For a moment, I forgot that we were in the winter transfer window.
You know, when your team is playing so badly in games and struggling like we are, you can only shift your focus to the next available game with the hope for a much improved performance from the previous show. Arsenal’s cause isn’t helped with the fact that we go to Stamford Bridge next, a ground where we haven’t had much joy in recent seasons. We did earn a creditable draw and might have even had all three points if Alexandre Lacazette remember where the goal actually was Aaron Ramsey’s shot clipped the post and fell kindly to him. More on the Chelsea game tomorrow.
My focus for today would be on Francis Coquelin, a player that signed a long term deal with us but lost his place in the term due to Granit Xhaka’s emergence in the squad. I can still remember his breakthrough performances on his return from his loan spell at Charlton. This swashbuckling tackling and passionate style of play endeared him to the hearts of the fans but deep down we saw him as a stop gap option in defensive midfield, rather than a long term plan. The club thought otherwise, or so we thought, when they offered him a new deal last season, alongisde Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud.
This season, the Coq has found games hard to come by, as he had to stick to substitute appearances in the Premier League with the only start coming at the Etihad where he played in central defense. However, he featured consistently in the Carabao Cup and Europa League. I expected him in midfield on Sunday against Nottingham Forest and I certainly raised an eyebrow when he wasn’t on the bench as well but with the Mirror reporting that Valencia Mestalla has made a 12m bid for him, it made some form of sense. However, I remain a bit confused – if Coquelin wasn’t part of Wenger’s plans, why did he offer him a long term deal? For a player that has such a new contract, isn’t 12m too small? Well, he was one of the guys considered as deadwood but will his departure give the manager the opportunity to properly invest in central midfield? Aaron Ramsey is a regular name on the first team sheet but his fitness remains a problem as he’s currently nursing a hamstring injury. Xhaka looks out of sorts and can do with a breather. Mo Elneny is such an average footballer and can offer us nothing beyond moving his dreads from side to side. Or does the manager have plans to play Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his natural position, allowing Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal to do their jobs?
Either ways, it seems like its the end of the road for Coquelin. 10 seasons, 159 games and three trophies with the Gunners, he served to the best of his abilities and never grumbled over lack of consistent playtime. Just like Kieran Gibbs, he needs a new challenge and La Liga would be an interesting proposition for the French midfielder.
On the other end of the pendulum, the Sun has reported that Arsenal have stepped up their chase for West Brom’s Jonny Evans and are also planning to use Matt Debuchy as makeweight to seal the deal. It’s also believed that Manchester City are interested in the Northern Irish defender as a replacement for the ever-injured Vincent Kompany. I know the Gunners recently bought Kostantinos Mavropanos but that’s a lad for the future. The current state of the Gunners defense is in shambles, and the performance against Nottingham Forest proved how bad things have become at the club. Per Mertesacker is past his prime and is probably day dreaming of his academy job at the end of the season, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are in their 30s and are struggling with injuries, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding are still very raw, leaving us with just Shkodran Mustafi as the reliable defender.
Adding a player like Evans wouldn’t be a bad option – he’s 30, very experienced in the Premier League, has won major trophies with Manchester United and can stake a claim for a place in the side, and of course provide some much needed depth as our players tend to drop like flies every season.
More on these players in the coming days.
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Since Mohamed Elneny joined the club, I’ve learned a lot of things about him. He’s not only coming to fill the midfield gap (which will send Mathieu Flamini to the bench, hallelujah), he can also solve world hunger, destroy all pests, fight world wars on his own and end terrorism as we know it!
One of the players Elneny will be providing cover for in the team is Francis Coquelin. It was around this period last year the Coq rose in prominence to become a mainstay in the squad. His performances merited it and he got a contract he truly earned for his contributions to the team.
In order not to ‘stifle’ his steep progress, Wenger opted not to sign a new holding midfielder in the summer but it proved to be a wrong move as Coquelin’s ‘replacement’, Mikel Arteta, couldn’t be banked upon to remain fit causing the manager to use a Flamini that was close to his Arsenal exit and an inexperienced Calum Chambers that is still rough at the edges.
Coquelin got on the end of a poor challenge from West Brom’s Claudio Yacob and injured a ligament in his knee. The diagnosis was that the Coq was going to be out for three months so his expected return was around mid-February. However, the boss has come out to say that the lad is ‘running’ and he’s close to full fitness.
Was he motivated to get fit quickly before of Elneny’s imminent arrival?
