Xhaka or Coquelin… Or Both?


Is there really a contest? I don’t think so.

Xhaka and Coquelin are two footballers but they are nearly as far apart as Beethoven and Picasso. Nearly as far apart as Sanchez and Koscielny. The one sure thing they have in common is that they have plied their trade mostly as defensive midfielders.

Francis Coquelin is an indefatigable winner of the ball both as a tackler, and as an interceptor and even in the air. Strong, agile and full of energy, his ability to close down opponents is hard to match. It is not an over statement to say that when the opposition has the ball, Coquelin is simply the best, so much so that his team mates feed of his great energy and commitment. However, in possession of the ball he is not exactly in that same lofty height and even less so is his movement off the ball.

Granit Xhaka is a tidy distributor of the ball, all ranges: the short as well as the long passes. He has an excellent mastery of space both defensively and offensively and that is why he seems to have so much time with the ball as well as be a defensive asset without the need for crunching tackles. His game is more intelligence than brawn. He came to this league with the reputation of the most carded player in the Bundesliga last season and because of that all Arsenal fans concluded that tackling must be his forte. On the contrary, it is precisely because he is not Coqesque in his timing of tackles that he infringed the rules that many times. Little wonder Wenger has quickly identified his talents as being more adaptive to the box to box role.

Coquelin is more of a destroyer, Xhaka is more of a box-to-box. Therefore, it is less a case of Xhaka versus Coquelin and more a case of Coquelin and Xhaka.

With two speedy central defenders who can hold a high defensive line, thereby narrowing the gap between them and the attackers, Wenger so far this season seems to have incorporated the high press to the team’s tactics. Obviously, Coquelin has been given the added task of choosing moments to move further up field to support the high press, being one of the best at it. This hardly undermines his defensive midfield role as the high defensive line has drastically shortened grounds to be covered tracking back, and Coquelin has shown ability for getting back with pace. Furthermore, when he goes up to join in the press the other in the double pivot ( eg Santi or Xhaka or Elneny) sits deeper and vice versa. The interchanges in the vertical positioning of the pivot pairing furthers Wenger’s brand of total football which encourages individual initiative within a collective framework.

Personnel wise, our double pivot is very well stocked. There is Elneny who is something of a mix between Xhaka and Coquelin.  He is excellent at pass and move, very good at closing opponents down quickly and he has a monster of an engine to go with those. Santi we all know and love, as he is forever using his excellent skills and unique reading of the game for the team. Our double pivot vis a vis our personnel is almost a matter of any two numbers can win. Also, there is the versatile Ramsey the subject of the last but one BK post, whom in my humble opinion would serve the team best as an attacking midfielder. Though versatile, he is attitude wise, first and foremost an offensive player. Attacking mid-field would afford him a role where he would be making his box runs unfettered. That would give the team a perfect balance with Sanchez a natural false #9 leading the line. Wenger can always use his versatility in any of the attacking midfield three positions to tweak his tactics depending on the opposition. His huge engine and love for being where the ball is, would always cause his play to overflow into defensive duties to the benefit of the team.

The bookmakers are predicting a photo-finish of many teams. The good news is that we are everywhere in their pictures. We are in good form, the Emirate is buzzing. Long may it last.


By Pony Eye

19 thoughts on “Xhaka or Coquelin… Or Both?

  • Well written post and thanks, PE.

    Definitely one of the two for me in most games. In the absence of Rambo Wenger has tried to play others in the dynamic B2B role and they did alright. But Aaron is the obvious B2B beast. You do him down time and again when you say he is an attacker and not a defender. He is both but with a crucial drive to go forward and play ….. box to box…. An in from Rambo will be a great help to the defence and the fellow DM and will link up with his fellow attacking midfielders time and again; he will also end up in scoring positions and will be able to take them, which all of his alternatives miss. Xhaka/Coq Rambo Mesut, with Elneny and Santi to play regularly as well: the perfect midfield to win the league.

  • Thanks TA.

    I disagree that “I do Rambo down”. In this post I saluted Rambo with his versatility really meaning that he can play in any of the five midfield positions. All things considered, including the personnels available for these midfield positions as well as Rambo love for runs into the box, points to Rambo being best utilized as an attacking midfielder where “he would be making his box runs unfettered”.

    Imo, there is no position in our midfield 5 that is exclusive to one player. That’s how well stocked we are. Even the #10 position as far as am concerned is also up for grabs as its strategic role is drastically different in a gengen pressing system that we currently have embraced. Ramsey, for example, would be a good fit there. He would press, he would provide, he would do the box runs.

