On 3rd November 2014, Arsenal loaned Francis Coquelin, who was playing week-in and week-out for the Arsenal reserves at the time, to fellow London club Charlton Athletic for a month.
Although this loan was extended until the end of December, Arsenal nevertheless took the option to recall the Frenchman from his loan on 12th December 2014 after an injury to Aaron Ramsey left manager Arsene Wenger light in midfield. This decision would prove to be the best Wenger would make all season, a stroke of blind genius. He didn’t know it at this point, but he had finally unearthed a player who could possibly fill the big shoes left by Brazilian defensive midfielder Gilberto Silva.
Throughout December, Coquelin was utilised as a substitute in the Premier League, making cameo appearances against Newcastle United, Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers. Then, at the end of the month, the 24-year-old was handed a starting place against West Ham United away at Upton Park. And for a player who hadn’t started a Premier League match in 23 months, Coquelin was magnificent. His central task? To stop West Ham, who were in and around the Champions Leagues places at this point in the season, from playing the flowing, purposeful attacking football they were used to. This was a task Coquelin certainly fulfilled. He was great in the air (he won 100% of aerial duels), despite his 5 foot 10 inch frame, and outclassed former Gunner Alex Song throughout the game, much to the joy of the travelling Arsenal fans.
After his performance against West Ham, Coquelin consistently performed for the club, to the point where he was almost the first name on the team sheet every week. Overall, his performance against last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City in January was perhaps his best one. City could simply not get past him. His presence as a proper defensive midfielder, as opposed to a converted one like Mikel Arteta, was a refreshing one for the side. Ultimately, his presence allowed attacking players like Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla to play with more freedom, less restricted by defensive responsibilities. In the 22 appearances he made for the Gunners in the Premier League, he made 59 key tackles, 79 interceptions and 68 clearances.
On 30th May 2015, Coquelin was part of the Arsenal team which beat Aston Villa 4-0 to retain the FA Cup trophy. This game also demonstrated how far Coquelin had come too – in September 2014 he played against Aston Villa reserves for Arsenal reserves. And here he was in the FA Cup final eight months later. Football really is remarkable.
Moment of the Season: His performance against Manchester City in January 2015