The Coquelin Problem

Coquelin is a lot like increased airport security regulations, post 9/11. He provides the illusion of security at a cost that is not worth the illusion.

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Since Santi Cazorla succumbed to a serious Achilles injury, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has yet to find a successful midfield partnership. The presence of Cazorla was integral to Arsenal in possession, both by linking the phases of play, and in his incisiveness in the final third to supplement that of those ahead of him. Because of his brilliance in possession, Wenger was able to field a man who, at best, adds little on that side of the ball, in exchange for gains defensively in the shape of Francis Coquelin. But without Cazorla, his spot at the club is flat out untenable.

For a good stretch of matches, Wenger tried a partnership of Granit Xhaka and Coquelin in midfield. From the beginning, this seemed a strange decision. Neither of the two are particularly well suited to the role as the more advanced midfielder, compared to the other options. Aaron Ramsey has shown shades of profiling as an elite CM, once averaging 0.92 league goal contributions per 90 from #8, albeit three seasons ago, and Mohamed Elneny’s decent passing range is potentially valuable in that area of the park. Ramsey’s fabled 13/14 season came playing largely next to Mikel Arteta, whose contribution, many think, can be replicated going forward by Xhaka, but Wenger has not gone to this partnership often. This may be chance, as Ramsey has missed a significant chunk of time to injury, but it is quite clearly the partnership with the highest upside in the squad, and it at least deserves a good run out.

In reality, Coquelin’s defensive prowess is greatly overstated by many. Although he puts in a good number of defensive actions per 90 when you adjust for possession (4.93 tackles and 5.22 interceptions in 2014/15), his aggressiveness creates holes in Arsenal’s already shaky defense of counter attacks, and he’s generally poor at positioning himself effectively. Coquelin is a lot like increased airport security regulations, post 9/11. He provides the illusion of security at a cost that is not worth the illusion.

Generally, it’s the best decision in the transfer market to let your players go when maximum value can be obtained for them. The signing of Xhaka in the  summer was a clear sign of intent from the club that, long term, they do not see Coquelin as a viable starter at #6. If this is truly the case, and the plan is to phase him out of the first XI, he must be sold. With his status as the worst player, both fit and quality wise, for his position, it is imperative to cash in before his price drops. He could be a good contributor for a team lower down in the table, the squad at Arsenal is aging and bloated, and every penny counts when your title rivals are significantly richer than you. The sale and replacement of Coquelin with a player more suited to Arsenal’s possession system, or the system of a new manager, is the best outcome for all parties.

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