    Iwobi is brilliant with his penetration and quick accurate passing, but he is weak defensively and his box presence is inferior to Rambo’s. Wenger might need one now, the other next time.

    Coaches value versatile players like Rambo.

  • All good points, and fair enough PE, you did indeed point out his versatility. I guess we just have a slightly different understanding of what a box to box midfielder does and the qualities they need to have. Good point about Rambo’s ability to support the pressing when played higher up the pitch.

    Yet, my ideal midfield is Xhaka/Coq Rambo Ozil…. but it is just my view. 🙂

  • Yes, TA it must be a difference in perception. I see a b2b as something of an all rounder whose default mentality is defensive. I see Rambo as an all rounder whose default mentality is offensive.

  • Having said all of the above, I could see us move to Coq-Xhaka (box to box) – Rambo next season or so. If Ozil does not sign a new contract, for whatever reason, Wenger could move Rambo into the hole (or Jack if/when he returns).

  • @TA, You just have a way of making us love ramsey the more by posting that video. It is a good reminder. Ramsey at his best will make you love him with his all round play, especially with his energy, timed runs into the box and his element of surprise, Apart from that, he sometimes balances the team with his directness from midfield, less skills and less romance on the ball. But sometimes he has this “I don’t care” kind of attitude”, especially when wenger plays him too much and he becomes too comfortable that he thinks he cannot be benched. The good thing is there is too much competition in midfield this season that he will have to fight for a place in the starting 11.
    Some players have a special combination of players which they work best with. Playing Coquelin, Ramsey and Ozil together is not a good combination for me, we might win some games with it, but its not the best combination considering what we have already. Firstly, Coq and Ramsey are not too good on the ball, so its very likely we will struggle for possession in such a game. But Xhaka, Ramsey and ozill is better, obviously xhaka is very good on the ball which brings the balance. But I believe xhaka, santi and ozil or Coq, santi and ozil are the best combinations depending on the teams and style wenger wants to play. Ramsey has styles and teams best suited for him to play against. We also have Elneny who is also a quality competitor and will mostly suit any combination depending on the team we are playing. Xhaka, coq and ozil is a good combination, but definitely not against small teams, maybe against teams like barca, but against barca we still have to find a way to fix santi into the starting 11. while also having xhaka, coq and ozil in the starting 11.
    The good thing is that there is quality competition in our midfield, which brings out the best in the players and the team as well.

  • Hi all.. Nice post Pony..
    So we are talking about Coq vs Xhaka or Ramsey.. hehehe..

    As I said before.. We have a very great Midfielders.. Just pick 3 from them, whoever.. will mean quality.. hehehe..
    Xhaka can partner Coq if deep defense is the option.. but if not, better choose one of them..

    Ramsey.. I never doubt him.. He can be our DM or AM, and also be our Winger, left or right if needed.. but Wenger don’t need to hurry with him.. Let his injury solve totally before starting him.
    Cazorla and Ozil surely need time to rest.. Ages just can’t lie.. hehehe.. And Ramsey can filled that hole when both of them are absence..

  • I must apologise to you PE in advance, as my next comment here is more on the previous post, but I think you analyse the two participants very well indeed.

    However, I tend to agree with Steve’s comment in regards to taking the wider view. When you concentrate on just a couple of players, or even one player, no matter how well written, sort of misses the poin, and therefore becomes just a bit more ‘naval gazing’ imo? And here’s why:

    The current good form of our team is down to a series of linked units, and each unit works well together, as well as linking the other units to make a whole. When it works well, it is greater than the sum of its parts. It is generally what we refer to as ‘balance”. So looking at a couple of options within a unit, and not take into account how any change to it might make that unit work differently with those units around it, is far too limited.. Which is why I disagree strongly with Henry. Just putting any 2 from 4 ‘quality’ players together, does not guarantee a quality outcome.

    As for your first conclusion, I agree, they are not mutually exclusive items. Indeed, I think the pairing with Coquelin with a flexible, defensive type has proven to be very useful. It could get better? I think Coquelin is very good at seeing the spaces to run into, in and around the box. Where it can improve, and remember his attacking skills of his younger days have largely been put to one side as he reinvented himself as very good DM, but with more opportunities to make the right pass at the right time, he could be something really special?
    At the same time, his partner in any double pivot does have to have the complimentary skills. Xhaka does, in so far as he is intelligent and can read the game well. He also has pace to cover the space behind them, when they high press. With Santi, and this is where the nuances come in on their different skills, he is a much more skillful player in attack, and if common sense prevails, he is the one that should be the advanced one of the pair? That in turn would leave Coquelin to his more defensive role. Not a problem in itself, but could be if the opposition choose to target Santi for a turnover if we are high pressing, knowing he will not get back and repossess because of his lack of pace?
    Fine margins, but they make a difference.

