For once, an Untold prediction is right: 6.5 years of Francis Coquelin

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.

Season Lge apps Goals Total app Goals
Arsenal 2008–09 0 0 1 0
2009–10 0 0 3 0
Lorient 2010–11 24 1 25 1
Arsenal 2011–12 10 0 17 0
2012–13 11 0 22 0
SC Freiburg 2013–14 16 0 24 1
Arsenal 2014–15 7 0 9 0
Charlton Athletic 2014–15 5 0 5 0

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…

Season Team Games
2007–2008 France U17 3
2008–2009 France U18 5
2009–2010 France U19 16
2010–2011 France U20 12
2011–2012 France U21 7

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.”

Thinking through this story, what strikes me is that once again it reveals something that it is so easy to forget – players are people.  They develop at different speeds, are affected by different events, have emotions as we all do….  Trying to judge what the best thing is to do for the club and the player is tough and prone to be derailed by the vagaries of life.

But maybe in the case of Coquelin it is all turning out for the good.

I’m also rather glad we picked up on him as early as we did.  My ability to predict which youngsters will come through is by and large fairly awful, so on the rare occasions I get it right, I do like to give myself a little pat on the back – but always knowing of course that tomorrow’s prediction is going to turn out to be utterly wrong.

Classic Untold

Football Betrayed: A manager speaks out against corruption

Football Betrayed: PGMO split, journalists proclaim the future

The books

14 Replies to “For once, an Untold prediction is right: 6.5 years of Francis Coquelin”

  1. its good we had to keep faith on him. he has had a massive improvement in his game. we hope he improves in his game

  2. good to see ramsey sticking up for coquelin, as he has faced alot of criticism before “turning good” even though he was great all along, just had to deal with having his leg chopped in half, the sad death of gary speed and then to face so much stick when making his comeback.
    who knows what personal or professional issues coquelin has faced over the past few years? i think the fact that wenger touched on going through ‘difficult’ periods and learning from them says there was something going on. which is perfectly normal for a young man going through his early twenties.

    its remarkable how the media always seem so surprised when a player improves!

  3. why this attitude that because coquelin was on loan to charlton he is a bad player? i dont recall wilshere being labelled sub-par because he was loaned to (i wanna say) bolton. in fact i recall the general attitude about that loan was that it was good.

    it seems fairly arbitrary in how the media perceives and then influences things. i wonder why?

    coquelin to charlton – sign of how he wasnt good enough, only called back because arsene and arsenal have lost the plot.

    wilshere to bolton – great move that allowed a young player to gain valuable first team experince and come back to make the step up to first team.

    dare i say it sometimes isnt just the aaa but a deeper and more alarming problem of xenophoic, nationalistic, racist media? both involve arsenal, and players that went out on loan before coming back and making an impact in the first team so why the difference in reporting and opinion within the media?

  4. Thanks for that. I must admit I knew next to nothing about Coquelin’s history apart for his loan spell at Charlton.

    Keeping faith in players for longer than most , is one of Arsene Wenger’s trade marks for sure and if Coquelin continues to impress like he has so far, we might not need to get additional help in the DM position.

    Which kinda proves a point that most Arsenal fans don’t care if a player came through the ranks and cost us pittance, or was an expensive acquisition in the transfer market , as long as he can do the job.

  5. Yes, players develop differently. when i see my son aged 6 play with his group, i find it difficult to accept that he is not as good as some of them. most of them run with the ball but some are good as well. I keep telling myself, “get his basics right and make him understand the game and follow instructions, he will develop as time goes by”. I have to remind my self that i could not play as good as what he does when i was 6. i could not even kick the ball, i really took off when i was 18 or 19 yrs old. so yes, one has to have real patience.

  6. Tony thanks a lot for this post.

    I think that reality is probably somewhere in the middle – the club isn’t stumbling and not signing anyone because the manager is stealing money; on the other hand it is as ludicus as the first propostion, to suggest the loaning out the Coq was all one big part of a great master plan.

    Reality is, probably, that he was recognized as a high-potential player, however his development was not what Arsene expected, thus he was lonaed out. I do believe that when Arsene thought about him in the beginning of this summer, Le Coq was not considered good enough to play for us this year.

    And then the need for a midfielder emerged (plus Flam’s unfortunate visible slump) and the Coq was called back. And no one can doubt that his contribution is immense.

    I agree 110% with the paragraph which deals with the fact that players are people. It is so true. It seems to me that most people forget that the most when they spill vile words at our players. OUR OWN players. It is a huge shame and in my eyes one of the biggest acts of lunacy any fan can perform.

  7. Tony, you said:
    Thinking through this story, what strikes me is that once again it reveals something that it is so easy to forget – players are people.

    A very true word! That is why I will never revert to name calling of one of our own players. Because first of all they are ‘ours’ but also because I strongly believe that by giving positive support to someone they will get better. When a player made a mistake I will say that he made a mistake. And probably that player will all too well know he made a mistake. And probably Wenger will have told him about the mistake he made.

    But what on earth is it going to help that player when fans then start saying things that you wouldn’t want that someone is saying to you? How on earth will abusing a player or a manager verbally improve him?

    You should read what some “fans” say on the Arsenal facebook account when we signed Biliek the Eagle. Disgusting… Some are already sharpening their fork pitches and lightning up their torches to attack the young man. Just because he isn’t what they would have bought…. Sad, sad, sad….

  8. And what will people say the first time he makes a big mistake?…probably start looking for a bear pit to throw him in.

  9. Graham Poll is talking about players again, and has this quote about play on 2015/01/21:

    > “Strict referees, who do not permit any contact above the neck, would have dismissed Adebayor but Neil Swarbrick, sensibly, chose to caution him — not surprising for a referee who approves of physical football.”

  10. The table is inappropriate for footballers. It should show results rather than goals ie no of wins/losses. If the player is a defender then his effect is less goals against. If he is an attacker then more goals for. He may not score but even an assist or creative pass shows his quality.

  11. When it comes to players are people so are the PGMO officials. Some are good people & some are ………….

    Keep your eyes open and your heart clean. Make decisions based on what you know through your own life’s experiences.

  12. Saw him in the FA Youth Cup Final 2nd leg at Anfield in 2009. He bossed the midfield that night and looked, to me, more the part than his midfield partner Jack Wilshere 🙂 . I do have to say that much as I wanted him to be great (as I do any player pulling on our shirt) I did fear the worst for him – remember that horrible day at Stoke (another one) in the Cup when he was at right back – not by any means solely his fault in virtually a reserve team, but it was painful to watch.
    It is soon sweet to see someone overcome things. Let’s hope that continues to be good news at the Arsenal from here in for our Coq. If it’s good news for him then it’s good news for us

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