A Coq-up for Arsenal’s title chances?

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The news that Francis Coquelin’s knee injury sustained in Saturday’s 1-2 defeat at West Brom should strike a familiar sinking feeling in the hearts of Arsenal supporters.

Since the victory at Manchester City last season where he was the shining light along with the newly disciplined Santi Cazorla, Coquelin has been revelling in the plaudits as Arsenal finally located that elusive defensive minded midfielder missing since the steadier days of Gilberto Silva. Rightly so, the past year has been an emergence of Arsenal as a balanced force at last. This is surely down to the tactical awareness that Coquelin possesses as well as the slow dawning realisation of Wenger that pretty football doesn’t simply equal wins in the Premier League.

Two months is a long time in football. When those two months include the dreaded Christmas period it is basically an eternity. An eternity with the puppy-dog enthusiasm of Mathieu Flamini, or the trudging nonchalance of Mikel Arteta. We did not have to wait long for an insight into the consequences of this enforced change, a West Brom team, well organised but generally uninspired, coming back to do a job on the previously comfortable Gunners. It’s usually a mistake to say “what if?” when it comes to football matters, but time will tell if the forlorn figure of an own-goal-scoring Arteta will become a recurring theme over the coming months.

The fixture list until the 23rd of January contains only Manchester City and Liverpool from the big boys in the Premier League but the two crucial Champions League fixtures loom large. Still the others are very winnable; playing against Sunderland and Aston Villa at the moment barely requires a defence let alone a defensive midfielder. However, without Coquelin we may see a reversion to the old Arsenal. Pretty yet superficial.

One caveat to this tale of woe may be the old nemesis of Monsieur Wenger, that dark period known as the January transfer window. We know he will be reluctant to dip his toe in the murky water of overpriced deals and last minute scrambling but with the bizarre start to the season and the general positivity surrounding Arsenal’s chances of a first title in eleven years maybe he can finally be swayed by common sense. Indeed, in Monday’s press conference he said, “I will do what is needed in January, knowing as well it is not an ideal transfer market.” Whether what is needed will be the proper protection of his defence remains to be seen. Suddenly, the decision to not sign Morgan Schneiderlin last summer is shown to be folly.

Of course, there is a silver lining in this whole occurrence. The season isn’t just the darkening days of the New Year and the Arsenal team is certainly not just Francis Coquelin. They play Chelsea on the 24th of January and by then they could well still be near the summit of the league, ready for a title charge that has been coming for the last couple of years. Attack wise, they are still very well equipped, especially with Ozil playing like the enigmatic number ten he was at Real Madrid.

Typically, the seasons ups and downs come down to injuries with Arsenal. However, this time the length of the injury list seems irrelevant when taken in context. Usually, the Arsenal fans can bemoan poor luck (or the medical team) as players fall by the wayside, but they usually cope due to the adherence to the famous Arsenal philosophy. This time, the real concern comes from the absence of the cornerstone of their team that they simply cannot replace from within.

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