent on two of these good on one and poor on last two …xhaka overall is a better DM and should be starting all the time to make him an integral part of a cohesive set up

    1. truered says:

      But at the end of the day we have four new players that were bought for a reason to improve the side. This will only be achieved through intergration into the first team through minutes played. The more times they can play the better it will be for arsenal in the long run. SO get off poor old Preze’s back after only one game. He only cost 17m and getting so much flack yet Pogba cost HOW MUCH ! How many games have he payed with NO negative vibes from their fans or the press other than it will take time for him to bed in.
      Support the new boys!
      Just to put the cat amongst the mice. In order of ability 1. Xhakas 2. Elneny 3. Le Coq. This does not make him a bad player being third out of those three but the others are better.


  8. Bolly from Borehamwood says:

    Xhaka should be play over Le Coq all the time IMHO.
    Le Coq lacks the discipline to hold his position but is running around all over the place and gets caught out of position far too often. I too agree that Elneny should be in front of Le Coq too.
    Off topic, interesting game tonight. Sideshow Bob at centre half could be fun!

  9. kulaj says:

    Problem is Wenger has zero tactical sense. We continually stack our side with unskilled speed merchants like theo and ox, but who lack other necessary qualities to effectively play the wings, i.e. possession, crossing ability, and ability not to get a rush of blood in front of net or making the all important decisions in the final third. On top of this, Theo is absolutely rubish player. It’s this type of favoritism to veteran players that holds Arsenal back, and is probably why yet again pundits are questioning why player like Xhaka isnt starting week to week. Theo, is barely even EPL quality, probably best suited for a QPR and yet he prominently features (OX is trash as well) in our attack week to week on a side that reportedly has ambitions. Wenger’s own admission that he wont tap transfer market except for “top, top quality”, well would configure to put Xhaka in that category, no? So, why then is he fighting with Coquelin for a spot in the team week to week. This experience nonsense and cohesion is just another Wenger buzzword to justify his decisions and loyalty for under-performing players. He treats the fans as idiots, he talks in condescension, so this is no surprise. World class players can step into a side no problem, especially when your side has zero tactics. To return to point above, we have all these speedy, unskilled players in skill demanding positions that is set up for quick passing, counterattacking football, but the other problem is Arsenal plays perhaps the slowest brand of football around (NO WONDER WE CANT SCORE). Teams have learned that if they play completely open game and cater to our playstyle, we will find holes with the short passing game and capable of putting 3-4 goals on them, however, they also know that Wenger is unadaptable, unflinching in his philosophies and so its never a question of “I wonder how Arsenal will set up against us”. We are soooo easy to defend, so easy to set up against and so even the small teams (those we have traditionally feasted upon) have started playing more men behind the ball, concentrating on defending, letting Arsenal CBs pass the ball back and forth all night, (as we are apt to do) knowing the game will remain 0-0 or at most be down 1-0 well into the late stages of the game and that they can strike fast on the counter to steal the game. Happens all the time, its also what I noticed teams started to do after xmas last season and corresponded to our poor run of form and also very visible this season as well. Wenger is the problem, as usual and he is too loyal to his players. If he had any sense he’d have sold the overhyped ramsey, wilshire, theo, ox, at the proper time in the market for massive profits to reinvest for players that had a chance to succeed. Its a shame Perez is getting picked on already, but he is set up to fail as he is a counterattacking footballer (a very good one too) but our tactics are horribly wrong for that. If he had secured vardy he would also have been completely useless in this squad. The only striker that would succeed is the lethal finisiher inside the box type like RVP in his swansong season or like an ibrahimovic (not exactly mobile, but give him one chance he will bury it) type. Buckle in, gonna be a long season as usual. At least we have a strong defense currently but we will need it since we wont score goals like this.

  10. ozildatrequartista says:

    Part of Coquelin’s job description is to cover for players who are out of position. When he is out of position it usually means that there’s someone else who is out of position. He is actually arsenal’s best player at doing this. Also people forget that when ozil is crap, everyone is crap since the team is built around him and his abilities. It’s then up to other players to step up which cazorla and koscielny seem to be trying to do.

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