At the start of last season, the Gunners came under heavy criticism from a number of leading pundits for their fragility out of possession and their inability to dominate physically.
In contrast to Premier League champions Chelsea, the North Londoners lacked steel in the middle of the park and sloppy early-season defeats all but ended their title push there and then.
Yet, with strong calls for boss Arsene Wenger to buy a new midfielder in the January, the Frenchman instead opted to look from within and gave Francis Coquelin a rare chance in the first-team.
To the surprise of most, the former Charlton Athletic loan star nailed that protective role to perfection and Wenger pinpoints his biggest forte as precisely what the Gunners lacked so dearly.
“I took him because he was a ball-winner,” Wenger says. “You make your career with one strong point, you don’t have them all but one above the rest. His quality is to win the ball and he’s gained a lot of credit.”
|Tackles per Game||Interceptions per Game||Effective Clearances per Game||Def Duel Winners per Game||Ball Recoveries per Game||Appearances|
As Opta Stats show, Coquelin’s contribution to the cause can be illustrated by his superb results over a number of key defensive areas.
The 24-year-old made 22 Premier League appearances last season, averaging 7.5 defensive duel winners and 7.76 ball recoveries per encounter - the latter being the best average in the English top-flight.
There has been speculation regarding a new defensive midfielder arriving at the Emirates this summer, although, based on current ability, the Gunners will be hard-pressed to find a better ball-winner than Coquelin.