Arsene Wenger on Francis Coquelin: 'You don't have all the qualities but you have to express what you're good at'

Focus on defensive midfield role has helped Coquelin develop, says the Arsenal manager

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If Francis Coquelin takes the field on Wednesday night, for a hectic battle at Loftus Road, he will likely be wearing a protective mask having broken his nose on Sunday. The discomfort is a price worth playing for a player who is so desperate to take his unexpected chance.

Coquelin is enjoying his best ever run in the Arsenal team, a run he had always been waiting for but must have feared would never come. He has started 11 games since Arsene Wenger brought him back from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic and threw him into the first team at Upton Park on 28 December. Since then, in the absence of more experienced team-mates, Coquelin has made that holding role his own.

Wenger spoke at length about Coquelin at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday morning, admitting that this sequence of games was so unlikely that the player was disappointed to leave a Charlton side on which he was just beginning to make his mark. Coquelin had only started  three Championship matches but he would still have preferred to stay at The Valley rather than sit on the Emirates bench.

“He wasn't happy when I called him back,” Wenger admitted. “He played at Charlton and he thought I just called him back as cover. He was surprised when I played him against West Ham.”

Neither of Coquelin’s past loan spells – at Lorient and Freiburg – had been especially successful and, with his old contract expiring at the end of this season, everyone was expecting this season on Arsenal’s books to be his last.

“I told him, at the start of the season, to give absolutely everything until the start of the season until Christmas,” Wenger said. “Then we will see together and see where you are. If you respect that you have done a big part of your job.” Had his loan at Charlton not worked out, Wenger would have loaned him out again, helping Coquelin to earn a new deal somewhere.


But by Christmas Arsenal were struggling desperately in midfield. Mikel Arteta was out with a calf problem, Aaron Ramsey was recovering from his second hamstring strain of the season and Jack Wilshere had undergone another ankle operation. Mathieu Flamini is not, it is now apparent, of the required standard and so Wenger needed someone else, and turned to Coquelin.

Wenger believes that Coquelin, now 23 years old, has found his voice as a footballer, realising his strengths – screening the defence – and specialising at it. “He is respectful, focused and open. He analysed well what he is good at: defending in midfield,” Wenger said. “He was in between a bit the playmaking position and a box-to-box player, he is not that, he's a sitting player who can win the ball. He restricted his game to that and you make success in life with what you're good at. You don't have all the qualities but you have to express what you're good at and he's good at that.”

Francis Coquelin


Coquelin’s Arsenal debut came over six years ago and while most of his team-mates that day – Johan Djourou, Fran Merida, Gayin Hoyte and Emmanuel Frimpong – have left the club, he is now in the first team and signed to a long-term contract.

“He has gone through a lot of doubt questioning himself, being certainly at many times being discouraged that he doesn't get a chance,” Wenger reflected. “Now that he has a chance he doesn't want to let it slip away. But he is a winner and he wants to win. That is why he is so committed.”

Wenger admits that Coquelin has proved him wrong but says that he has been vindicated in his commitment to never closing the door on any player. “It is a surprise to everybody,” he said. “The only thing I do is that I never say never to anybody. In my job you have to be open-minded like that. You have to make decisions at times. But never close the door completely to anyone.”