The 2014/15 season was by some distance the most important one of Francis Coquelin’s career to date. However, the way next season is shaping up, it could be even more significant for him. His remarkable rise shows so sign of slowing.
Coquelin’s progress in the last 12 months is already guaranteed to be enshrined as a football fable for generations to come.
The Frenchman seemed destined for the exit door at Arsenal, inside the final year of his contract and stranded on loan at Championship Charlton. An injury crisis at his parent club saw him recalled, and sensing an opportunity to stake his claim Coquelin dug in and produced a phenomenal series of performances. In the space of a few weeks he went from fringe player to regular first-teamer.
His reward was two-fold: there was a new long-term contract on improved terms, but more importantly Coquelin was the beneficiary of the manager’s faith. Arsene Wenger recognised that he potentially offered a missing piece in the puzzle, and he became one of the first and foremost names on the Gunners’ team-sheet.
That surety about Coquelin’s place in the side seems to have carried over into the summer.
It was widely anticipated that Arsenal would move for a holding midfielder to provide cover and potentially competition for Coquelin, but Wenger has been strangely quiet on the front. The fact that Manchester United were able to snare Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton without any real competition is telling. It seems Wenger has decided that he does not want to disturb Coquelin’s development by recruiting another major midfield star.
On the one hand, that’s great news for Coquelin. It means his place in the side is all but guaranteed. Neither Mikel Arteta nor Mathieu Flamini can match his physical attributes, while the teenage January signing Krystian Bielik is some way from being ready to compete for a regular place.
However, it also places huge responsibility on Coquelin’s shoulders. He plays a pivotal role in the Arsenal XI, anchoring the midfield and providing essential protection for a sometimes suspect back four. A lack of alternative makes it absolutely essential that he maintains both fitness and form. Arsenal can not afford for Coquelin to operate at anything less than 100 percent.
It remains to be seen whether or not he can maintain that level of performance over the course of an entire season. That will be the big test for Coquelin, and when we discover whether he’s the real deal or was merely enjoying a prolonged purple patch.
If he can sustain his spotless performances, a significant prize awaits.
It won’t have escaped Coquelin’s attention that the summer of 2016 sees the land of his birth, France, play host to the European Championships. Coquelin has never been called up to the full international squad, but has played each of the U-17, U-18, U-19, U-20 and U-21 levels.
The French national team is blessed with box-to-box midfielders with remarkable energy and élan — the likes of Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi spring to mind — but there remains room for a Makelele-type to hold things together at the base of the midfield triumvirate. Graduating to the senior set-up is surely the next step for Coquelin.
That would be just reward for his incredible climb. Next summer could see Coquelin reach his peak, but there is still plenty of work to be undertaken before then.
Given the resilience he showed last season, only a fool would bet against him.
Read more from James McNicholas, AKA @Gunnerblog