By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
Who would’ve thought this would ever become a topic? Just two seasons ago, Francis Coquelin was thought to be on his last legs at the club, with no hope of a contract extension, out on loan at Freiburg and ranked as one of the worst players in the Bundesliga; oh how things change. In one tumultuous season and a half, our precious Coq has gone from forgotten, to adored, to missed, and now many want him to be relegated to the bench, replaced by another holding midfielder: is this truly necessary?
Before we get into the whys and why nots, I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way: I am quite fond of him, and view him as extremely underrated by pundits and fans alike, even by opposition players. However, I will refrain from showing my bias as I delve into the reasoning behind each camp. I will not entertain the notion of selling him whatsoever, as he is homegrown and having a great – or even just decent – player to fill the homegrown quota is a boon, never a burden.
We begin with the camp that states he should be upgraded: the main argument revolves around his rash decisions at time, as he can be overly passionate in some cases, which leads to a flurry of badly-timed tackles. None can deny that Coquelin’s passion leads him astray at times, especially in a league whose refereeing has been continually called into question – albeit, his latest tackle is not up for debate. He cannot continue to rack up bookings, even if they are only occasional, especially in important fixtures.
The main issue with this line of reasoning is in who could replace him: beside Santi Cazorla, Coquelin’s statistics show him as not only the best holding midfielder in the Premier League, but among the best in Europe. The likes of the oft-mentioned Krychowiak, and Bender twins have never matched his statistics beside the diminutive, technically gifted Spaniard. The issue here lies in his performances beside Aaron Ramsey, and Mohamed El-Neny.
As many of my followers have picked up on by now, I have a certain issue with Aaron Ramsey’s insistence on remaining central, rather than on the wing – where his best performances have been. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’d naturally place the blame squarely on Ramsey’s shoulders, but that does not account for Coquelin’s performances beside El-Neny. Particularly in the FA Cup, Coquelin has been less productive beside the newcomer, which could be ascribed to a lack of trust; why should he? El-Neny has only just arrived.
The fact remains, however, that Coquelin has the potential to be the player he was in his breakthrough season once more, he simply needs the correct pairing beside him. In time, his chemistry with El-Neny will reach its levels with Cazorla, and may hopefully become Arsenal’s go-to pairing in midfield once the Spaniard inevitably moves on. The question, now, is whether we may be willing to wait for such a connection to be built.
In all likelihood, we will continue the season with this very partnership after El-Neny’s debut performance against Tottenham Hotspur, and Aaron Ramsey’s return to glory on the right hand side – where he must undoubtedly remain. If this is to be considered the new norm for Arsenal, we may yet see Coquelin return to form quite quickly. For now, his passion must be reined in by his partner, just as his performances must be improved by that very player. Time will tell if Coquelin will ever return to his previous form, but at 24, Francis Coquelin has plenty of time to temper himself, and improve upon his overall game; we wrote him off before, and he proved us wrong then.
Ahmed Nada is a blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner