Francis Coquelin has had one of the most exceptional seasons of any player this year. Being dragged back from bottom half of the table Charlton, to fill in a midfield void left by yet another injury crisis, undoubtedly left many with raised eyebrows.
The Frenchman has been at Arsenal since he was at 17, and 7 years down the line at the prime age of 24, you would be forgiven for thinking he was never going to make it at a top club. The majority of youth products who are successful at the higher end of the football hierachy are breaking into the first team around 20, at the latest.
We just have to look at Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, and the surging 19 year old, Hector Bellerin this season.
But Francis wasn’t happy about his recall to a side he thought he’d never play for again. Understandably, having never been an Arsenal regular, he was frustrated to have to leave regular first-team action at Charlton to return to the bench.
In an interview with The Telegraph he said:
“The boss came to me and said, ‘you don’t look happy’. I said, ‘yeah, it’s true’. I wasn’t happy when I came back. I was playing regularly even if it was in the Championship and obviously to be back on the bench was frustrating. Then, out of the blue, against West Ham, the game that I didn’t expect to start, I started.
“We were sixth at the time. West Ham were fifth. Massive game. It shows in football you really need to be ready at any time.”
“I wasn’t an Arsenal player in my eyes,” he says. “I followed it. To come back from 2-0 down was quite unbelievable. I was looking but I wasn’t part of it.”
“It was always going to be a bit of luck,” he says. “If I play against West Ham and we lose 6-0, I don’t think I will play again. I always had hunger. I knew if I got the chance I was ready for it. I just needed the chance. I was full of confidence and ready for a fight.”
It wasn’t his first appearance in the Premier League though. An infamous 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford lurks in the memory. After that game, Sir Alex Ferguson criticised the Arsenal side, and Coquelin, as being ‘completely out of his depth’. Yet the context of his return to the fold just 3-days after the Under-20 World Cup is often neglected.
“If I am coming back from a month and a half competition, and I get three days’ holiday, it means Arsenal have no players,” says Coquelin. “I knew it was going to be tough because no one was there. I think Armand Traoré was going the next day to QPR, Carl Jenkinson was making his debut, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was making his debut and Alex Song was suspended. They had a full squad and we had reserves; people who were just starting in the Premier League.”
The 24-year old thinks the hardest thing however, would have been having to leave without getting a real chance to prove his worth.
“It would have been hard because I would have got a feeling I didn’t get the chance,” he says. “I would always have been thinking, ‘I could have’. I would have been really disappointed. If someone said tomorrow, you have to leave now, I would be ‘OK, at least I got the chance to show what I could’.”
But this is just the beginning for the young Frenchman. He is just really starting out in what has the potential to be a phenomenal, and truly inspiring career.
“I want to win trophies with this club. We have got a good chance next week to get a trophy – a first trophy for me. I have been here since I was 17. If I could stay here all my career I would love it, too. This is the dream.”