  • The previous post set a series of questions as a bit of trivia to fill the gap whilst the Interlull took place. I don’t do trivia very well 😀

    1. Arsenal have scored 16 goals in 7 PL games, an impressive average of 2.3 goals per game. Giroud has yet to start a game and Ozil has not produced a single assist yet: will we continue with this average, go lower or go higher between now and Boxing Day?
    2. Our current PL king of assists is Iwobi with three: who will be our king of assists at Boxing Day? Actually, who will be in our top three of PL assist producers?
    3. Arsenal conceded a painful four goals in the first PL game against Pool but since then we conceded only three in six games: How many goals will Arsenal have conceded between the start of the season and Boxing Day?
    4. What will be the top five in the PL at Boxing Day?
    5. Who will be in the bottom three of PL table at Boxing Day?
    6. Who will be our PL top three goal scorers at Boxing Day?
    7. King Koz has scored two PL goals already: will he score any more goals/ and how many?
    8. There are nine PL games between now and Boxing Day, and Arsenal have won 16 points from the first seven games: how many points will Arsenal have after the Boxing Day game?

    If we are projecting how Arsenal will do between now and Boxing Day – Why Boxing Day and not New Year’s eve fixture TA? Given the one after Crystal Palace is the first involvement in FA Cup?

    No matter, I think it needs serious analysis. So here are my conclusions now that the Internationals are all but done. Alexis will play at 1.0 am our time Thursday morning, fly back later that afternoon, and not get in until late, so if he only does light training on Friday …well, we play on the Saturday?
    Always assuming injury free, of course.
    On that front we have done quite well: Ozil only played 45 mins in the second game, and Mustafi only 21 mins; Walcott came off both England games around 70 mins. Ox and Gibbs were unused. Bellerin seemed to have recovered from his ankle knock and played the full 90 for Spain’s Under 21’s on Monday. Might still be a doubt though? The irrepressible Iwobi played one and a half games for Nigeria, and should be okay despite the long haul flight back. Giroud was not in the French squad, but Koscielny played both games to the finish? Xhaka captained the Swiss team for the first time, again should be okay.

    My conclusion to that is we will play Giroud, with Perez, against Sansea. Probably at the expense of Alexis and Iwobi. Giroud because he will be invaluable against Llorente in our box defending.
    We win 2-1
    Next is the Ludogoret’s CL game at home, and play with the Plan A team, fully rested.
    We win 3-0
    Only 3 days later we play Middlesborough, the banana skin! Much changed team, probably Gabriel for Kos, Ramsey for Xhaka, Iwobi for Ozil, Giroud with Alexis, and it backfires. ‘Boro are capable of scoring, and do so. Complacency set in, as the main cause.
    Lose 1-2
    EFL game next, v Reading. Similar line up to the last round.
    Win 2-0
    Sunderland away on the Sunday. Ludogorets, away on the Tuesday. Tricky? CL more important if we are to top the group. Sunderland important, but they don’t score very often. Change from the Boro game. Gritty stuff but hold on.
    Win 1-0
    Ludogorets away. Fittest members of the ‘A gamers’.
    Win 1-2
    Tottingham home. The usual stuff from a derby game. An injury or a red card?
    Draw 1-1
    A 13 day break for another Interlull I assume? Good chance of exaggerating injuries to fully rest up players?
    Man U away. The full A gamers. Must win. Do win!
    Win 2-4
    CL – PSG at home. A bit jaded from the weekend effort.
    Draw 1-1
    Bournemouth at home. Modified team, but successful
    Win 3.0
    EFL? First we have to beat Reading. Next, await on the draw. Third, scheduled only two days after the League game. How strong a team we can muster, and how strong the opposition are open questions. But both sides will know win this, and they are only two games away from a Wembley trophy?
    WHA away … but no travelling. Strong team needed, especially if they have got their act together?
    Tentative win 2-3
    CL away at Basel. We should be too strong, but not a given.
    Win 0-2
    Stoke at home. So many games are beginning to take their toll.
    Draw 1-1
    Everton away. Open game suits our play. A gamers come good, again
    Man City away. Could we? Bouyed by the previous win. Yes!
    WBA away. Turgid game, but yes, a scraped victory
    New Year’s eve. Home to Crystal Palace. So near a perfect December, but could only manage a draw.
    Draw 1-1
    Conclusion to the questions:
    1, 12 games, 25 goals scored. Ave 2.08.Slightly down. (New Year’s eve)
    2, Assists? Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis. The latter will score more.
    3, Goals conceded. 16 (New Year’s eve)
    4,Top 5 (New Year’s eve)? : Arsenal; Man City; Liverpool; Everton; Man U
    5, Bottom (New Year’s eve): Sunderland
    6, Top scorers: Alexis; Iwobi; Giroud
    7, Kos goals? 1 more
    8, Points by (New Year’s eve). I make that 12 games, btw? 25 points, plus our 16 = 41 points …
    Which is why we are TOP!

