You’ve heard the phrase: ‘If you want to know the time, as a policeman?’ Well, let’s hope Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere are not listening as Francis Coquelin, dubbed ‘the policeman’ by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, seems to be saying: ‘It’s time to go’, by joining Valencia for around £11m.
There was ridiculous talk that the fee was going to be double that, which resulted in some websites heralding Ivan Gazidis as some sort of negotiating genius. Of course, £22m would be a lot of money to recoup for someone of Coq-au-vin’s ability. However, the 26-year-old Frenchman did offer the team something, so he will be missed. It could be argued that he was the best defensive midfielder in the team, inasmuch as he had natural defensive instincts.
I don’t buy (like Arsenal during transfer windows) Wenger’s argument that Ainsley Maitland-Niles can do Coquelin’s job. The England U-21 international has a huge amount of ability, but I don’t have him pegged as a defensive player. The recent League Cup semi-final first-leg against Chelsea showed that the 20-year-old is ill-equipped to deal with the likes of Victor Moses, who has been kept quiet previously when a different Arsenal line-up played the Blues. Going forward, of course, Maitland-Niles offers a lot more than Coquelin, but defensively I think the 20-year-old is comparatively easy to shrug off, whereas ‘the policeman’ stuck to opponents like glue.
Perhaps Wenger thinks he can do to Maitland-Niles what he did to Kolo Toure: make him more defensive-minded. I’m not so sure, he’ll be successful. Toure was always a team-player, whereas Maitland-Niles seems more about individual brilliance. With the skill Maitland-Niles has, he has to be pushed further up the park. He cannot be expected to be a round peg trying to fill a square hole.
However, Wenger seems to expect exact that. If the same logic applies, then Alex Iwobi is Mesut Ozil’s ready-made replacement and the new Alexis Sanchez is…erm…(drum roll)…Santi Cazorla (if Arsenal can get him match-fit again).
Actually, it made for depressing reading looking through the Arsenal squad for in-house replacements for outgoing players. No matter what Wenger says, the proven quality is not there. There is plenty of potential, but that’s about it.
Despite making so much money from a 60,000-capacity stadium, Arsenal are still notoriously negligent in the transfer market. You sense that Wenger will try to offload all the dead and not-so-dead wood before he starts signing players. Don’t be surprised if the club are busy, even on transfer deadline day, selling and loaning out players. My guess is the squad will look even thinner than it does now on Wednesday 31st January 2018 at 11pm.