Arsenal player review: the mythical beast position

By Walter Broeckx

Let us now have a look at the probably most mythical position on a football field: the defensive midfielder. For this I took the 3 players who have played in that position: Coquelin, Arteta and Flamini. Coquelin had the most match time from the 3 followed closely by Flamini and then the injured Arteta (captain’s curse anyone?) with the fewest minutes under his belt.

The word in some quarters is to get rid of both Arteta and Flamini. Cut the dead wood as they say. But are they really  that ‘dead’? Let us try to find out. Look out for scores with a (1) or a (2) behind the number. More on that later.

The numbers:

Coquelin Arteta Flamini
22 Games Played 7 23
1663 Minutes played 450 1455
999 Passes 420 864
86% Passing accuracy 93.8% 91.3%
82.1% Passing accuracy opp. half 91.3% 88.8%
165 Duels won 29 79
113 Duels lost 25 61
59.4% (1) Duels won % 53.7% 56.4%
54 Aerial Duels won 8 22
31 Aerial duels lost 8 15
63.5% (2) Aerial duels won % 50% 59.5%
169 (1) Recoveries 37 82
59 Tackles won 9 33
13 Tackles lost 2 11
81.9% Tackles won % 81.8% 75%
67 (1) Clearances 5 33
8 Blocks 1 7
79 (1) Interceptions 5 49
0 Penalties conceded 0 0
17 Fouls won 10 11
30 Fouls conceded 11 21
5 Yellow cards 1 3
0 Red cards 0 0
0 Goals 0 1
0 Minutes per goal 0 1455
0 Total shots on target 0 1
3 Total shots off target 2 3
Shooting accuracy 25%
0 Successful crosses 0 1
3 Unsuccessful crosses 2 2
Successful crosses % 33.3%
0 Assists 1 1
5 Chances created 3 5
1 Offsides 0 1
0 Penalties won 0 1

When we look at the passing accuracy we see that Arteta is the number one followed by Flamini and Coquelin only has the third highest pass completion of the 3. This order stays the same when we look at the pass accuracy in the opposition half. That Arteta has a higher pass accuracy then the others is no real surprise. I must admit I was surprised that Flamini did better on this than Coquelin.

Let’s move on to duels. And in this we get the order we might expect. Coquelin is the best when it comes to winning duels of the 3. In second place we have Flamini and then Arteta. You might have noticed a (1) behind the number of Coquelin. This (1) indicates that he also had the highest score compared to  other defensive midfielders and in this case I compared it to Matic (Chelsea), Carrick (MU) and Scheiderlin (Southampton).

When we look at the aerial duels we see that Coquelin was the best from the 3 Arsenal players. But he also was the second best compared to the same 3 from other teams. Matic did better in the aerial duels. But to put this a bit in perspective: Matic is 1,94m and Coquelin only 1.78m.  Coquelin is the smallest of them but only gets beaten by the biggest of them in height.

Back to Arsenal and to the recoveries. Coquelin makes some 9.1 recoveries per match. Arteta made 7.4 recoveries and Flamini made 5 recoveries per match. So Coquelin being the best when it comes to recovering the ball and I think we all expected that.  And if we compare that to players from other teams Francis is the number one again.

The same goes for clearances. He was the best with 3.62 clearances on average every 90 minutes. Almost double the number of Flamini who was in second place in this stats. And yet again the best numbers compared to the players from other teams. Matic being in second place for this one.

And for interceptions… yes Coquelin again beats not only his team mates but also the other defensive midfielders. In fact this is getting boring maybe but the stats just show that in most cases in what matters a lot for defensive midfielders the best player out there was Francis Coquelin.

One could say that Coquelin finding the right balance in his own game resulted in Arsenal finding the right team balance. I think the repositioning of Cazorla also played a big part to this in fact but of course we cannot look behind the fact that once Coquelin got his place the team looked more solid than ever before.

What he can improve on a bit is his passing accuracy as has been shown in the stats.  But that might be down to being more confident as I seem to remember that he was a bit nervous in the first matches and lost the ball a few times when he tried to pass it on. Something that improved later on in the season or at least that was the impression I had.

So where does this leave us in regards with the shouts that we should get Schneiderlin from Southampton? If we look at the stats it seems that Coquelin has the better stats of the two players. So would Schneiderlin be a better player?

Well I’m not that convinced to be honest. And if we can believe the Squawka stats for defensive score we see that they give Coquelin a 20.56, Carrick a 12.21 and Schneiderlin a 8.38 and Matic only a 7.95. They don’t come even close to Coquelin. This is not my score or the Untold Arsenal score but all based on the stats from and Squawka.

