French midfielder Francis Coquelin is a very exciting prospect at Arsenal, and comparisons have been made with Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira. Another example of Wenger and scout Gilles Grimandi unearthing a hidden talent, Coquelin was spotted playing for Laval in the Second division of French football. He made 13 starts for Laval’s reserves and two substitute appearances during the 2007/08 season but after a trial with Arsenal, Wenger was convinced enough to sign the midfielder on a long term deal in July 2008. Coquelin had actually sustained a thigh injury during the seven day trial but the Arsenal backroom staff were convinced enough by his ability that he should sign for the club regardless.
What has made everyone so excited at the Emirates is Coquelin’s style of play. For an 18 year old, he is no light weight and his aggressiveness and ruggedness make him hard to shake off the ball. What he is above all else is a fantastic tackler, he provides excellent cover for the back four, allowing more attack minded players to move forward with the ball. Commanding like Vieira and dogged like Makelele, many at Arsenal believe the young Frenchman has a great future at the club.
Capped at under 17, under 18 and under 19 level for France, the player does not lack admirers back home either, and he has progressed quickly during his time at Arsenal. He played a key role in Arsenal’s triumph in the FA Youth Cup last season and caught the eye playing in Neil Banfield’s reserve team. What was most noticeable in his performances was his work rate, his industrious qualities not only allow him to protect the back four but also his superb passing range make him a perfect holding midfield player. “Strong,” “combative” and “tenacious” have all been words used to describe him and it is definitely something that Arsenal have been crying out for in recent years.
Coquelin made his debut for the first team only a couple of months after arriving at the club during a League Cup tie against Sheffield United in September 2008, already showing Wenger’s faith in the player. The game also showed his versatility as he was asked to play right back for the last 20 minutes of the match after coming on as a substitute for Fran Merida. The French youngster had to wait however for this season for his full debut for the club. He started the Carling Cup third round match against West Brom and played the first hour of the match. Even during this brief appearance, Coquelin looked impressive enough to warrant praise from some quarters as he demonstrated his excellent tackling abilities and his talent for covering and protecting the backline. It was clear his play allowed other Arsenal players to play further forward as they knew someone would clean up any danger behind them. The player also made a substitute appearance against Liverpool in the next round of the competition, and we will no doubt be seeing a lot more of this young Frenchman in the future.