Francis Coquelin has officially left Arsenal, meaning the squad is now one man lighter. When it came to a January fire sale, Coquelin wouldn’t have been the first name on the list of fans and experts, and the announcement came as a shock to many Arsenal fans, Pundits and online bookmakers such as 888Sports who never saw this coming. Even more of a shock when you consider than the Frenchman was Arsenal’s only orthodox defensive midfielder. So, who will take over that mantle?
Logically, Arsenal would dive straight into the market and bring in an upgrade on Coquelin. But, logic and Arsenal have never gone hand in hand. And, Wenger’s latest interview has summed that up. When quizzed about Coquelin’s replacement, Wenger responded by saying: “The best way to replace him is getting Ramsey and Ozil back. Then we’ll see. We have players injured.”
This statement will both anger and bemuse Arsenal fans. Even the most deluded Gooners , must surely question this statement. Francis Coquelin is a hard tackling, ball winning work horse, capable of shielding the back four with discipline. Aaron Ramsey is an attack minded box to box centre midfielder, who focuses on scoring goals and making runs beyond Lacazette.
The pair are completely contrasting players, and even suggesting Ramsey as a replacement is laughable. Then, there’s Mesut Ozil – a number 10. Mesut Ozil has never played in the middle of the park for Arsenal, not is he likely to any time soon. These players are arguably Arsenal’s best players, aside from Alexis, and using them in defensive roles would be a waste of their attacking flair.
Wenger’s statement shows, once again, a complete disregard for the defensive midfield role. It’s not naivety; it’s a brutal cocktail of pig headed arrogance and unrelenting stubbornness, and it’s been costing Arsenal since Gilberto Silva left in 2008.
When Coquelin returned from his loan spell at Charlton, and found himself as Santi Cazorla’s midfield partner, Arsenal excelled, finishing the season strongly and winning the FA Cup. But, Cazorla’s injury troubles highlighted his lack of technical ability and ultimately put him in the firing line for frustrated fans.
With Ramsey and Wilshere’s attacking focus, not to mention their injury problems, Granit Xhaka is the only Arsenal player capable of staying fit and sitting deep. Over the last 12 months, he has greatly improved his discipline, but he is not a natural DM. This is a specialist role; it’s not one you learn overnight, and it’s essential Arsenal invest in this area.
December’s links to Nzonzi appear to have disappeared, but he would be a strong addition. Nzonzi is a good player, not a world class one, but a player who would do a job and make Arsenal tough to beat. He would allow Xhaka more freedom to distribute the ball, and he would give Ramsey more freedom to make those forward runs to support Ozil and Lacazette. Either way, Arsenal must sign a replacement in this window.