Arsenal’s hidden star among the stellar performers, celebrated on the birthday of his most illustrious predecessor

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.


@UntoldArsenal on Twitter.

35 Replies to “Arsenal’s hidden star among the stellar performers, celebrated on the birthday of his most illustrious predecessor”

  1. I think the combination of Walcott,Ozil,and Sanchez up-front is the best combination. I hope Wenger will continue to use them, from time to time, they are all fast and with no time Man United were dead and buried. The game was over in five to 19 minutes time, will that happen again? Lets hope they will continue to be consistency, the way they played against Man United.

  2. Walter , he has visibly replaced the famed ‘invisible wall’ with his astute performances . While his short passing game is quite accurate , his long passing has also look very promising .
    I would hope that this part of his games develops and he contributes to the attack by opening up defences by the early long ball out of our defence.

  3. An excellent player, and a great story. I am sure he is one of the first on the team sheet, the rest seem very happy to have him there. What is even more impressive, he is a vulnerable position to the excesses of the pgmol, Ref Mason showed him some common sense against Palace and did not get another top flight game for five weeks.
    Himself and Bellerin can act as inspiration to other youngsters at the club, or considering signing.
    I will add one more unsung hero, Gabriel, I haven’t checked it , but have just seen a tweet saying we have not conceded in the league with him on the field this year…..stand to be corrected of course. He is going to be a top player for us hopefully for a long time

  4. Mandy,

    That is almost entirely correct. This season, we only shipped goals in the 3 matches when Gabriel didn’t start, and the 4th is the infamous Match 51, when we allowed goals only after he was sent off.

    Last season, he played in the home match against WBA, which we won 4-1. He recorded his first assist in that match, at Jack’s goal. But alas, we also allowed that goal. There is also Liverpool’s goal from our 4-1 victory, when Gabriel was already on the pitch, having subbed on Koscielny. Plus, goals received from Newcastle, QPR and Crystal Palace. So, not exactly 0 goals, but a very low number nonetheless.

  5. Dear, dont forget Monreal, i wish that guy is as young as Bellerin, cant you see his is the best left back in epl now? Góod skills, dribble speed strength, we underrate him so much. I love watchn hm play.

  6. Apart of Sanchez and Ozil, 3 other Gunners had their opportunities to join the fray of goal getters on the evening. But for their ineptitudes they failed to increase the tally that would have seen Arsenal hit Man Utd at least 4-0. Those 3 sitters missers Gunners should look back to that their misses and have a sober reflection over their misses to avoid repeating the same errors in their subsequent Arsenal games when next the opportunities fell at their feet. Coquelin must improve on the weaker sides of his game to become a complete DM. His long range passing is said to be short of the required killer instinct. He has to standardize his long range to correctly get to his forward mates. And he should have the occasional goal scoring instincts to hit the back of the opponents nets.

  7. I don’t know whether he realised it himself or whether others helped, but I remember reading him saying he realised where his own strengths lay and that he did not have to be the same as other players who had more skill in forward play.

    His story is one of the most exciting Arsenal stories in recent years. It is also a story of how every player contributes to a team performance whether it is immediately obvious or not.

    Everybody has got the team spirit now. I think that is a major part of why Theo Walcott is getting better from match to match as well.

  8. SAA,

    We had 12 shots, 5 on target, of which 3 goals. That is a 25% conversion rate, incredible against a team with ManU’s credentials.

  9. Hahahaha, great minds think alike, Walter. 😀

    I wrote after Manchester United game: “Behind every successful man there is a woman. Behind every successful Arsenal attack there is a Francis Coquelin’s tackle.” Our first goal against Stoke came after his perfect tackle. Our first goal against Manchester United came after he prevented Memphis’ counter-attack by recovering the ball. Nobody should take away credit from Alexis for his perfect flick, from Özil for his umpteenth assist, from Ramsey for his perfect slide-rule pass for Özil but Coquelin had started the whole thing.

  10. “But I did.No point in hiding it”

    Wow Walter,really appreciate and respect you for your honesty.

    Also I was guilty of that-wait until he meets yaya toure.but I am very glad I was wrong.He’s now a mainstay in that amazing team-if you can’t see that you’re either blind or brainwashed(or both).

    Keep proving ‘them’ wrong coq.

  11. Walter, I fully agree about Coquelin, last season he suddenly came good & quickly impressed almost everyone. Now he is arguably one of the best, if not the best defensive midfielders in the EPL.

    I like his intelligence/reading of the game, positioning, tackling, energy, quick distribution and the way he supports other players by always being available – not just a stopper but a real team player.

    I also like his partnership with Cazorla – that has worked out really well – credit to our manager!

    We could also see how some of the darker teams tried to injure Coquelin or at least provoke him into some form of retaliation and hence a red – again he has been able to rise above that.

    Agree with the above comments about Gabriel and Bellerin – we have two very good players there who will get even better.

  12. It’s certainly gratifying to see one of the youth players come through in this way and along with Bellerin was one of the success stories from last season.