So I wonder if we just shouldn’t stick to Coquelin and use the older legs of Arteta and Flamini as a backup for when Coquelin can use a breather or when the opposition allows us to rest him.

Coquelin has done extremely well since he came back from his loan spell and each time it was said: wait till he has to play Man City, Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool…. And each time he passed the test with flying colours. So let’s give him the chance to show that he can do it for a full season and I have every reason to believe he can do it. Certainly when he has some older and experienced legs behind him waiting on the bench.

My prediction for the next season: Coquelin will be the main man at defensive midfield. Arteta and Flamini will be behind him and will only play when Coquelin needs a rest or can be allowed a rest. And none of the other names mentioned looks an upgrade compared to Coquelin so I don’t see the need to spend lots of money for a player that might be just as good as Coquelin. Besides we still have the Polish eagle waiting to take over in a few seasons. Until then I think the Coq and Arteta and Flamini can do the job.

The books

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910

The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal


21 Replies to “Arsenal player review: the mythical beast position”

  1. Well said. However, nothing wrong with having an equally talented DM to help make for competition that would improve the players and team. We are in for Kondogbia; now, that’s an option I would prefer over Schneiderlin just because there would be games where we can play both and sacrifice one of Cazorla, Jack or Ramsey. Games where we need to be solid.

  2. Jack could be backup for le Coq too. Certainly somebody thought that last week.

  3. Arteta is much more Gilberto like in his DM role, where he closes down space and puts himself in a position which restricts the ball carrying opponents options, whereas Coquelin is much more reactive in so much as he’ll compete for the ball when the ball has been passed (makalele like). Flamini is a half way house between them but since his legs are slowing he has problems getting to the ball carrier quickly enough.
    It’s probably the position in the team which is most open for a new experienced guy to come in to but equally if (a big IF injuries-wise!) we can get by with what we have for next season then between CC, Hayden, Debuchy and Bielik (maybe even Kozzer) we could easily have an ‘in house’ answer. It’ll be interesting to see what AW does.

  4. Jack can handle the DM role against continental opposition but the PL is a different game. He can assist a ‘proper’ DM but it’s not really his thing in the PL.

  5. I see Jack more as a backup to Santi’s role last season as a deep playmaker, able to get forward when required. Trouble is we are spoiled for choice in midfield.

  6. As much as i love Coquelin’s ability to keep the ball and making that position and the team stronger, this love got a greater boost when in the later parts of the season i saw him keeping the ball reminiscent of Santi, as if they are working on that together. It was many times when i watched in awe as Coquelin weaved and turned just like our little magician. Looks like we are going to have 2 little magicians soon.

    Jack will take Arteta’s position i think, at least for now. He’s just about to throw off his childhood for good and is becoming more and more reliant from game to game. Although i think Jack will later advance naturally to being a forward too.

    Kondogbia seems to have the same type of strong play as Coq, neither of them a push around. It would be great to see him at Arsenal. What would this mean for players and Arsenal? We will have to see.

  7. I have to admit that I was one of the doubters of Coquelin’s potential before he went on loan, but was astonished at how he has progressed since. My concern now is if he can maintain this standard without any compettion for his spot, and if he can remain injury free for long spells.
    Do we have any other young players ready to step up? Or will we utilise Flamini, Wilshere or even Ramsey in the midfield rotation role.
    It was obvious that in some games his tough tackling wasn’t even required against lesser more defensive sides, so perhaps we don’t even need a monster DM at all.

  8. Well, we now have 2 transfers (out) confirmed.

    I believe there were news articles at Google News before the main site published this.

    I have seen a single report that Alexis Sanchez is suffering from muscle fatigue, and may not start the next Copa America game for Chile.

    I goofed at not noting the Ospina had a game in Copa America, where Colombia one and Ospina got the clean sheet. And another goof, in that Alex Scott was in the last England game (they have 2 Scotts).

    Doing a generic search for web sites which might have statistics on Francis Coquelin, WhoScored seems to have something approaching comprehensive. Most websites tracking players, give much less information. There is a website called StarNostar, which tracks popularity of people. Francis Coquelin is mentioned there.

    Lineups for England U21 are not yet out. No Gunners playing in Copa America today. Today and tomorrow are days off for Womens World Cup.

  9. Lineups out For U21. Jenkinson starts. Chambers is on the bench.

    The earlier Italy/Sweden game had some intensity by the looks of things. Three yellows and 1 red to both sides.

