Arsenal vs. Olympiakos: Should Frimpong or Coquelin Get the Start?
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With Alex Song looking likely to slot into a central defensive pairing with Per Mertesacker in Wednesday's Champions League clash against Olympiakos, there is an opening in central midfield where the Cameroonian international would normally enjoy his holding defensive role.
Emmanuel Frimpong has been a regular first-team call-up during the first month and a half of the Arsenal season, but despite his promising debut against Liverpool (a questionable decision on his first yellow card in that one culminated in a second card and a sending off), he has looked a bit off the pace in recent weeks—most notably against Swansea City two weekends ago, where the just-turned Ghanaian international's passing was woeful.
Into the fold steps Francis Coquelin, the young French international (he played with the U-20 team in Colombia this past summer) who looked so commanding in his performance in central midfield (alongside Frimpong) in last week's Carling Cup tie against Shrewsbury Town.
On loan with Lorient last season, where the 20-year-old Laval-born mid excelled under the watchful eye of Merlus manager Christian Gourcuff (father of Lyon star Yoann), another proponent of a passing-heavy dynamic (like Arsene Wenger) Coquelin returned to Arsenal this summer and saw his first action with the senior team in the unfortunate debacle at Old Trafford on Aug. 28.
His display against Shrewsbury might offer a more befitting testament to his quality as a footballer. He possesses the technical aptitude that Arsene Wenger craves in the middle of the park, and looked calm and assured against the Shrews. On several occasions he sent sumptuous searching long balls that the long-pass master himself, Xabi Alonso, would have been proud to call his own.
Should Coquelin or Frimpong get the start in central midfield?
Coquelin also showed his speed during that match—he is dangerous when going forward, as he proved in an exquisite run down the left flank, where a searing turn of pace saw him skip past a would-be Shrews defender before cutting a ball back at the touchline.
Frimpong most likely holds a slight advantage over his fellow fledgling colleague for experience's sake, but Wenger might just feel the added technical component brought by Coquelin would bring a more comprehensive and well-measured element to the Gunner attack—particularly in light of the disjointed nature of Saturday's first half against Bolton.
With Song's wealth of first-team experience (he started out as a central defender with the club) paired with the austere Mertesacker, it might be a worthy gamble to start Coquelin, given as how the Frenchman will be buffered, and thus allowed a bit of a longer leash against the Greeks.
Either way, the Frenchman should get a run out—if not against Olympiakos, then soon.
What was perhaps most impressive about his game against Shrewsbury was an instance where Coquelin mis-timed a lunging interception. He should have been out of the play, but instead sprinted 60 yards back on defense and ended up cutting out the final cross. It was something rarely seen from Arsenal mids in recent years (cough, Denilson).
It's that sort of dedication and commitment to the side that seems to be a true calling card of this new generation of Gunners. It is a welcome sight indeed.
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