When Francis Coquelin sat down on the turf at the Vitality Stadium on Tuesday night, the signs didn’t look good. Calmly but in obvious discomfort, the French midfielder told Colin Lewin his hamstring had gone. Post-match, Arsène Wenger was downbeat about his compatriot’s chances of a speedy recovery. There was no hint of optimism as he observed that the answers would become apparent in the next 48 hours when a scan was taken.
And bad news it was. Four weeks absence was the prognosis which combined with Mohammed Elneny being at the African Cup of Nations and Santi Cazorla injured, leaves Wenger with a pairing of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka for the coming month. It’s not been the most convincing partnership seen this season but with four or probably five games to bed themselves in, there’s a chance that they may bear fruit.
Preston, Burnley, Swansea and Watford are games we should win without him; it’s a pity that they are followed by the trip to Stamford Bridge – Xhaka and Coquelin are probably a more effective pairing for that match. However, that’s on paper and football’s played on grass. Arsène will be hoping that Coquelin returns for the home Premier League match against Hull City at the latest; it’s followed by the trip to Munich to face Bayern in the first leg of the Champions League Round of Sixteen.
The hole which Coquelin leaves is exemplified by the stats from WhoScored. Coquelin is 2nd in the number of tackles made by Arsenal players, is the highest ranked midfielder at 4th in the list of interceptions while he is only third in committing the most fouls. Granit Xhaka and Alexis Sanchez lead the way on that one with an average of 2.4 per game. His stats for blocks and clearances underline the importance of his role in midfield; Coquelin is the brick wall through which the opposition must pass if they are to create a meaningful attack.
Not bad for a player who was on his way out of Arsenal two years ago. Having been at Freiburg and Lorient earlier in his career, Coquelin was sent on loan to Charlton in November 2014, initially for a month but the deal was later extended. Fate intervened and injuries necessitated his return to north London in December. Five months later, having proven himself to be an integral part of the Gunners starting line-up, he climbed the steps at Wembley to receive his FA Cup winners medal after the 3 – 2 win over Hull City. In that time, he made 30 appearances for the Arsenal; not bad for a player seen as a ‘last resort’ solution.
Coquelin’s is one of the first names on the teamsheet but the arrival of Granit Xhaka has cast doubt on his long-term future at the club. Arsenal didn’t spend £35m on the Swiss international for him to sit on the bench; Coquelin, when everyone is fit, seems surplus to requirements. But this is Arsenal; when have we ever had everyone fit for a significant period of time…