  10. ‘Besides we still have the Polish eagle waiting to take over in a few seasons. Until then I think the Coq and Arteta and Flamini can do the job’…I think so too.

    Would Kodongbia or anyone else mentioned come in straight to dislodge what we already have? I don’t think so. Good job Mr Broeckx

  11. I find the term dm a useful one as a simple shorthand for a central midfield player primarily concerned with stopping the opposition, as opposed to a deep-lying midfielder, whose main task is retaining possession (a fine way of defending also, but one that can be undone in an instant), building from the back.

    There’s a ton of overlap, and it can all be broken down in much more detail, but it’s an invaluable term.

    Arteta for me is a deep lying playmaker who diligently attempted to double as a dm when required. He has the heart, the intelligence and no shortage of know-how and technique. But the legs rule him out of being considered a dm. Or at least they do whenever he is more or less alone in there. Coquelin is a true, and fantastic dm.

    They are some of the most interesting stats I’ve ever seen on here. The most striking thing is the confirmation, much starker than I expected, that Coquelin is immensely superior, as a dm, in terms of ‘legs’. All his stats are excellent, but the amount of duels he is involved in is, just ahead of the also vital interception stat, the most important one for me.

    870 /49

    1455 /140

    1663 / 278

    Sadly my never-great maths skills have rusted to nothing, so it would be great if someone is able to convert those minutes to duels stats into something meaningful (duels per 90 mins maybe)

    Anyway, I hope this won’t be read as a sly attack on Wenger. It really isn’t. I have an inordinately long explanation- it involves players (esp Song) failing to develop as Wenger had reason to expect them to, the financial constraints, the 100% understandable determination not to block Wilshere and Ramsay’s paths, Diaby’s injury troubles- in my back pocket as to why we haven’t reached this moment earlier and why there’s no fault involved.

    Anyway, I don’t care about the past and I know Wenger did an excellent job and is a superb manager.

    We have a fantastic dm now. Looking at it laid bare by those stats ,though, I do now find it more likely Wenger will- despite it producing a near impossible task of keeping the plethora of excellent midfield players happy- bring in another midfielder this summer. Either a true dm, or less of a specialist but someone who is strong defensively.

    Strength is a bonus, a good brain is essential, a selfless attitude is vital, technique must be pretty good (or all the work at stopping will be cancelled out or undone), and legs are probably the best asset of the lot in there.

  12. Couldn’t agree more. Of course we need to analyse Coq in his second season, when opponents know more of him, and some refs might be out to get him, but it is starting to look like Wenger has unearthed a gem….again….and it would seem crazy not to give him a chance….alongside his two able deputies, if you can call the club captain that. The players wax lyrical about Coq, and seem much happier with our more recent patterns of play and the overall defending as a team, of which Coq is a major component.
    Coq is not the biggest, nor was Makalele. Schneiderlin is a good player, is quite possible attainable and has height, but in anticipation of analysing his second season, Francis gets my vote all the way. I just hope Mr Wenger keeps to,this tighter formation….combined with flair and lightening counters, if those are not contradictions, at least against the more difficult opponents, it is clearly working for the fans and players.

  13. So Coq beats all those other DMs in the league, and yet we still hear daily about how we need a world class player in that position. How about Chelsea, don’t they need one too?

  14. Reading this article my heart was just swelling with pride and happiness at how good Coquelin is even compared with big names in other teams. What a wonderful few months he has had – and all to our benefit.

    I can never understand why people are always looking at who we might get from elsewhere when we have such great players already.

    No doubt someone will join us in the transfer period and we will be glad and make him welcome. But the priority is celebrating what we have.

    Glad to see the positive stats for Arteta and Flamini as well.

  15. I still remember the day when we overwhelmed ManShitty at their ground . Some of those Arsenal ‘fans’ who were parroting that monster DM crap earlier , were so stunned that when we met ,there was still disbelief in their faces and they talked in hushed and reverential tones about Le Coq .
    Many hardly knew him to be an Arsenal player too . Not any more !
    Long may he shield our defence and police our midfield . No change here for me . Just that he be rotated and kept fresh .

  16. Personally I don’t think there is anything mysterious or lucky about the emergence of Coquelin.

    He had enormous potential. Wenger could see that, as could many of the more astute of Untolds contributors.

    But for whatever reason he had failed to fully break through into the first team.

    This is either because:

    -Wenger felt he hadn’t reached his full potential and needed more time.

