When Francis Coquelin stormed onto the scene following an Arsenal injury crisis midway through the 2014-15 campaign, many fans and pundits alike assumed that the young Frenchman would be completely out of place and overrun by fellow Premier League caliber midfielders and forwards. Nevertheless the defensive midfielder has been nothing short of outstanding ever since he was implemented into the starting XI by manager Arsene Wenger last December.
While most praised the feisty player after a successful second half of last season, it appeared that some were not completely convinced that Coquelin could continue his meteoric rise as an every match Premier League player. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old midfielder has perhaps even improved during the first three months of the current campaign.
Coquelin’s consistency has helped align himself alongside the other highly-rated defensive midfielders in England. The Arsenal player should be considered up there with Nemanja Matic, Fernandinho, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Lucas Leiva. In fact, Coquelin may just be the cream of the crop among defensive midfielders in the Premier League.
|Pass Comp. %||92%*||88%||90%||86%||91%|
(statistics via Squawka.com)
No one can doubt the Frenchman’s tenacity and tackling abilities; however, some have suggested that he was not a good enough distributor of the ball. Coquelin has obviously done what was needed to improve on this aspect of his game. The defensive midfielder has averaged 54 total passes per 90 minutes this season, compared to just 46 during the 2014-15 campaign. Coquelin’s pass completion percentage has also jumped from 86% during last season to 92% so far this campaign (second best in the Premier League).
Coquelin’s ability to not only sure up the Arsenal defense, but also add an offensive dynamic to the middle of the pitch has severely strengthened this Gunners team. While Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech regularly receive praise for their outstanding play (and rightfully so), Coquelin could very well be Arsenal’s most important player in the entire squad.
Without Coquelin in the side, the Gunners are left with a massive hole to fill and no one else in the current team can fill that void. Club captain Mikel Arteta and veteran Mathieu Flamini, while not terrible players, are past their prime and do not provide the team with the same sort of tenacity, tackling ability and understanding with fellow central midfielder Santi Cazorla.
The Coquelin and Cazorla partnership in the middle of the pitch is surely a bit of a strange one. Very few Gunner fans would have thought that this dynamic duo would work just a year ago. Yet the two have worked unbelievably well together, despite the massive difference between the two players.
Although Matic, Fernandinho and Schneiderlin have been regularly thought of as the best of the best as far as defensive-minded midfielders go in the Premier League, it is certainly time to consider Coquelin alongside the talented trio, if not right above them all.