Eight wins in a row in the league. Not bad for a team who was coming seventh in November and were completely written off. As discussed in recent weeks this is no coincidence. Tactically, with the ebb and flow of the way Wenger plays there have always been vulnerabilities. We used to get caught on the counter a lot, and tight defences frustrated us and stopped us scoring. A solid man in front of defence is what we have craved for years, someone who could not only ensure that the back four was protected, but to also intercept the ball when we were behind the eight ball. These interceptions work two fold. They stop the opposition (therefore defending our goal) and once we take possession unexpectedly, the interception allows us to attack more freely with more open spaces available. Without this, we get caught in the vicious cycle. Teams sit back, extremely organised and compact, we get frustrated, we press up higher, and eventually we get caught in the counter. The cycle continues as we look to equalise. We have not seen this at all in the past few months and there is one man to thank, and that’s Francis Coquelin.
He has already been immense for us in big games like Manchester City and Liverpool, matches which we struggled with in recent seasons. The numbers speak for themselves in terms of results but also on a personal level we saw what he has been doing for us. He is second in the league when it comes to aerial duels won with 2.7 per game. It is the interceptions though, where he comes into his own. I spoke earlier of how crucial just one interception can be to Arsenal tactically, and Coquelin tops the charts in the league with 3.8 per game (equal with Jedinak). In the Burnley match however he made a staggering 11 interceptions alone. When you consider Chelsea’s Matic has made 9 in his last 7 matches you begin to get an idea of how much the little Frenchman has contributed to the ebb and flow of our game. Let’s have a look at each interception and how it influenced the match:
4′ – Burnley were looking dangerous with pace down their left flank. Had a second attempt at a low cross snuffed out, Coquelin read the play very well.
10′ – Anticipated a poor clearance from the keeper and took the ball from half way. This eventually led to the goal.
16′ – Free kick not dealt with by Ospina, only could punch after the deflection off the wall. As soon as Burnley went to set up the second attempt Coquelin intercepted and triggered a counter attack which nearly led to a goal.
36′ – won a header on the half way line to win back possession
41′ – anticipated and stuck a foot out as Burnley tried to head it forward to the striker
48′ – won another header in midfield
57′ – deflected a ball down the line to force a throw
61′ – read the ball down the line like a book and cleared in behind Bellerin. Without this Burnley would be in behind our defence.
62′ – the ball was played forward after we cleared our lines, the ball came in again to the striker and Coquelin got in front of his man. His commitment continued as he tackled immediately after to retrieve the loose ball.
71′ – lost the ball but won it back almost immediately after
77′ – snuffed out Burnley as they were building up the play in the box
If Coquelin continues to have this “Vieira effect” we are likely to keep winning and finish the season strongly. We will be gunning for the title should Chelsea have an unlikely end of season collapse.