When we were divvying up the assignments for this series, there was some consternation about who would write the one about Francis Coquelin, and how it would be written. After all, "player of the season" and "Francis Coquelin" probably didn't really go together in the minds of many people back in August; they certainly didn't in mine.
But, since his recall in December from his loan spell at Charlton, thanks to the Great Injury Onslaught Of 2014, Coquelin has, as they say, done a job. There are many sources that say things like "Arsenal were vastly improved once recalling Francis Coquelin to the side" and many other breathlessly cherry-picked stats, as if correlation were actually causation and as if an eleven man team were so easily influenced by a single player. This isn't the NBA, though, and it's not as simple as "plug one guy in, watch team go crazy".
Coq's return to Arsenal coincided with a lot of other beneficial factors, including the returns to health of Giroud and Özil. That's not to say Coq had no effect whatsoever - he was clearly a factor - but to singlehandedly put Arsenal's 2015 successes down to Francis Coquelin is to fundamentally misunderstand how to evaluate soccer.
Coquelin, as we all know, is a fairly limited player; he can't pass to save his life, for one thing. Seriously, when the ball gets to his feet, I both cringe and excitedly wonder where said ball will end up - at another player's feet? In row G? hitting the Clock End clock? stay tuned and find out! - and am usually pleasantly surprised when his passes do go where they're supposed to. That's...not good, right? Not player of the year worthy?
Coq has also benefited from Santi Cazorla, to an incredible degree. Those two work together really well, and Santi's excellence helps mask some of Coquelin's other shortcomings, like his positioning, which, while better than his passing, still needs work.
In a move that's sure to draw derision from people who won't understand the comparison, I see Francis Coquelin the same way I see one of my favorite MLS players, Diego Chara. Like Chara, Coquelin makes up for his fairly limited technical ability with a relentless engine, and, paradoxically, great positional awareness - not of his own position, but that of several members of the opposition. At once. Which helps him to shut things down.
Coquelin is the guy who cleans up messes, the guy who breaks the other team's move up or slows it down before it gets unpleasant for Arsenal. Coquelin isn't the last line of defense; he's the early warning system. He's the guy who isn't afraid to put his body in the way and slow things down to give his own team time to recuperate and reposition. Seriously, watch him; he gets to places on the pitch you wouldn't think he could, just to mess with other people. His lack of technical ability is more than compensated for by his ability and willingness to rove the midfield disrupting things.
Coquelin is a decent player who took an execrably bad defensive midfield position and made it better. Imagine what a very good DM might do in that same role.
Is he one of the top 10 players in the league? Not hardly. Is Francis Coquelin the long term answer at defensive midfield for Arsenal? No. But, all that aside - in the limited sample size that was December through May of this season, Francis Coquelin was indispensable for Arsenal, and for that he should be celebrated.