Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Coquelin’s Fulham performance shows a young man growing in confidence

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

Of all the times to come into the Arsenal side (and in all of the positions), an important festive period in which The Gunners needed as many points as possible (meaning as many first team players as possible) was probably not when Francis Coquelin expected to feature.

Certainly not way out of position at left-back.

Having joined Arsenal’s academy as a 17 year old, and now 20, Coquelin has not had to wait too long for his chance. The French youngster has had to work hard in order to prove his worth, however. Having seen Craig Eastmond (just one year his senior) rewarded a short spell in the first team in the 2009/10 season, Coquelin must have been cursing his luck.

But a season-long loan at Ligue 1 side FC Lorient as part of the deal to bring Laurent Koscielny the other way and Coquelin is a new player; filled with confidence and a determination to impress.

Once again, it wasn’t an easy start for the Stade-Lavallois graduate – making his début in the game that shall not be named and having to wait a whole month before his next start, against Tottenham. Despite a second loss in three games for Coquelin, he was by far the outstanding performer for Arsenal in the derby.

Another two months without a single first team appearance followed, but he didn’t let his head drop and has now made five appearances in just over one month. ‘Le Coq’s’ performances in all of these games speaks volumes about a challenge set by his manager, and accepted with aplomb by the youngster.

Perhaps most impressive of all recently was the Fulham game, in which Coquelin demonstrated a maturity and confidence beyond his age.

Defensively, he matched up to another in-form player, achieving almost identical statistics to Per Mertesacker. Two tackles and one interception may seem a low tally – particularly away from home – but the fact he committed just one foul all game shows a tidiness and composure to his game, as well as (almost) impeccable timing in the challenge*.

Coquelin, who originally plied his trade at defensive midfielder and has since tended to play at right-back, also made five clearances (one effective) and completed an impressive 79% of his passes (though bizarrely this was the joint-lowest percentage of any outfield Arsenal player)*.

Going forward, the four-time capped U21 player further demonstrates his ability to play with players above his age group – attempting the joint-third long ball attempts (five, with Alex Song) and completing his only crossing attempt*.

In a first half that Arsenal dominated, Coquelin had more freedom to go forward and completed two key passes and one successful dribble*. Whether it be a ‘French connection’, a dressing-room friendship or something else, the makeshift left-back appeared to have formed a particular understanding with the player next to him, Laurent Koscielny.

Having got his goal after 21 minutes, Koscielny seemed content to sit back and a displayed a confidence in Coquelin that is hardly surprising given the young apprentice’s form, rarely straying forward and completed almost half as many passes*.

For one reason or another that is probably best not to go into at this stage, the result was some distance from what fans were hoping for – and expecting at half-time. However, while it seems fruitless to look back at what could have been done better, the reflection of a player who exudes as much confidence as Coquelin is surely one positive to take from such a disappointing game.

With Thomas Vermaelen injured, and Bakary Sagna not expected back until the end of January, Coquelin now seems in line to seek revenge against the side who made his debut one to forget.

Let’s hope that has more positive to take from it.

*All OPTA statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

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.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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