Tuesday 24 April 2018

Coquelin emerges from shadows to prove Fergie wrong

Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin's strength is in the discipline and simplicity of his game. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin's strength is in the discipline and simplicity of his game. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Turn to page 304 of Alex Ferguson's autobiography and you will find one solitary mention of Francis Coquelin.

It comes in reference to Manchester United's 8-2 demolition of Arsenal in 2011 and his observations are brutal.

"Arsenal played a young boy in midfield - Francis Coquelin," wrote Ferguson. "He was completely out of his depth. I had hardly heard of him and he barely played again."

For most of the three years that followed, it seemed that Ferguson's prophecy would come true.

Coquelin was largely peripheral at Arsenal and loan spells at Freiburg and then Charlton Athletic appeared to be a prelude to him departing once his contract expired at the end of this season.

He was relaxing in front of the television and thinking only about how he could help Charlton beat Blackpool the following Saturday when the call came that would transform his career.

It was from Arsene Wenger and the unexpected message was to report back to Arsenal's training base the following morning.

With Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere injured, Coquelin was told that he would go straight into the squad to face Newcastle in less than 48 hours.

"I had trained with the Charlton team all week," he recalled. "It's weird because the way it happened was so sudden."

Coquelin duly came on as a substitute in Arsenal's 4-1 win and, in the two months since, has become central both to Wenger's short and long-term planning. His considerable contribution to a run of nine wins in 11 matches has been rewarded with a new four-year contract.

It has certainly been a reminder of how the development of young footballers is rarely predictable or smooth.

Now 23, Coquelin always had plenty of potential. Arsenal scout Gilles Grimandi first identified him while he was playing for the France U-17 team. He was signed following a trial in 2008 and was part of the France team who won theU-19 European Championship.

In 2009, he also helped Arsenal to win the FA Youth Cup and Premier Academy League.

Coquelin's strength is in the discipline and simplicity of his game. He protects the back four, holds his position, has good anticipation and is a reliable passer of the ball.

The Frenchman was excellent in nullifying David Silva in the 2-0 win against Manchester City and, with Arsenal fans having yearned for a defensive midfielder of stature ever since Gilberto Silva departed in 2008, there is a growing hope that Wenger may have stumbled across an internal solution.

Yesterday, Wenger spoke frequently of the search for "balance" in his team and how just one individual can unexpectedly alter the whole dynamic.

Balance

"The balance of the team can depend on one player. Getting that one player right gives you the efficiency," he said.

"It is not always a player who makes headlines or someone glamorous. Most of the time it is a player who works in the dark and who has a real team attitude. They have to find their space, their room and their aura in the team.

"I've always kept faith in Coquelin. I took him from France at the age of 16. He has gone through some difficult periods but he's learned from his experiences. He has matured."

Coquelin was at Charlton for only just over a month but believes that the five games he played for them were crucial to his Arsenal comeback.

Wenger immediately noticed an extra maturity in him and, since getting his first start against West Ham on St Stephen's Day, he hasn't looked back.

It is certainly a far cry from being part of Arsenal's heaviest loss since 1896. Indeed, while Manchester United's two central midfielders in that 8-2 victory - Tom Cleverley and Anderson- have since been ushered to the club's exit door, Coquelin is quietly proving Ferguson wrong. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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