Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Coquelin’s assured performance against Shrewsbury is a sign of things to come

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Francis Coquelin's role against Shrewsbury Town..

In my last article, I wrote about the man of the match performance of Alex Song against Dortmund in the Champions League and how, despite impressing, the Cameroonian did struggle at times when he became isolated in the traditional holding role.

It’s immediately interesting to note, therefore, that Francis Coquelin’s impressive display came from a more balanced role further up the pitch, where he also had fellow youngster Emmanuel Frimpong breaking up play alongside him and able to bail him out whenever the former lost the ball (which he only did six times – completing 72 out of 78 attempted passes; a brilliant 93% average success rate) or was caught out of position.

But enough of my ramblings about the many faults of the 4-3-3 formation compared to the 4-2-3-1; fortunately I am able to write a more positive response than recent weeks and Coquelin rarely made any mistakes to write home about.

In fact, Coquelin continued the fine form he had when on loan at Ligue 1 side F.C. Lorient last season with an excellent display of strength, athleticism and positional awareness. The 20-year-old is not even 6 feet tall, and unlike Frimpong, he doesn’t have a reputation for physical strength or a no-nonsense approach to tackling.

Admittedly, this did show to an extent against a tough-tackling Shrewsbury side (Coquelin was tackled himself twice as many times - six - as he tackled others, and he won less than half – 7 from 15 – of his duels) but what he lacked in the “Dench” department, he more than made up for with his pace and understanding of the game.

Coquelin was undoubtedly a key factor in ensuring that a nervous Arsenal side didn’t concede more than the one goal when it was still 1-0 as Arsenal pushed forward, desperate to get a goal and reclaim the hearts of the Emirates faithful. In terms of interceptions, Coquelin was able to break up opposition counter-attacks in a remarkably calm and assured manner – several times he raced back from an advanced position to make key interceptions (of which he made six overall) and committed just two fouls in a fast-paced and end to end game.

Going forward, too, the France U20s star showed clever movement and did well to combine the most important parts of both the usual holding, and link-role in this season’s tactic as he brought the wide players into play and showed a good understanding of his partnership with Frimpong – with the two players taking it in turns to go forward and stay back.

Overall, the simplest summary of Coquelin’s performance is that he was very, very good. We can discuss the technical gap and the gulf in class between the Premier League and League 2 and how one game is far too short a time to judge a player but the truth is that Coquelin is yet another unsung player who has been impressive for some time.

As a 19-year-old experiencing his first season at a competitive level, Coquelin fitted right into Lorient’s tactics; playing 24 times in total and averaging an overall rating from WhoScored of 6.37 (with 1.7 tackles and one interception(s) per game his defensive highlights). And against Manchester United this season, he was Arsenal’s third-best player and despite giving Ashley Young too much time on the ball to curl home midway through the first half, his three interceptions and one tackle show how he was still pretty impressive.

Clearly, we have to be careful not to put too much pressure on a player’s shoulders, however there has always been hype surrounding young players given a chance in the Carling Cup – it was only three years ago that Vela was receiving similar praise at this stage after a hat-trick against Sheffield United after all.

That said, if Coquelin can keep up this level of performance and push on to work on the other areas of his game, he should be able to force his way into Wenger’s plans before too long and prove to everyone else that Arsenal do not need a new defensive-midfielder.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

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