Four tackles, five interceptions: Can Francis Coquelin become Arsenal’s defensive midfield solution?

Coquelin

Francis Coquelin put in a strong display for Arsenal against West Ham United.

Coquelin has only just returned to the first-team fold at the Emirates Stadium, having been out on loan at Championship side Charlton Athletic for the month of November.

Originally expected to stay at the Valley until the end of December, the 23-year-old Frenchman was recalled by Arsene Wenger due to the injury crisis in the Gunners midfield, and he made his first start of the season in the 2-1 victory over West Ham on Sunday.

Having made three substitute appearances in the three previous games, the former Under-21 international was given the chance to impress next to kinsman Mathieu Flamini in the double-pivot position, and his performance hinted at a future in the side - a future that looked all but over.

With Arsenal still looking for a long-term replacement for the defensive midfield position, Coquelin put in a performance that showed his real ability in the role, and may convince Wenger to give him another chance to impress before opening his chequebook in the January transfer window.

  TacklesInterceptionsDuels WonAerials Won
Francis Coquelin 4 5 6 2

Coquelin won four tackles, five interceptions and two aerial duels during the game, outperforming both his midfield partner Flamini, as well as the defensive line behind him. Used as the shield next to the more mobile Flamini, he offered a much more defensive base than usually found when any other Arsenal man takes the position, and he held his own in the physical battles faced with the strong Hammers midfield unit. With Flamini usually taking the defensive role, it made a change to have someone playing there who could actually complete a successful tackle, and Coquelin’s strength in the air was also an added bonus, with the diminutive Gunners midfield usually suffering when faced by a long-ball team.

However, there was one area where Coquelin was let down in relation to his more technical teammates - ball playing.

  Total Passes% Passes Are ForwardPassing Accuracy
Francis Coquelin 30 43.3% 76.7%

Despite playing the full 90 minutes, the Frenchman completed just 30 passes, with only a completion rate of 76.7%. For a side renowned for their possession ability, it represents an incredibly low rate, although the Gunners were actually outplayed by their East London rivals. Having only 45.4% of the ball during the game, Arsenal’s best passer was Santi Cazorla, and even he only completed 82.9% of his passes, so Coquelin should be forgiven for his low completion rate - registering as the fifth best passer during the game.

Where Coquelin also outshone his teammates in this area was in his desire to start attacks from deep, playing 43.3% of his passes forward. Whilst the well respected defensive midfielders are often praised for their desire to shield the ball and lay it off to their more attacking teammates, the Frenchman was taking the game into his own hands, and was willing to provide the creative spark in a side who were lacking drive and energy for much of the game.

Having signed for the Gunners in 2008, Coquelin has gone on to make just over 20 league appearances for the North London side, and he has failed to impress for Wenger’s men. A series of loan moves away from the club - first with Lorient, and then with Freiburg - suggested that he has no further role to play at the Emirates. But, should he continue to impress in the midfield, he may just be taking the chance presented to him in the injury crisis - and be proving that he can become the defensive midfielder Arsenal so desperately crave.

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