When the “Wenger Out Brigade” critique the legendary yet often berated Arsѐne Wenger, one of the biggest criticisms lodged against the gaffer is his seemingly never ending inability to replace good players effectively after they depart the club; most of the lads choose to depart for increased remuneration or the lure of more prestige, some actually find a combination of both where they end up while others barely reach the heights that they did under the tutelage of Le Prof. For all the aesthetically pleasing attacking football that The Gunners are renowned for playing, they are also infamous for having a soft underbelly and being exceedingly naive defensively; this reputation of naive playing style and a lack of defensive application seems to have coincided with the departure of the technically and physically balanced old guard and the emergence of the smaller and more technically inclined midfielders coming into the engine room of the side. When Cesc Fàbregas broke into the Arsenal side as a fresh faced and gel haired teenager, the lad had colossal men like Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva to protect and guide him on and off the field; when one considers how a talented teenager like Gideon Zelalem has to look towards “defensive midfielders” like Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini for leadership and protection, the grave nature of the predicament seems even more startling than many of the “Arsѐne Knows Best” clan members would like to admit.
As per the usual, Arsenal were linked with an approximated 50 players during the past two transfer windows, it was worth noting just how many of those linked player were defensively inclined footballers; it has become all too apparent that Arsenal could actually become an elite level side again, if their defence can be elevated to match their impressive offence and the side reaches an equilibrium between defence and attack. Starting with Sami Khedira and Morgan Schneiderlin, the rumour mill continued to work overtime by going on to link promising mid-level talents like Victor Wanyama and William Carvalho before running out of steam when they started punting for Cheick Tioté and the return of Alexandre Song; regardless of how laughable some of the speculation ended up looking, there is no denying the fact that Arsenal could not expect to even retain their Top 4 Trophy with Flamini and Arteta defending their already frail looking defensive line.
Once in a while, Wenger does show flashes of the genius he used to exude every time one saw him; recalling Francis Coquelin from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic while the entire football fraternity was berating the gaffer for not going into the market to sign a half-decent defensive midfielder to add some spine to their side was a stroke of genius. Very few lads with 7 months to run on their contracts at a big side like Arsenal, while being farmed out on another loan move, would go to bed harbouring hopes of establishing themselves as a fixture in the midfield of their parent club; but then again, not many young lads have had to go down the route that Francis has taken to become the player he is today. I am personally of the belief that continuous loan moves to varying leagues, clubs and countries have the ability to destroy a talented young player and the confidence they have in their abilities, yet Coquelin took those loan moves as an opportunity to develop a more well-rounded game and hone his ability to defend first before looking to help launch attacks like an Arsenal player ought to do.
Since his return to London Colney, the Naval born anchorman has looked like a mature version of the seventeen year old lad that first landed in London with the hopes of becoming the next successful Frenchman to play in midfield for Arsenal; after years in and out of the first team setup, the lad now seems built for the task at hand as the young man entrusted with playing in a role and performing a duty that men 8 years his senior have constantly failed to execute to the high level that The Gooners had grown accustomed to in the previous, more successful, era. Having bulked up a lot since his formative days, Francis now seems more confident in the tackle and far more alert of what is required of him as an anchorman; the former French youth international is now comfortable staying back and allowing the game to happen ahead of him and waiting to clean up defensively or aid in the recycling of the ball after a move breaks down instead of rushing to get involved and leaving the defence exposed to a swift transition from the opposition.
That brief stint on loan at Charlton Athletic proved to be vital for Francis as he was match sharp and competitive when he was recalled during the often predictable Arsenal injury crisis that hit the side right before the busy December period; since his arrival back into the side, Coquelin has looked increasingly like the solution that Arsenal have needed for years in that defensive midfield role. Arsѐne Wenger went on record to refer to the lad as, “an internal solution to the midfield problem”; we at GSV feel as if we couldn’t have summed it up better ourselves and Bob’s your Hellenic FC adoring Oom.