[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Patrick Vieira-Roy Keane personal battle remains one of the most distinguished player rivalries of the Premier League era, with the pair essential to the successful Arsenal and Manchester United sides of the 2000’s.
There is an argument to suggest that neither club have yet replaced their respective defensive midfield enforcer, with Arsenal in particular being targeted for criticism as a side that play neat football but lack the drive and toughness in the boiler room that the Frenchman offered.
Alex Song was seen in some quarters as a player with the attributes to act as a holding midfielder of quality before being offloaded to Barcelona, while Mathieu Flamini has shown doggedness over the years but lacks the pedigree of other top-notch opponents.
However, in recent weeks another name has emerged a potential contender to be the North London outfit’s designated midfield enforcer in the long run, with Francis Coquelin offered a first-team opportunity with others unavailable.
The 23-year-old Frenchman has started four Premier League games since late December, three of which Arsène Wenger’s men have won, including an impressive 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium.
Coquelin has been on Arsenal’s books since 2008, with loan spells at Lorient, Freiburg and Charlton giving the midfielder the opportunity to play first-team football.
Before this season Coquelin had only made nine Arsenal starts in the Premier League and has always been identified as a player that has potential but not been offered a consistent chance to prove his ability.
His versatility has meant that any chance he did get in the Arsenal side was more often than not as a full-back, with the opportunity to step out in his preferred central midfield position not forthcoming.
The Frenchman was playing in The Championship a month ago at The Valley, but was recalled by the Gunners due to a spate of central midfield injuries to regular starting XI members.
Coquelin must be praised for his attitude and the way that he has applied himself since returning to the Emirates Stadium, with the midfielder putting in a number of accomplished performances and looking like a real asset in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield.
Coquelin’s current deal expires this summer and the player looked odds-on to end his seven-year tenure in North London, but he now has the opportunity to renew his contract.
However, despite the fact that the Frenchman has shown that he is more than good enough to play in the Premier League and for Arsenal, Coquelin would be advised to weigh up the club’s offer before putting pen-to-paper.
With the likes of Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all in competition for a place in central midfield, once others return to availability the former France under-21 man could well find himself back on the outskirts.
Secondly, Arsenal are linked with deep-lying midfield players in the transfer market on a weekly basis and there is still a chance that new faces could arrive this summer.
The counter argument to this is that the Gunners have not signed an out-and-out defensive midfielder of note in years, which tells something about Wenger’s mindset.
Although the manager has been deplored from the club’s fans to sign a player in Vieira’s ilk, he hasn’t done so – why?
It is not an issue of finances, as the big-money purchases of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez prove.
It may well be that the French head coach simply does not want to play with a designated enforcer and feels the likes of Wilshere or Arteta can be a worthy, more-technical alternative.
This year has been an eventful one for Coquelin; one that has given him the opportunity he has craved for since turning professional – playing consistently in Arsenal’s first team.
However, just how long this run of games will last remains to be seen, with competition for places and big-name team-mates surely in Coquelin’s thinking when he mulls over whether or not to pen an Arsenal extension.
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