By Walter Broeckx
Of course the headlines were about Alexis and Özil and they were well earned and deserved. Alexis with two amazing goals and Özil with a goal and an assist and some amazing touches and vision. Yes they were the main stars of the show, at the end-point of some great attacks from Arsenal.
Plus they were involved in the build up before the last pass. The back heel flick from Alexis somewhere in the build up of the second goal was also an amazing moment of great skill. Those things catch the eye and brings big headlines although of course the whole team played in a brilliant way during the whole 90 minutes. And goal scorers catch the headlines.
And it is difficult to not praise all the players I think. But…
But I do want to pick out one player in particular. In my article about Arsenal and the top matches I said that I had a player in mind when picking the date of 01 January to start having a look at our results against the other top teams.
And that player is Francis Coquelin. I know that Tony has said a lot of times that he picked him out as a possible star of the future the first time he saw him play as a young kid. But I do admit that I had lost hope for Francis since a while. His loan spells didn’t work out completely as one would have hoped. And when he came back to the first team last summer in the last year of his contract it seemed that we had another young talent that just missed that last step to making it.
Now that last step is the most difficult to make. Some take it with no problem at all and others have to take it half a dozen times before they really make it…or never make it.
Of course we will never know who did what and who said what a year ago. I have seen reports saying that Coquelin has given a lot of credit to Robert Pires for his development. If so, then this is really great to hear. A former legend still helping the team when he comes to train with Arsenal. And so it shows that seeing these former players on the training field from time to time is not just a friendly gesture from the manager and the club but it also brings something to the current players.
What was wrong with Coquelin in my opinion was that he wanted to be a box to box midfielder. And he tried to play as one. Now I must say that I always liked his defensive work but I thought that when attacking he was just lacking that extra bit that you need to really have a big impact. I sometimes felt he wanted to do too much. He wanted to impress too much. And as a result lost some important balls and made it difficult for the rest of the team.
As I mentioned I don’t know who said to him at some point but surely someone must have said something along the lines of, “Francis, you have heard a lot of talk about a defensive midfielder that we should get. Well I think you can and should be that man. You can tackle, you can run, you can defend, you are not afraid and you are brave. All things you need to be a great defensive midfielder.”
And I can imagine Francis thinking to himself or even saying it loud: “Could I”? Wenger said last year when Coquelin made a big impression that he had noticed something different in Coquelin and wanted to get him out on loan to see if he had really stepped up. Was it Pires who said those words to him and tell him to concentrate on his defensive job?
We all know what followed. He was called back, came in to the team and now… is probably the first person on the team sheet. All though in reality we have a few of such names who can be seen as first on the team sheet.
I must say that I have been amazed by the way Francis has developed over the last 10 months. I was completely wrong in losing my faith in him. And I am a supporter who in general is not quick to lose my faith in a player or the team. But I did. No point in hiding it.
But I must say that I have never felt so much joy in being so wrong. And I feel amazed and happy whenever Francis proves to me that I am not the know it all we all like to be. A bit of a humbling experience for myself (and we all have had such moments in our supporting days).
As a defensive midfielder I don’t think there is any better player out there for the moment in the PL. His breaking up play of the opposition be it by amazing vision to intercept passes or by well timed tackles or by being brave and throw himself in front of shots and block them. He has it all in his locker and displays it at every opportunity.
Now I must say that I still see some room for improvement with Coquelin. But as he has really grown over the last months I think he could get better even. His forward passing when he came in the team was sometimes not really what it should have been and that is an area where he can still grow. He will never be an Özil or Cazorla but that is not his job to create things. Let him break things up and then play a good pass to one of his more creative team mates is what his main job is and is what he is really good at.
I remember when he came to the first team around the turn of the year a lot of people (including me – I confess) were in doubt. Each great performance was followed with a: wait till we play team X (a top team) and see how he does then. After Man City I was sold. I really started to believe in him.
And from then on each new test the doubters threw at him was passed with flying colours by Francis. I now even dare to say that the biggest reason for us not winning at Chelsea was not Dean or Costa… no it was the fact that Wenger had to take Coquelin off with a minor knee injury. From the moment he had lost his footing coming down from an aerial duel, we suffered. Having to take him off at half time and the red card shambles from Dean was too much in the end. But I am convinced that with a fit Coquelin we even might have overcome the sending off from Gabriel.
After 10 months of Coquelin as a defensive midfielder our win % in the top matches has been almost at the same level of our overall win % in all matches. I do like to think that Francis has a lot to do with this.
Thanks Francis and after 10 months the only thing I want is that you will do this for another 10 years for Arsenal. I know for a few in the outside world you will always be seen as inferior because you have no expensive price tag on you but for us that is the greatest thing about you doing what you are doing.
An amazing defensive midfielder and almost for free… unbelievable! More of the same please, Francis.
The anniversary coincidence. How perfect to publish Walter’s article when top of our anniversary selection today is…
7 October 1976: Gilberto Silva born. He started as a footballer in 1997 with a tiny local team, and by 2002 he was playing all of Brazil’s games in the World Cup finals. It was quite a rise to success in five years.
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