By Tony Attwood
Francis Coquelin’s agent is now negotiating a new deal for the player at Arsenal, what with his contract running out at the end of the season.
Meanwhile the story of Coquelin runs in two different ways depending on whose version you read. Either Arsenal stumbled from crisis to crisis plucking players here and there is desperation because the manager wouldn’t sign anyone and was stealing money from the club, and eventually had to bring a fifth rate player back from Charlton to fill the gap.
Or Arsenal saw the player’s potential both in defence and defensive midfield and have stuck with him, working to allow him to push towards the potential that he obviously has (but recognising that many players never actually reach the potential that they have – the same as in all sports and creative arts).
We first mentioned him on 25 July 2008 (yep 6.5 years ago) in an article contrasting Arsenal’s relaxed pre-season training methods with those of other clubs saying…
“And what about Francis Coquelin. Aged 17 from SASP Stade Lavallois Mayeene MFC of whom you have never heard (and nor had I) he looked amazingly sharp in the game this week. How would he fit in and get experience if we were playing for money?…
“So doing it the Arsenal way [in low key training sessions] is not quite as goofy as it seems. The players are better prepared for the season, the youngsters like Coquelin come out of nowhere and show us just how good they are…”
Francis Coquelin was born 13 May 1991 in Laval, and Stade Lavallois was his second club. It was where he was when Gilles Grimandi spotted him playing in the Uefa under 17 championships.
Since then his career has been one of developments and loans.
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His first competitive game for us was the famous defeat of Sheffield United by 6-0 with our youth team playing on 23 September 2008. He came on as a sub for Fran Mérida, and then continued his development in the reserves.
His first start was on 22 September 2009 against WBA in the League Cup. He was substituted in the second half by Mark Randall.
After these early forays came the Lorient loan, where he got a run of games at full back and in midfield, and it was said that Lorient wanted him for a second year or indeed a permanent deal. Arsenal said no.
Meanwhile his international career was developing…
He played his first league game on 28 August 2011 in the 8-2 defeat to Man U and his second against Tottenham (not an easy starting couple of games) and on 6 December 2011, Coquelin played for Arsenal in the Champs league in the away defeat to Olympiacos.
Despite these games being defeats, or because of the way he responded on each occasion, he got his current contract on 10 January 2012. And he did play in the 7-1 victory over Blackburn which must have made him feel better!
But then it seems things went wrong with a loan to Freiburg for the 2013–14 season (although of course I didn’t see any of the games – I’m just quoting reports). There are different accounts of why it didn’t work out – being played out of position, being unhappy with the set up, but the reports generally of the year are that it was not good. Progress seemed to stop.
So he came back and on 3 November 2014 went to Charlton but he was recalled to Arsenal on 12 December, three weeks before the due end of the loan.
Now this is often portrayed as Coquelin having been dumped at Charlton as a prelude to him being shipped out of the club, and certainly the club had not at this stage given him a new contract.
But Arsenal’s view is that the player needed games to regain his confidence and strength, and re-find the abilities that had brought him so close to a regular place in the first team, and which had made the Lorient experience so positive – and indeed encouraged France to stay with him through the youth teams.
He started his first league match in just under two years against West Ham on 28 December.
And then along came 18 January 2015 and Manchester C 0 Arsenal 2 with Coquelin the star of the defence.
Aaron Ramsey said of him recently, “He’s at that age now where he understands the game a lot more and he has done really well in the last few weeks. It is funny how quickly things can change in football. One week he was on loan at Charlton and then he comes back in and he has been in the team every week. He has done a very good job defensively for the team.
“He wins it back, keeps it simple and just keeps things ticking over. Hopefully he can build on his performances that he has been showing of late and he has got every chance of turning into a top defensive midfielder.”
Arsene Wenger also had a comment to make. “I took him at the age of 16 from France. He has gone through some difficult periods but he has learnt from his experiences. I always kept faith in him and told him three months ago he needed to play. He accepted going to Charlton, he came back and has done very well.”
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