Francis Coquelin: Arsenal's Bad Boy Has Come Good
At the back end of the 2007/08 season, a 16-year-old Francis Coquelin arrived at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground to begin a trial with the North London club. Unfortunately, during what must’ve seemed the opportunity of a lifetime, the youngster suffered a thigh injury which cut the trial period short. However, Arsène Wenger had seen enough to offer Coquelin a contract and thus he embarked on what would be a testing, turbulent and transforming journey.
Coquelin now anchors an Arsenal side that has collected 37 points from the 15 league games he’s played in this season and they’ve only lost twice in that time. Since his return, Arsenal have been in outstanding form and find themselves top of the 2015 form table. It may be an all to familiar ‘so close, yet so far’ sight for Arsenal fans, but Francis Coquelin’s contribution mustn’t be understated nor, perhaps more importantly, unappreciated.
‘Le Coq’ has emerged out of necessity on Arsenal and Wenger’s part, but it’s a chance he’s made the most of. For a player who may have thought a career at the top level, let alone Arsenal, was out of reach, he seems reborn. Coquelin is literally spilling blood, not just for Arsenal, but for his own career.
His loan-filled Arsenal career has been a frustrating one and that frustration has often got the better of him, with his attitude being questioned previously. Exclusion and fighting for your place is part of football and if one can’t take it the right way, it’s a steep fall out of the bottom of the game. The most public of outbursts was when Coquelin fell out with the Freiburg manager during his loan spell at the German side last season.
Coquelin’s Arsenal career was suddenly in the balance. This player who as a youngster had shown huge potential, playing a pivotal role in a France U-19 side who won the 2010 European Championships. Despite the player’s stagnation and lack of development, Wenger opted to keep hold of his Coq last summer. It may have been because of a lack of numbers, in which case Lady Luck had a part to play.
However, Wenger doesn’t simply judge a player by their performances, especially when still developing. ‘Le Prof’ may have been encouraged by the fact that Coquelin seemed to be more grounded and settling into a more mature way of life.
“I never cheated during training. At the age of 16, when we were required to do cardio work, alone, I would do it. And then I was able to stabilise my private life at the moment that I need to. 2 years ago now, I have met someone who has children. That makes you more responsible. I have also taken the positives from my season at Freiburg, even though it was a struggle. It was good to see something completely different. You realise that you really have everything at Arsenal, even if I knew that already.I have my head firmly on my shoulders, I know where I have come from.” - Francis Coquelin
Coquelin certainly sounds like a man who’s accepted it’s been a rough journey, but is taking the positives and getting back on track. You can’t really ask more of man in such a situation and the signs are reassuring. I personally feel this would definitely have played a role in Wenger’s decision to hold onto the 23-year-old.
It’s a shame that the wrong kind of attention is given to players’ lives off-the-pitch by the wider public and media. We crave controversy and entertainment instead of a balanced perspective and relative understanding of players’ mentality and the struggles they can encounter. Fortunately, clubs and managers actively aim to observe and assist players’ personal difficulties. Both Coquelin himself and Wenger have alluded to the former having encountered adversity and it’s genuinely uplifting to see a man, footballer or not, take the opportunity to both contribute and excel at the highest level. And on the pitch, this pure passion and desire has invigorated those around him.
Although many Arsenal fans may feel Coquelin isn’t the long-term solution to the defensive midfield problem, he has stepped in to the top end of the Premier League from a loan spell at Charlton and outperformed other players in his position. He has been the player that Arsenal need him to be, nothing more. He has given players in front of him the freedom and peace of mind to go and play flowing football once again. He’s got his head down and been proactive in reclaiming a meaningful and important place in this Arsenal squad and after the 7 years he’s had at the club, that deserves credit.
Finally, (referring back to the notion of appreciation) sometimes in football it’s worth taking in the whole picture and playing the field as you see it as opposed to how you’d like it to be. I think Coquelin is doing wonders, both for Arsenal and himself.