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Arsenal will miss Francis Coquelin's quality

Saturday 13th January 2018

As winter dawned, two things were inevitable at the Emirates: scanty arrivals and a mass exodus. Konstantinos Mavropanos alone populated the first. Francis Coquelin's recent switch to Valencia surely initiates the latter. Alexis Sanchez again seems on the verge of sealing a move to Manchester City. Mesut Ozil hasn't signed a new deal.

Coquelin's departure wasn't entirely unexpected. After two difficult years ravaged by persistent injury his form slumped. Jack Wilshere's resurgence played its part too. The only surprise was the ridiculously suave manner in which negotiations took place. It was as though Arsene Wenger was humouring his young countryman until a buyer could be found. Manager aside, Coquelin's qualities will severely be missed at the Emirates.

Following a not-too-spectacular trial, Coquelin joined the Gunners to little fanfair in 2008. In a world where players' quality is judged by lofty price tags, the young Frenchman had unheralded status written all over him. He took a while to get going as well. Neverthless, his high level of professionalism, maturity and sheer dedication to craft shone through until his performances began to come good. Those traits remained with him through the final time he kitted for the Gunners, against Crystal Palace.  

Unlike most footballers still living their first quarter-century, Coquelin was never in a hurry; he patiently bided his time. Knowing fully well how daunting it would be breaking into Arsene Wenger's team, he took three intermittent trips away from the Emirates. Lorient in 2010-11 and Freiburg two years later saw him raise his game in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga. A half-season in the Championship with Charlton in autumn 2014 followed. Throughout, he carried himself with modesty and humility.

His quiet determination eventually won him a place among Wenger's first-team in 2015. There's no disputing his impact since. Coquelin formed a fearsome partnership with Santi Carzola in the middle of the park, often winning the ball back and making quick passes so his more skillful partner could spring attacks. He suddenly turned beast, wrecking havoc and dislodging opposition play for fun. His explosiveness over short distances made him ideal for the frenetic pace of Premier League midfield play.

Coquelin carried his remarkable turnaround into the following season. Matters then took a nasty twist following a serious knee injury. Without his shield, Cazorla became susceptible to brutes. The Spaniard subsequently joined his partner in the treatment room and never left. Yet the young Frenchman's worst nightmare came the next campaign. Wenger's tactical tweak to a three-centre-back system all but terminated his already declining first-team chances. 

He is 100% professional, Francis, and an example for everybody, and all the young players. Life has been a bit unfair to him, it’s true. That’s also down a bit to our change in the system. He paid a heavy price for that.--Wenger in his Nottingham Forest pre-match presser.

Many will claim he wasn't at any point Gunner quality. He may not have been the strongest nor tallest, fastest nor smartest on the ball. His distribution was always questionable, and his dribbling. He was, however, never short of determination, passion, and commitment. Those qualities are rarer than one thinks. Coquelin had no qualms taking a hit for the team. He would also allow himself to be sent off or soldier on as the situation warranted. He once broke his nose in a game against Everton but played on to help the Gunners to an important three points.

In this modern-day game dominated by crazy stats and astronomical figures, Arsenal fans should learn the lesson taught by Francis Coquelin. Class isn't always measured by skill and athleticism.

Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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