Francis Coquelin Has Earned the Right to Start for Arsenal Against Southampton
With Abou Diaby, so impressive during the early going this season (see: trip to Anfield), expected to miss Arsenal's Saturday home match against Southampton with a dodgy hip, a spot has opened in the central midfield triumvirate favored by Arsene Wenger since the 2009-10 season.
The trendy pick to assume Diaby's box-to-box role is young Welshman Aaron Ramsey who, while having yet to earn a start this season, has come on as a substitute in each game this season.
Ramsey, while more accustomed to the free-attacking midfield position currently occupied by Santi Cazorla, is no stranger to a deeper-lying position. In fact, he played one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt last season in that exact position, on the road to Stoke City last April 26.
One thinks that Wenger will likely opt for Ramsey against the formidable midfield and attacking threat provided by Southampton, while also hoping that No. 16 will be able to provide some of the attacking impetus seen from Diaby these past few weeks.
Ramsey's a safe pick, but one that I disagree with. If Wenger is to pick his strongest possible lineup, why not play Francis Coquelin in midfield against the Saints?
The Frenchman enjoyed an atmospheric rise to first-team football last season, when he coupled a stirring performance against Stevenage in the Carling Cup with a Man of the Match showing away to Tottenham in early October.
Coquelin's positioning and tackling were what won him the most plaudits, but he is an underrated passer, and as he showed during his time spent deputizing at right-back in the wake of Bacary Sagna's first leg break of the season (suffered during that Tottenham match), he can get forward and contribute to the attack.
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Against Southampton, he would be a better fit in midfield, where his propensity to man the holding role would allow Mikel Arteta to relinquish his dogged approach to defense and push farther forward in attack.
Given Southampton's difficulties in stemming the attacking threat of creative midfielders this season (seen most blatantly in their opener against Manchester City, when Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure were superb), Arteta's role in the attack could take on a greater role.
With Cazorla in such fine form, the prospect of the two Spaniards linking up in the final third is something to savor.
Coquelin's defensive inclination would free up Arteta to enjoy the sort of freedom he once held under David Moyes at Everton, and against a Saints defense that has not exactly thrilled in the early going, he could be poised for a tremendous performance.
Looking beyond Saturday's match, Coquelin's inclusion in the side could have dramatic reverberations. The midfielder has said that he will look to move on from Arsenal as early as this year should playing opportunities fail to open up, according to Sky Sports.
Much has been made about the high-profile losses of certain Arsenal stars in seasons past, but Coquelin's departure would be one of the most damaging. Few players have impressed me more than the Frenchman, who looks to have a terrific future ahead of him.
At the present juncture, I'd rate him ahead of Ramsey in the midfield depth chart. Some might refer to Ramsey's ability to provide more of an attacking threat, but given that he provided just two goals and four assists last season in 27 league appearances, it's not exactly a strong one.
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