23rd November 2015: Coquelin absence confirmed. How do we cover?

Evening all. So Arsene Wenger held his pre-Dinamo Zagreb press conference this morning and confirmed Francis Coquelin’s knee injury would rule him out for ‘at least two months’.

He said:

I’m always cautious. It will be at least two months but I don’t want to speculate more than that. He has a scan today – we will know how long this afternoon.

Since then, a couple of pieces on the official site quote Arsene as saying ‘at least a month’, so either they’ve misheard the manager, or have been given a more positive update following the scan. Either way, considering we play tomorrow, we should get a more informed estimation of the likely length of his absence after the game.

Obviously it’s a bitter blow, however long the Frenchman is out for, especially in an area we are already deprived of the services of long-term absentee Jack Wilshere, with another central midfielder in Aaron Ramsey only just back from a spell on the side-lines himself. Yet the boss thinks we still have enough options in the squad to cover for Coquelin’s absence. He said:

It is of course a disappointment to lose him on the longer term but we have players who can compensate. We have lost a player of quality for a while and we know this can happen during the season. We have players who play in this position, like Flamini. We have players like Chambers [too], because he has been educated as a central midfielder. Sometimes this is a good opportunity for other players to turn up and show they can do the job.

Which is basically always the boss’ response when a player is ruled out for a sustained period and of course he’s right. Without a bit of an injury crisis in midfield a year ago, Coquelin would have remained on loan at Charlton and never had the platform to make himself such an important first-teamer in the first place.

I suppose the difference this time is that we don’t have an obvious candidate who can view this as a chance to make the position his own. Not unless you count Calum Chambers, and I don’t, despite what the boss says above.

It goes without saying I’d love to be proved wrong and for Chambers to come in and perform like a cross between Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Diego Maradona alongside Santi Cazorla in our engine room, but I don’t see it personally. I think he’ll end up a fine central defender but I’m not sure he has the attributes required to play further forward, especially in a technically-intricate style of play such as ours.

Which leaves Mathieu Flamini and he doesn’t have anything to prove or show. We know what he is and that’s a decent back-up to shore things up late in games and start the odd one here and there. But asking him to play in every game would be asking for trouble, as far as our hopes of success this season are concerned, in my opinion.

The transfer window in January would obviously be one place to find a solution of course but as Arsene pointed out today, we can’t access the market right now, so we have to find a way to cope from within the squad.

My preference would be to get either Aaron Ramsey, or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to try to mimic Coquelin’s qualities. I think they both have the energy required in the role and as intelligent young professionals, should be able to suppress their naturally attack-minded instincts and focus on the defensive side of midfield play; reading danger, making interceptions, tackling, staying positionally disciplined and generally disrupting our opponents through dogged physicality.

After all, that’s basically what Francis did himself, having fancied himself as more of an attacking midfielder for a long time. Wilshere’s another option of course but he’s some way from fitness just yet.

Whichever way Arsene chooses to compensate for Coquelin’s absence though, he has to decide soon and it has to work straight away, because we have a must-win game in the Champions League tomorrow and the busiest portion of the campaign is on the horizon.

Back with a preview tomorrow.

See you then.

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