The Curious Case of Francis Coquelin – and our youth academy in general.
After seeing Arteta limp off the pitch against Wigan on Tuesday, there have been questions surrounding his fitness for this Sunday’s crucial tie with Newcastle. Will Arsenal be able to cope without its fearless leader, engine, and one half of the blossoming DM-pivot partnership? Who will replace him in the starting line-up if he is indeed not fit?
The obvious choice, if healthy, would be Jack Wilshere. However, Arsene is reluctant to use Jack unless it is an absolute necessity (in which case this may be one), since he is on heavy pain relievers until he goes under the knife to remove a pin in his ankle once the season concludes.
The next logical option would be Francis Coquelin.
Once labelled as the DM of the future, together with Frimpong, the two young Arsenal academy products were seen as the ideal midfield combo to lead our team for years.
So then, what does Arsene now do with Coquelin? There is plenty of promise to his game, but he is either not receiving the minutes he needs to properly develop his play and confidence, or his progression is simply not living up to the expectations demanded from him.
In my opinion, starting Coquelin in such a crucial game this Sunday would be setting him up for failure. He has not started a match since mid-February and would clearly be off-form. His confidence will surely be very low and we cannot afford to allow a player time to “shake off the rust”, with Champions League qualification at stake.
Media circulated rumours are swirling that Schalke 04 have inquired about the availability of purchasing Coquelin on a permanent transfer. Many Arsenal fans, including myself, are extremely reluctant to let such a promising talent leave the club, only to blossom elsewhere. However, at what point is a move away from the club for first-team opportunities in the best interests of the player?
We’ve started to see academy players leave our club in search of first-team action, such as Bartley to Swansea, Angha to Nuremburg, Ebecilio to Twente etc. It remains to be seen if these prospects will ever amount to anything, but Arsenal also seems to lack the presence of a club like Barcelona, where their youth products are always itching for an eventual return to their boyhood club.
One must now ask the unavoidable question: is our youth academy failing to produce the necessary talent for the first-team, or is AW not affording our youth the opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level?
Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to this question, but I do speculate it is a combination of both aspects, with a heavier emphasis on our youth simply not developing at a rate quick enough to match, or better, the level of quality needed to compete at the top.
Now, this is not to say that the youth academy has been a complete waste, since there are some promising players coming through the ranks in Gnabry, Eisfeld, Bellerin, Zelalem, Olsson etc.
However, there are some key questions which need to be explored a bit further:
- Will these players be given first-team opportunities early, and consistently enough, to satisfy their desires for top-flight football?
- Or will we continue to see an exodus of our youth, and eventually have a few come back and haunt us as overlooked top talents?
- What effect will purchasing top quality, established players from other clubs have on our youth and academy in general?
Fine, fellow Gooners, I would now like to open the floor and hear your thoughts. Would you start Coquelin this Sunday? Will we regret neglecting our promising youth in search of top quality players that can help us now?
Written by: Highbury Harmony