It appears there was more to Francis Coquelin’s surprising absence in the defeat to Nottingham Forest yesterday in the FA Cup than just a tactical decision by Arsene Wenger. Reports from the Mirror today indicate Arsenal is prepared to sell the French midfielder in the transfer window this month. The Mirror’s John Cross linked both West Ham and Crystal Palace to Coquelin, who is apparently valued around £10m by Arsenal.
This would be a move that seemingly makes sense for both the player and the club. After being a regular starter for almost the last three seasons, Coquelin has seen his playing time drop sharply this year. His one start in the Premier League came in November, when he was forced last-minute to play center-back, not his natural position, in the 3-1 loss against Manchester City. Though Coquelin signed a long-term contract extension almost a year ago exactly, frustration over his diminishing role is understandable. That said, Arsenal should not be too bothered by his departure, if it does indeed happen. As nearly every Arsenal fan will tell you, Coquelin is not good enough to be a starter for this team every week in the Premier League. Although he’s Arsenal’s most defensive-minded midfielder, he’s simply not as skilled as the club’s other options. And it’s not like his presence turned Arsenal into a strong defensive unit. At best, he’s an ok depth player who can come on to help protect a late lead.
The switch to a back three has hurt Coquelin, as Wenger pointed out ahead of the Nottingham Forest match, saying, “Life as been a bit unfair to him, it’s true. I think that’s down a little bit also to the change of system in many games.”
Coquelin has consistently drawn the ire of Arsenal fans the last few years, and while I agree he is out of his depth as a regular starter, the blame for that should be pointed at Wenger. It’s not Coquelin’s fault he kept getting picked, or that Wenger couldn’t produce a better option. Perhaps however, Wenger and Arsenal are finally ready to move on for good.