Elsewhere, the boss has confirmed that Arsenal’s injury-prone English contingent, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, are also close to full fitness. It’s not like I’m doubting the boss or anything but Wilshere is one player I don’t trust to stay fit.
When I think that game against Barcelona in 2011 when Wilshere was beasting a midfield that had Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, I feel so sad for the lad because his massive potential has never been realized because he just can’t stay fit. He’s one player that offers a different skill set to what we have at the club (maybe Tomas Rosicky’s play is somewhat similar) but there are many times injuries have been the sole reason Wilshere’s services have been unavailable for his team.
Then there’s Danny Welbeck. That lad stills divides opinions following his 16m move from Manchester United last season. He scored eight goals in his debut campaign and they were some important goals (think West Ham, West Brom and Manchester United) but there were the Emmanuel Adebayor-esque misses. Welbeck has been injured since April and had a surgery around August. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t kicked the ball this season, so when the manager says that he’s close to full fitness, you’d have to keep your fingers crossed.
Having Wilshere, Welbeck and Coquelin fit again will be a big plus. These lads offer the manager a chance to rotate his squad as the Gunners are challenging for silverware on three fronts. They’re in the fourth round of their favorite competition, currently topping the Premier League and they have a daunting fixture against Barcelona next month.
I will keep you updated as the days go by
There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the injuries pile up at Arsenal. Before the weekend’s loss to West Brom, the Gunners were without Jack Wilshere (ankle), Tomas Rosicky (knee), Danny Welbeck (knee), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring) and Theo Walcott (calf). These are players that are vital to the team but Arsene Wenger’s side had soldiered on without them but as if losing to West Brom wasn’t bad enough, the Gunners lost two more midfielders in the game with the aging Mikel Arteta suffering from yet another calf strain and most importantly, Francis Coquelin, suffering a knee injury.
Coquelin was doing his bit to control the game but in his bid to recover possession after being sloppy with the ball, he clashed with West Brom’s Claudio Yacob and came out second best. According to the folks present at the Hawthorns, Coquelin left the West Midlands on clutches. He has also undergone scans to assess the extent of the injury and tests have shown up substantial ligament damage.
There has been some swelling on the knee and further tests would be taken when the swelling subsides. The initial prognosis shows that Coquelin could be out for as much as three months, which will be a massive blow to the Gunners. It has been a fairy tale year for the French midfielder as he was recalled from his loan at Charlton amid another injury crisis and he established himself as an indispensable player in the squad.
Coquelin didn’t only become a figurehead at Arsenal, but he was right on par with the very best in the Premier League. The table below showcases Coquelin’s defensive stats with Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, Manchester United’s Morgan Schneiderlin and Manchester City’s Fernandinho.
|Premier League Only||Coquelin||Matic||Schneiderlin||Fernandinho|
|Appearances (subs)||12 (0)||10 (2)||10 (1)||12 (1)|
|Tackles made (per game)||3.2||3.5||3.0||4.0|
|Interceptions made (per game)||2.7||1.9||3.1||1.5|
|Fouls committed (per game)||0.9||1.8||2.5||3.3|
|Dribbled Past (per game)||1.1||1.1||1.1||1.3|
|Clearances (per game)||0.9||1.5||1.7||0.8|
|Aerial Duels Won (per game)||0.8||1.8||1.0||0.5|
|Blocked shots (per game)||0.3||0.1||0.3||0|
|Pass Completion percentage||91.5%||89.6%||90.7%||89.2%|
|Long Balls (per game)||2.6||2.2||4.6||1.8|
Coquelin has a better pass completion percentage than these guys and he commits the least amount of fouls, which shows how his tackling and interceptions have improved. Losing a player like Coquelin is a bitter blow for the club because his unique style of play – the anchorman role, and he has become so good to the extent that the manager didn’t see the need to invest in another holding midfielder this summer.
With Arteta all washed up and Mathieu Flamini not a dependable outlet to use in midfield, the only plausible thing for the manager to do will be to deploy Aaron Ramsey alongside central midfield with Santi Cazorla, thereby allowing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance on the wings. The only issue would be whether Ramsey would have the positional awareness and discipline to play in the holding role.
With Coquelin potentially out till late January / early February, one wonders if Arsene Wenger would delve into the transfer market to purchase a new holding midfielder. Only time will tell but for now, we have to brace ourselves for life without the Coq, and it’s never fun when you can’t use your Coq (pun intended).
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