  • Hey fellas…Who’s missed me? LOL, I haven’t even missed myself… 😀

    In truth, I cannot wait for this Int’l break to end and I find it hard to fathom that people actually find anything other than misery in these long qualifying slogs. I guess they get interesting towards the end…Sometimes… And then there are those playoff games which can be entertaining.

    Of course nobody’s even mentioned the qualifiers except as potential for Arsenal injuries and regarding who’s gonna needs rest. We shall see with the line-up on Saturday…

    As for the topic at hand, Coq and Xhaka together? I dunno PE, I prefer a more brazen style so my preference would be Elneny and Santi with maybe Rambo (when fit) given a free role from one of the wing (starting) positions. (Ozil, of course, is our #10…) Call me crazy but I think that’s the ticket against teams who are coming to our stadium set out hoping for a nil-nil. You might be right that it would at least be (very) interesting to see them play together…

    As for the previous post…I’m sorry but I’m just not a prediction guy… You know, low (or better yet, no) expectations being the key to happiness, etc., etc… I think the saying is, “That why they play the games…” For those who go in the opposite direction (see Gerry above for the extreme version)… I have to ask… don’t you get tired of being wrong? 😀 I want Arsenal to win ’em all, so, if pressed that’s what I would predict. Goals (and assists) from everybody (esp. Koscielny…) all the time would be my druthers… Why not?…

    So, there you go. Now you can see why it’s best for me to keep my counsel. On the plus side, less than 70 hours until we play Swansea…

  • I expect that new Aston Villa manager, Steve Bruce, will soon be on the phone to his best mate Arsene Wenger and loaning a couple of our fringe/young players in January…

  • Before we get on to preview mode, here is an update on the Fantasy League.

    DOINK CITY…………………. – 316
    CLYDE’S 14+1……………… – 280
    UNDERRATED…………….. – 259
    AWAY GUNNER…………… – 237
    NITTANY GUNNER………. – 187

    I am still very Underrated so I used the ‘Wild Card’ which allows unlimited transfers this week.
    So I’ve had a revamp.

    I cannot complain at my Predictor score on the BBC site, as last time I scored a whopping 150 points. My best yet. I have only got over 100 points once before on the opening day of this season, so this was a timely boost.

    Talking of predictions. I do have one caveat to my prediction that Arsenal will top the League going into the New Year, and that is:

    If the changed side I am expecting for this Swansea game (Apologies for the missing ‘w’, the left side of my keyboard is suffering from dust inhalation and they don’t always register. Having made two edits on other mistakes, a couple seemed to have got through … ‘should have gone to Specsavers I guess? :D) …err, where was I?

    Ah yes. The Swansea game …. Should it go tits up, the pressure to keep playing the same 11 will be enormous, except for the EFL Cup game. That in turn will take its toll in December when we have a run of 6 league games, four of which are Away. Thus I expect us to drop at least 10 points from my conclusion, and we will be lucky to be in the top 4!

    So there is an awful lot riding on this coming game. Not just the result, but how well we play.

    Fingers crossed, touch wood, down on one knee …. and trust it to go well.
    AW, make it so!


  • It seems like it is Plan C for me, as Giroud is also ruled out … ‘for several weeks’ ?

    Mind, my reason for thinking he should play is also in doubt, according to the Fantasy site, as they had Llorente doubtful too.

    I have to say, the talks about Ramsey and Giroud does sound to me like AW is intent on keeping that set of players going for a little longer? So it will not surprise me to see Alexis start. And if by ‘pre-season’ for Ramsey, I am guessing that will mean an outing for him in the EFL game against Reading, if not a 45 minute spell in the Under 23’s?

    Surely Perez will have to be an option on Saturday. But we will see, as he may have to wait for the Reading game too?

    Until I see the line up, and/or the tinkering, I stick with us winning.


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