Arsenal's Francis Coquelin: Revisiting Disastrous Freiburg Loan

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentMay 8, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  Francis Coquelin of Arsenal wears a protective face mask prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Arsenal at Loftus Road on March 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Before French defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin, 23, breathed new life into his career, Arsenal loaned him out to Freiburg.

Here is a retrospective examination of Coquelin's emotionally taxing Bundesliga experience.

Scheitern

Coquelin: "I'm very happy to be here today—on a sunny day, as well."

Freiburg interviewer: "It's always sunny here."

The word "sunny" evoked a smile from Coquelin that day.

It is a more sombre feeling when Coquelin realised he is not a central midfield option for Freiburg manager Christian Streich.

There are five central midfielders ahead of Coquelin at Freiburg.

  1. Gelson Fernandes: Streich attempts to convince the Swiss veteran to "stay for longer, find calm and a home," per UEFA's website. Fernandes leads Freiburg in tackles per 90 minutes (4.4). He is one-and-done, leaving for Rennes.
  2. Julian Schuster: He's a physically imposing captain, who routinely puts his body on the line and embodies Streich's grittiness.
  3. Vladimir Darida: At the time, he saw Freiburg's record transfer fee at €4 million (£3.4 million). Darida is a passing outlet in midfield and the most skilful player at Streich's disposal.
  4. Matthias Ginter: He's a centre-back with elite potential but has concentration issues. Ginter moves into midfield to offer more muscle and later transfers to Borussia Dortmund.
  5. Nicolas Hofler: He's a team-first squad player but constantly needs to prove he belongs in the Bundesliga. 

Streich viewed Coquelin as a water carrier on the wings.

Why did Streich, who works better with less, feel the need to place Coquelin on the left wing? Coquelin was the fourth-most successful dribbler (2.5) at Freiburg per 90 minutes.

Moving well off the ball defensively, having an all-round skill set, being coachable and Freiburg having lightweight squad depth is why Coquelin received chance after chance from Streich.

Coquelin is a role player, someone who makes the rest of the team click, even in the dressing room.

Streich mentioned Coquelin being able to translate for compatriot Christopher Jullien, per Christoph Ruf at the Bundesliga's website.

Hunched back in shock, Coquelin sighed and begrudgingly accepted two yellow cards in two minutes from the authoritarian referee Tobias Stieler.

Shouting choice words toward Stieler, Streich ensured he also is dismissed as a show of support to Coquelin. 

After Coquelin completed a suspension from a red card in a 3-3 draw against Hoffenheim, Streich gave back Coquelin his starting place.

This is why Coquelin persisted with Streich throughout the 2013-14 season without quitting.

It is the Streich effect—he is savvy at controlling players. 

"I worked very hard physically over [at Freiburg]—like never before," Coquelin said, per Ouest-France (h/t Get French Football News). "Twelve kilometre runs powering through in the forest and in the afternoon interval training. Or [1,000 metres] 12 times on the banks of the river."

Streich brusquely instructed Coquelin to run, having as little regard for his aching legs as Terence Fletcher does for Andrew Neiman's battered hands in "Whiplash."

"I want [young players] to focus on their job and to be able to take [constructive] criticism," Streich said, per Constantin Stuve at Deutsche Welle. "They have to be constantly willing to improve."

Learning on the job out on the left wing, Coquelin functioned as a quasi-left-back to cover the surging runs of Christian Gunter.

Shuffling up and down the flank, Coquelin's exertion did not flatter his statistics.

He averaged 1.1 tackles and intercepted one pass per 90 minutes.

To German sports magazine Kicker, Coquelin is anonymous: neither an active defender nor productive attacker.

Coquelin does not qualify for Kicker's Bundesliga player rankings, but his rating theoretically places him at No. 207 out of 215 footballers.

Renaissance

"I explained to [Coquelin] that what I liked most was his ball-winning rather than his playmaking," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says, per Max Jones at Arsenal's website. "He has not moved out of the team because he sticks to what he is strong at—winning the ball."

Accumulating 4.3 tackles and 4.5 interceptions per 90 minutes upon returning to ArsenalCoquelin is winning back possession at a frenzied rate. 

Right now, he is a world-class No. 6.

Showing mental toughness, tenacity and perseverance, Coquelin has turned a negative spell at Freiburg into a positive reinforcer.

"The period in Germany helped me a lot, it was a tough, tough experience mentally and that was a turning point in my career," Coquelin said, per Rob Kelly at Arsenal's website. "I'm happy I went [to Freiburg] and learned a lot [from Streich]."  

+allanjiang.

When not specified, statistics are via WhoScored.com. 

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