    -He was failing to develop his game in the way Wenger wanted and felt would be best for him and Arsenal. ie the DM type player he has now become.

    -There just wasn’t room in the team.

    Wenger obviously believed what he wanted was in there somwhere or else why would he of persisted with him for so long?

    I believe what happened at the beginning of the year was a happy coincidence.

    -Arsenal where in the midst of yet another injury crisis.

    -Wengers perseverance with Coquelin was showing signs of bearing fruit with his performances on loan.

    -Any targets Wenger had in mind where not available.

    Wenger had a choice to make. Do nothing. Sign a stop gap. Take a gamble on Coquelin.

    We all know what he decided.

    How much of a gamble that really was for Wenger, or how he much he knew in his heart that Coquelin was ready, we may never know. It may of been a massive gamble or no gamble at all.

    Either way, I do believe as far as Coquelin was concerned he knew it was ‘last chance saloon’ time, and if he didn’t grab this chance with both hands that would be it.

    Maybe that’s what was behind Wengers thinking. He knew the lad had what it takes and that given the choice, sink or swim, he would swim.

    Luckily for us, perhaps, who knows, luckily for Wenger, Le Coq WAS up to the task and grabbed his chance, stunningly, with both hands and boy could he swim !

    I say, well done Wenger for persisting with Le Coq for as long as he did.

    I say, well done Wenger for going with your gut, and trusting your judgement.

    But mainly I say well done Le Coq for seizing the moment.

  17. Thanks for the article. Those figures are really impressive for le Coq.
    Wenger mentionned impressive stats about Coquelin in December, just after a few games. He did say that as long as Coquelin will maintain those numbers, he will stay in the team. He then produced that until now!
    The comparison with other DM in PL shows that we can’t find a better player. He THE best one.

    On the question why Coquelin did not make it in the previous years, i would argue that competition in that role was very strong. In a position where typicallly Wenger use only one player. First, it was Song who played as DM, and he played absolutely each game (and frankly speaking, he was doing a fantastic job, i am still unsure about why Wenger sold him, something must have happened).
    Second, we had Arteta. Who also did si well that he became captain!
    It was then impossible for Coquelin to play.
    Finally Coquelin got his chance during a long term injury of our captain. Which was probably the only way for him to really have an opportunity to break into the first team.
    That shows also to all our young player, that it s possible to do it (we had less young player who enter the first team last 2-3 years).

  18. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _Coquelin _ _ _ _ _ Arteta _ _ _ _ _Flamini
    Passes _ _ _ _ _45.4/54.1 _ _ _ _ _60.0/84.0 _ _ _ 37.6/53.4
    Accurate passes 39.0/46.5 _ _ _ _ _56.3/78.8 _ _ _ 34.3/48.8
    AttackAccPasses _——————————————

    The second number is per 90 minutes played (nominally 1 game), and is what I will compare.

    Coquelin makes 54.1 passes per game, whereas Arteta makes 84. Apparently. Which is an average of 69.05 passes per game. We assume Poisson statistics, and hence our estimated standard deviation is 8.31. To arbitrarily sample a Poisson distribution of mean 69.05
    passes per game, we expect 67% to lie between about 60.74 and 77.36. And about 90% to fall between 52.43 and 85.67.

    Hence, it is possible that the average number of passes per game for Coquelin and Arteta is statistically the same, but it looking a little unlikely. And if you follow what it is I am doing, it should be obvious that the numbers for Coquelin and Flamini are essentially the same.

    However, as Flamini and Coquelin are easily, statistically the same, we shouldn’t be working with 69.05 as a group mean, but rather 63.8. And our estimated standard deviation is now 8. 1 SD below the mean is 55.8, which is acceptedably close to both Coquelin and Flamini. Arteta’s 84 is just over 2.5 standard deviations above the group mean, which should probably be taken as saying that Arteta passes the ball significantly more often than Coquelin or Flamini.

  19. In my opinion, the Coquelin-Cazorla axis is very similar to Flamini-Fabregas axis we had before in one particular season. And in that season, Arsenal were leading the table healthy until Flamini got injured in the final six weeks, I think. Same season Gallas took the center seat. However, Flamini was more of a one-man machine and that allowed Fabregas to attack more and eventually made his name. It’s about understanding and balance. Cow and Caz are having similar balance right now so I think it should be left untouched especially both can still improve their games. Comparively too, Arsenal at the moment has better defense and better attack than the Gallas captained team. Improvements are also can be made in training pitches and matches, not only by buying new players.

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