Francis Coquelin continued to impress in midfield as Arsenal put two unanswered goals past Queens Park Rangers Wednesday. It’s easy to forget the French midfielder was on the verge of being released at the end of the season just a couple of months ago. But after another commanding performance against Everton on the weekend, during which he had his nose broken by teammate Olivier Giroud but remained on the pitch until the 89th minute, Arsene Wenger wasn’t about to drop him for the midweek trip to Loftus Road.
Wearing a protective facemask, Coquelin was at the heart of everything that worked in the center of the park for the Gunners. The 23-year-old had a perfect tackle rate of six out of six against QPR. He also made some impressive contributions going forward.
Since being recalled to the squad from Charlton Athletic, Coquelin’s looked a far-cry from the player who was blown off the park at Old Trafford during Manchester United’s demoralizing 8-2 thumping of Arsenal back in 2011.
Having seemingly seen to the need for a new central defender by signing Gabriel Paulista, it’s possible Wenger may have solved his problem in defensive midfield by recalling Coquelin. Although the Gunners are still being linked to the likes of Lars Bender, Morgan Schneiderlin and Christoph Kramer, Coquelin has lent an authority to the position that’s arguably not been seen since the days of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva.
Gabriel, on the other hand, was not quite up to the standard he’d shown against Everton. After being pushed around by Bobby Zamora, the Brazilian was forced off by a hamstring injury late in the first half. But his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, who’d been benched at Everton following his personal debacle against Monaco, was commanding for the Gunners in central defense. Hector Bellerin too excelled, looking solid in defense and using his pace to get forward and cause trouble for QPR’s defense.
Headlines will obviously praise Olivier Giroud for opening the scoring with another classic poacher’s goal, and Alexis Sanchez for doubling Arsenal’s lead five minutes later by duping keeper Robert Green at the near post. But Arsenal’s defense has come into its own since the turn of the year. The North London Derby loss to Tottenham and the Champions League collapse against Monaco aside, Arsenal have won nine out of 11 in 2015. The team is not perfect by any stretch but it’s improved dramatically from the shambolic outfit that often had to be carried by Alexis earlier in the season. Even Mesut Ozil was back to his understated, yet influential self against QPR, helping set up Giroud’s opener and nearly getting on the scoresheet himself.
Many of Arsenal’s problems earlier in the season were at least in part due to rampant injuries. Thankfully the worst of the crisis seems behind them for the time being. Apart from Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshire, Wenger can call upon most of his first team at the moment. That will come in handy as the Gunners face a tough run of games this month that kicks off with an FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United on Monday.