There was once a time when it appeared that Arsenal had their defensive-midfield options sewn up for the foreseeable future. Alex Song was progressing well after a difficult start, and, behind him, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, cornerstones of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup success in 2009, were considered intriguing prospects.
Fast forward to 2014 and the outlook is comparatively bleak. Song has long since departed, with Mikel Arteta, the man entrusted to replace him, not appearing entirely suited to operating in the deep-lying position. Mathieu Flamini has returned and appears the most viable option, but he is now 30 years old and still possesses a tendency to commit to unnecessary challenges at times. Kim Kallstrom, meanwhile, is technically still an Arsenal player until the end of the month, but it seems unlikely that the club will exercise the option to make his loan move from Spartak Moscow a permanent one. As for young prospects, Frimpong, owing to injuries and attitude problems, didn’t develop as anticipated, whilst Isaac Hayden requires a loan spell to fine-tune his game.
There certainly seems, then, to be an opening for a young defensive-midfielder to stake his claim for first-team action. Coquelin, having recently turned 23, would appear to be at the right age to do just that, but the Frenchman’s season on loan in Germany with Freiburg has been one of immense frustration.
The youngster was limited to just 16 league appearances for his temporary side as he struggled to make any sort of sustained impact in the Bundesliga. What’s worse, for most of those outings he was deployed on the left wing, a position that certainly doesn’t suit his tigerish qualities that can aid his team in the centre of the field.
Following a more successful stint with Lorient during 2010-11, Coquelin was officially promoted to the first-team squad three years ago and proceeded to make 21 league appearances over two seasons. Despite impressing at times, however, consistency quickly became an issue for the former Stade Lavallois player, and he was also reportedly frustrated by the fact that he failed to establish himself as a regular.
He was awarded a new four year contract in 2011 off the back of some commendable performances, but it is arguable that he has rather regressed since then, with the fact that the club were willing to send him out on loan last Summer, at a time when the need for a bonafide defensive-midfielder could hardly have been more pressing, indicating just how far his stock had fallen in North London.
Coquelin is set to return to the club for pre-season training early next month, but what will happen from then on is not entirely certain. With both Arteta and Flamini fully available as they have no international commitments, it may be difficult for Coquelin to command game time this Summer, which could lead to a permanent departure before the start of September.
It would be a shame, considering his early promise, if Coquelin was to leave, but the best option for the club would appear to be concentrating their efforts on signing an established defensive-midfielder, whilst letting the Frenchman continue his development elsewhere.