When Arsenal, at rather short notice, granted Alex Song his wish of a move to Barcelona in the summer, the widely held expectation was that the club would seek to replace the Cameroonian with a defensive midfielder from elsewhere.
Instead, Arsene Wenger took the unexpected step of deploying Mikel Arteta as his midfield shield and, although the Spaniard offers much to the side in terms of his ball retention and ability from set-pieces, halfway into the season it is safe to say that he is not the most natural fit in that position, as opponents are frequently allowed to orchestrate attacks by cutting through the Arsenal midfield.
One player more accustomed to that role is Francis Coquelin, with the young Frenchman having made quietly impressive strides this season, featuring with some regularity in the Premier League and Champions League, whilst also starting all three games in the Capital One Cup.
That is some turnaround for a player who, a little over a year ago, seemed destined to leave the club having grown frustrated at a lack of opportunities. Wenger convinced the France U21 international to stay and, so far, Coquelin has reaped the benefits, all the while demonstrating an increased sense of maturity in his game in terms of the manner in which he times his tackles and distributes the ball to his team-mates.
In the ill-fated fixture against Bradford City, for instance, Coquelin turned in an impressive performance whilst other, more senior professionals around him wilted in the heat of battle, before he was surprisingly substituted. There are still some rough edges present in his game, and he does occasionally falter when placed under sustained pressure, but his improvement since being promoted to the first-team squad at the start of last season is evident. He has a long-term competitor in Emmanuel Frimpong, but, whilst both players are capable of crunching challenges, Coquelin’s passing ability is far superior.
Having made many of his early senior appearances for the club at right-back, Coquelin has looked far more at home in his preferred defensive midfield position. He has always possessed ability, having shone in that role on his debut for the club against Barnet in 2008. Four-and-a-half years on, the 21 year old, who benefitted immensely from his loan spell with Lorient two seasons ago, looks as if he is ready to challenge for a place in the starting line-up at Emirates Stadium.