    The golden stardust sprinkled over him by Tony (when tipping him for fame) hasn’t so far worked on Sanogo who he also predicted for stardom.

  13. Some of the most successful Arsenal players of the past have ‘come good’ after a change of position on the field. Frank McLintock and Mickey Thomas spring to mind, Santi Corzola (who was hardly poor beforehand) is one from the current squad.
    Coquelin had been tried out at full back a number of times in the past and looked, as Tony has always said, more than capable. But moving to what we might call his most natural position and filling it in a particular style has been the key. Having world class creative players around him, including Santi, of course helps.
    There’s always an element of luck and timing (being in the right place at the right time and fit as well) but having a manager with a long term vision is vital. If Coquelin had been say at Chelsea he would have been on the scrapheap years ago. If not used properly the availability of money at a club can hinder player development rather than promote it.
    I’m sure that, given the choice, young players (and their agents) would rather join rich clubs than poor ones – but only if that money, by and large. isn’t spent in the transfer market too often. The FifPro challenge to the existence of the transfer market is almost confirmation of this.

  14. I’ll join to say myself and a colleague, just like Tony, thought very highly of Coq from the first time we saw him and used to wonder what happened to him. All we could think was that perhaps he had not recovered from the injury he got from that thug ramires in that other tilted match against chelski. So when I saw him come back in January I never doubted he would do a good job. Great talent, and a great piece, Walter.

  15. @Walter

    I agree about Le Coq but for me Nacho Monreal has been fabulous. He is an excellent defender who gets little praise. We look so much stronger as a team with him in the back 4.

  16. First names on the team sheet these days:

    Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, Le Coq, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis & Rambo.

    That leaves only two spots to play around with! A choice between Giroud & Theo up top, and Gabriel & BFG in defence.

  17. Great comments Walter.

    This is another example of the ‘Sad rise of the Fantasy Football Manager’ and plays a role in what prompted me to write that article.

    Coquelin doesn’t get the appreciation he needs because he didn’t cost £20 million and wasnt scouted by the FFM. It’s that simple.

    The FFM’s are obsessed with transfer values and buying players as thats the only way they can play their game. The FFM is an expert at compiling lists of players to sign and build a team that way. This is the Dream Team or EA Sports conscept I was talking about. They cannot get their head around the fact there is an alternative. Therefore, Wenger promoting Coquelin is described as ‘luck’, because in the mind of the FFM you cannot possibly spend zilch and get a decent player.

    Now while there is an element of fortune in the fact Coquelin hit the ground so quickly, surprising even Wenger, the fact remains Wenger rated him. Wenger signed him. Wenger didn’t sell him. He loaned him out to gain experience because he felt he had something. Interestingly, unlike most loan deals, Coquelin was on a short term loan arrangement. This should all mean something.

    What is really bizarre is that the screams for a DM did not stop even when Coquelin came into the team. Instead the FFM’s seemed to scream louder, they wanted Wanyama, Schneirderlein, to come in and replace Coquelin. As long as the price tag was around £20m. The FFM’s are reluctant to praise or recognise the promotion of young player, it instead referred to as luck or being stingy. Meanwhile those like us take pride in seeing players like Coquelin and Bellerin developed from within and prefer that to the spend some fking money attitude of the FFM’s.

    This is why Wenger is the anti-christ. He isn’t conventional. His idea of football management is not the same as the FFM. His ability to recognise talent and give that talent a chance is ignored. He knows the FFM’s are total idiot, he’s a professional who has proved his ability. Unfortunately the FFM is so bloody deluded and egotistical, Wenger has to be wrong.

  18. During FC’s impressive Home debut against Shrewesbury Town (i think) we saw a young player who had the ability and understanding to dictate play from CM, the potential to do so at a higher level is still there.

    What’s brilliant and completely intentional from the club’s and coaches perspective about Coquelin’s path and evolution is that he does have some impressive technique and skills to go with his D**Ming. The control turn and pass in the build up for the third goal was reminiscent of his demolition of Delph during the FA Cup final.

    Add in some growing confidence and experience, learning some tricks and darks arts off Arteta, and you’ve got a player who will only improve with more games – He’s only now approaching the 50 game mark for the Arsenal in this one of the most demanding roles/positions, and most of those games came last season!

  19. The way Coquelin handled Fellani in the build up for the move when Chmaberlain hit the bar, right at the end, whilst on a yellow* is strong evidence of how well FC is doing/developing.

    *pgMOB representative Taylor bless him hard at work there!

  20. I wonder what the French National Team management thought with Coquelin dominating in central midfield as Arsenal took Man Utd apart – the same MU for whom Schneiderlin couldn’t even get off the bunch. But, hey, Schneiderlin cost a lot of money so must be better, right?

  21. Coq became well established and distinguished in the role BEFORE the end of last season.
    Yet, it didn’t stop Arsenal fans and the press from screaming that we buy Schendelin, not as a back up (at £25m, and 25yrs of age, that would have been an expensive and inappropriate back up to a 23 year old) but as a replacement, while Coq became his back up.

