Arsène Wenger has handed Francis Coquelin the opportunity to become Arsenal’s next great defensive midfielder, and with it, save the club a substantial sum of money.
Arsenal scouts have been to France, Norway, Belgium and then back to France in the hunt for a prime defensive midfielder in the last 12 months, but they are yet to appease Wenger.
Yann M’Vila, Kara Mbodj, Lucas Biglia and Étienne Capoue have all been extensivily watched, and have all been subject of positive reports, but none of them have fully convinced the Frenchman they can be a quality alternative to Alex Song.
Wenger had made signing a more natural holding player a priority this summer, with worries that Song’s new found roaming style often leaves the back door open in critical matches.
But doubts over M’Vila’s temperament, Capoue’s maturity and whether Mbodj and Biglia can adapt to the Premier League, have left the Gunners boss unwilling to take a chance on any of them, with all boasting fees in excess of £10 million.
Instead, 20-year-old Francis Coquelin has been promised an opportunity he might not get again. After a year spent as Song’s deputy, he will now be assessed as to whether he can become his main competition, on a full-time basis.
Coquelin has grown up significantly in the last few years, helped by an experience-building loan spell with French side Lorient, but there have still been question marks as to whether he is ready for a permanent graduation.
Wenger will make a decision in the next week or so, with the madcap travelling and intense training in Asia a perfect chance to test Coquelin’s character, maturity and talent at it’s limits. Should he succeeed, he will be allowed to keep the number 22 shirt on a permanent basis.
Coquelin has impressed in several audtions in big matches in recent months, but must now prove he has progressed enough to oust, or even compliment, Song in the Arsenal engine room.
A steady performance against a Malaysia XI has set the tone, but he must show more in Beijing and then Hong Kong in the coming days, in order to seal the permanent promotion.
The ball is very much in his court.