XHAKA VERSUS COQUELIN
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