    That AW didn’t oblige was a major plank of the abuse that he faced when the transfer window closed. Now that the team is gelling well (never mind the EUFA where we had hoped to get away with resting some of our star players and failed) there has been no mention of how little we spent in comparison to Manu that we mauled 3 – 0. Had the situation been reversed there would have been an earful of Arsenal’s frailties, due to our refusal to buy players in the last transfer window.

    AW shows every time that quality is not only in high prices paid in bringing in players in transfer windows but also in the young players that are carefully developed and offered their chance in the first team as the opportunity presents itself.

  22. I had to laugh out loud reading ‘That’ blog today, you know the one that inspires wannabbee FFM’s and is run by one of the biggest and most vocal FFM’s on the planet. This is the FFM who wanted Wenger replaced with either Laudrup, Lambert, Moyes or Coyle and who now adds Gary Monk and Eddie Howe to that list. He was caught once deliberate changing words in a Wenger quote so it read something else. All you need to know. This is what he has to say after beating Man Utd Sunday:

    Quote: “He (Wenger) could sign all he needed in one summer, but if he did that, he’d be asked to win things. By being just short, he crafts an excuse. Takes the pressure of winning the Premier League and doesn’t even get put in the melting pot for the Champions League. I mean, look. 3 years without a striker”.

    Classic FFM comments.

    On Tickets: “My pal was telling me the other day that he’d just bought the equivalent of a club level ticket at West Ham. I think back in the day, when my dad had a pair, the minimum cost at Arsenal was £2650. My West Ham chum was paying that for 2 in the Olympic stadium. Staggering difference!”

    He appears completely ignorant of the fact that the Olympic Stadium has been virtually given to West Ham, no finance needed as it is being funded by the tax payer – while they can still sell their old ground. Unbeleivable really that he has so much to say for himself when he is so ignorant and actually a bit of a plank. But I guess the truth is inconvenient, when theres an opportunity to bash Arsenal and not just the Manager.

  23. Proudkev

    He treats athletes as humans and not commodities. That is why the extreme right old whinging media owned by extremist right old whingers who treat humans only as commodities don’t like him very much. That and the fact that he undercuts their Special Agent pals by, oh, hundreds of millions of pounds in the ‘marketplace’. I can imagine they aren’t his greatest fans. By not promoting debt peonage the club are ‘off message’.

    Since before AW arrived at AFC the club haven’t been the biggest fans of special agents who treat their charges as Mules.

    And it is this easy understanding so studiously ignored and avoided by the agenda driven dysphoric AAAA, their denial of the marriage of values between the club and manager (‘scrooge!’) that completely undermines what can be observed to be an uncredible and disingenious posture. I’m certainly no expert buy if you know the history of the club then how can you avoid this understanding? You couldn’t make up such a strange and unflattering contradiction but there it is!

  24. Pete
    I’m not complaining! FC gets some rest off the back of that niggle he had and before what will be very intense midweek Munchen games which themselves will be inbetween PL fixtures.

    Contrary to popular mis-consideration has Coquelin been playing with too much flair and ambition for the original “Water Carrier” extraordinaire?
    We’ve also seen with Deschamps that he will some loyalty to his performing players, his existing CMs, and it’s hard to be critical of that policy for me. As with Kosciely learning a harsh lesson after his understandable red-mist in Ukraine, France’s loss is AFC’s gain?

  25. Finsbury.

    I always wonder why nobody at the club ever comes out to set the record straight.

    The daily assault on the club based on recycled garbage could be very easily stopped dead in its tracks. I understand about class and all that but I just wish one day the club would just say ‘enough is enough – it stops now!”

  26. I agree Josif…our first goal was a direct consequence of Coquelin breaking up a ManU move at its inception.

    As an aside, though…when I read the title I had no idea who Walter was talking about because the amount of things written about our players and the hyperbole used. Ever player is a star…really? IMO, a star is someone that out shines the rest. Even freshly signed 17 yr olds are called starlets…Must be bright out there on the pitch.

  27. About Coquelin’s attacking part of the game… Personally, if he continues to play like he does now as a defensive midfielder (it should be from now on called Coquelin-position, not Makelele-position!), he doesn’t need any goals to be considered as a world-class players. We have players to create and score – with Le Coq behind them, they will get even more productive.

    @Gooner S – absolutely agree about Nacho. I dare to say we have the best pair of full-backs in the league (both from Spain). That should represent a huge motivation for both Debuchy and Gibbs who were considered – me included – as our best full-backs only a year ago.

  28. An article in the mirror highlights – with stats- that FC34 is the best DFM in the league presently towering above the so called “angels” we are supposed to sign.

  29. Walter


    A fantastic article, getting the recognition and wider audience it deserves. Well done.

  30. WalterBroeckx – October 7, 2015 at 6:48 pm – WOO HOO , HOO ! And congratulations from me too , Walter . Well done ! That ought to get a few more thousand hard core AKBs on here too !

  31. Big ups @walter, i wish bielek could have a dose or two of whatever activated le coq’s rise, he’s someone i have high hopes for.

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