Amusing watching the kick back from Alex’s post yesterday critiquing Mr Coquelin. He’s not a favourite with James either, who took a similar bashing last year for highlighting the Frenchman’s lack of smarts.
I can’t work out what the love for him is all about. Actually, I probably can. Without meaning to sounds like a w*nker, football fans in the UK aren’t particularly sophisticated. Look, I count myself in that bracket as well. I was hammered for suggesting Roy Hodgson was next to useless when he took the job (a man who didn’t believe in systems). We’ve been handed David Moyes as Premier League manager of the year. Our biggest newspaper is whacking skippy about Sam Allardyce because he’s excited about being in the job. We don’t really have a set of journalists who live the game in the way their European counterparts do.
So when Arsenal fans spend basically 10 years without a Patrick Vieira type defensive midfielder, it’s understandable that Francis Coquelin is going to strike an excitement chord with fans. He’s mobile, tenacious and he slides around the pitch like a good old-fashioned Roy of the Rovers hero. We love that. But look, that’s not how you’re supposed to play that role. This is a Xabi Alonso quote from Simon Hughes book, Ring of Fire.
“I love to tackle. But if I could avoid it, I think I have done better in my job. If I tackle, sliding across the floor, it means that I – or someone else – have been caught out of position at the start of the move and that drives me crazy because team shape and balance is crucial. At Bayern, this is what we practise all of the time: ‘shape, shape, shape’. If you spend too much time on the ground, it means your positioning is not so good.
“Stevie’s [Gerrard] tackling? OK, of course, I love it. They are spectacular and the crowd gets so excited. But for me, I get excited when he receives the ball and plays the last pass before a goal. That makes me smile the most. This is his greatest strength. Seeing the pass, seeing what other players do not see.”
Coquelin excites the way Stevie G used to, but he can’t pass as well and he doesn’t score the goals. Against Southampton, Coquelin wasn’t in position to receive the ball from defence, so we had a situation where Koscielny was playing the ball through the lines. Throw in the kamikaze sliding around, the ill thought out challenges… and you have yourself a bit of a calamity in a team that needs to transition the ball quickly.
I’m not saying he’s the worst player in the world here, I’m merely saying that I am very glad we have better players in Xhaka and Elneny who can come back for the PSG game and give us a more intelligent midfield performance. But as the excellent Tom Payne points out in this fascinating article, it’s not just a Coquelin issue, it’s an Arsenal issue. We have a manager who really doesn’t have much of a clue about the issues he’s facing all over the pitch… he’s just hoping if he plays pretty football, and everyone is having a good time, the footballing gods will reward him with a Champions League. As Alex said yesterday, that sort of mentality is why we’re all so happy this looks like it could be his last year.
On the Southampton game, WHAT ABOUT THAT KOS GOAL. Absolutely unreal that our centre back can do things like that. He really is a god among men. We’re so lucky he didn’t push for a move a few years ago, he could have gone anywhere.
I thought Mustafi looked fairly solid. My one concern is his size. He might be a good player, but I worry we’re in a position where we might be a little short on set plays (Kos / Verm bedwetting happened to me twice last week), something that’ll be further exacerbated if Perez plays the central role and we don’t have Giroud mopping up at the front post.
Talking of the Spaniard, he didn’t really do much to wow on his debut. He landed a hard-fought assist, which is always nice, but it wasn’t exactly Mesut porn. The midfield didn’t really tick over, so it’s hard to judge, but I dunno, he really is small… we’re going to have to hope he finds confidence quickly and we’re going to have to hope he has fox in the box like tenacity, because he’s not going to dominate defenders physically and hold the ball up like Giroud. I’m also undecided if he’s going to be that much better than Sanchez? He really looks and odd signing to me… but it’s early days, so we’ll see.
Overall the Southampton game left me feeling pretty uninspired. We’re so far behind City and United tactically that I just can’t see us competing in a million years. Mourinho makes a change at half time, Pep counters in 5minutes later. That sort of quick thinking isn’t in Arsene’s locker. I’m not saying Pep is going to spank us, but I am saying that over the course of the season, that sort of strategic behaviour pays dividends. The league is tougher than ever this year. The top six is United, City, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. I’d imagine it’ll stay like that most of the season. It’s very exciting, but I can’t help but feel flat after seeing us struggle to break down Southampton, it’s not going to be an easy ride this year..
I like it. 3 points on the board. In the mix. All to play for.
That’s your lot, see you in the morning!