Arsenal would be a disaster without Alexis Sanchez. He runs and runs and runs, as if he has something to prove. If all the Arsenal players had the heart and work rate of Alexis, the team would be invincible. Özil, after a second major injury in as many years, decided that he had to grow up a bit and came back a completely different player. He’s put on heft, and sometimes you have to look closely to confirm that it’s him you see chasing down the ball. Özil realized that he had to play the game in a different, more committed way if he was going to be successful. No room for prima donnas in the EPL. And this has made all the world of difference.
But none of this would have changed anything for Arsenal’s dismal fortunes but for Francis Coquelin. He has stopped the goals, virtually single-handily. Springing up everywhere, and anywhere, he intervenes in the other teams’ inchoate attempts to build, intercepting passes, tackling holding and attacking midfielders alike, all the while stunting threats before they materialize, and he has all by himself kept the Arsenal in games and propelled them to the front of the league. Without his intervention, without his omnipresent interference, countless, seemingly innocuous movements forward would have evolved into goals. He, like Alexis, has heart, and is fearless, but he cannot, alone, perform the vital organ transplant that Arsenal is is need of. Still too young, too technically underdeveloped, he cannot take over a game to provide the leadership and confidence that the Arsenal so plainly, desperately lack during crunch time. But this would make him Pirlo class, one in a million, which he may still become. But for now, for this season, Coquelin has been good enough to have saved the Arsenal’s season. He won’t get the credit he deserves, but this does not mean that he shouldn’t. Bravo, Mr. Coquelin, bravo.