Today’s article comes from the blog’s co-owner, @SidelineArsenal. Please read, share and enjoy.
Arsenal have always had great talent at the club. The sort of players fans watch and fill with excitement, knowing that we could well be watching them storm the Premier League in years to come.
Although, not many make the switch from reserve team prospect to first-team superstar. It can go either way – the way of Arturo Lupoli: fantastic in the reserves, but never to make a mark on first team football. Or, the way of Jack Wilshere: fantastic in the reserves, and fantastic in the first-team.
Since the departure of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta has made the transition from a central midfield figure to the demanding deep-lying position. But what happens when he retires – or leaves? Who will take over? There are, naturally, 2 options: Francis Coquelin and Nico Yennaris – 2 footballers who I believe could go the Jack Wilshere way. Emmanuel Frimpong may be in contention, but to be honest, he isn’t as technically gifted as the 2 I’m about to compare, so therefore won’t be included as he isn’t all that similar to Arteta.
I’ll do my best to compare them, including my thoughts on them, their best attributes and a little bit on their respective stories for good measure.
So first up, is Nico.
Nico Yennaris – the England-born midfielder with a Greek Cypriot father and a Chinese mother. The versatile, tenacious battler with talent the size of Gervinho’s forehead. The promising starlet that we can take inspiration from. Why? Because like Carl Jenkinson, he is living his dream.
Nico is a former Junior Gunner. And as a Junior Gunner he was given the opportunity to lead the team out. In 2000, he did just that. In a game at Highbury against Coventry City, he led out a team full of superstars – captained by Tony Adams. Funnily enough, that was the last time we played Coventry before the recent Capital One Cup game, in which Nico featured (and played well in). From mascot to player. It’s truly incredible and inspiring.
He’s grown up attached to the club and from 7-years old, he’s been associated with it. He joined the academy aged 7 and made his way up the ladder. In 2010 he made his reserve debut against Stoke and since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Dreams do come true sometimes when you really want it and have been lucky as well. First of all you must really want it and Nico is one of these guys who has that. He is ready to give himself a chance with full commitment. Nico is a fantastic player, but also has an excellent attitude – Arsène Wenger
It’s that commitment Wenger so highly speaks of that has created this opportunity for young Nico.
Yennaris has always had the talent, but hopes were not high as he battled with injuries while making his way through the ranks. His determination and drive; a desire to succeed and play for Arsenal kept him in the good books. That was what would give him his big break. He clearly displayed a talent in between his absences because in July of the same year, he signed professional terms with the club.
He’s a tactically adept footballer with a positive attitude – something that we could really do with in our midfield. His style and ability is one of an authoritative deep midfielder; A rugged player with firm, precision tackling. He’s not got the physique of a prototypical DM (i.e. he’s not 6ft5 with balloons for biceps) but his small stature makes his ability even more impressive. Nico has many admirers at Arsenal, and the consensus is he’s a very hard-working, likeable lad with huge potential. Will he fulfil that irrefutable talent? Well, why not.
There is no doubt he is talented and that’s been proven in a few Carling Cup (now Capital One Cup) games, and even more impressively, in his Premier League debut. Arsenal were facing United at home, 1-0 down and with both Sagna and Carl Jenkinson out injured, the hapless Johan Djourou filled the spot. But after an abysmal performance from Johan in the first 45, Nico was introduced at half-time and managed to contain Nani, while getting forward well in the process.
Best position – He’s been used as a right-back for Arsenal, and many have said that that is possibly where he’s better off, but I personally think the central-midfield positions is his calling. He may very well become a right-back for us, and he would do that as he wants to play anywhere, but as a DM his tenacity is very useful and he can pass the ball.
Best attributes – Intelligence on the pitch is key and he possesses a working football brain, thankfully. He’s a tough-tackler. Tenacious, strong, aggressive and he does have an accomplished passing range to match. He is much like Francis Coquelin in that respect – it will certainly be an interesting battle for the defensive-midfield berth.
Francis Coquelin – the DM-slash-RB with a bit of flair. The small, aggressive player with tonnes of ability. The man who has provided the platform for many COQ jokes. Francis Coquelin grew up in Laval, France, and began playing for AS Laval Bourny, And in 2005 he left there for Stade Lavallois. He remained there for another 3 years and then in 2008, good ole Gilles Grimandi scouted him – Grimandi wanted Coq in The Arse.
We signed him and since then the hopes for ‘Le Coq’ have risen. In the ’09 season he was a regular in the reserves and after a poor FA Cup debut away at Stoke (boo!), he was loaned to Lorient.
It was that loan spell that affirmed his talent. He showed what he was capable of, playing in his natural DM position, he made 25 appearances for the French side – although, he did play on the right-side quite often as well. He scored his first professional goal in a 2-1 win vs Stade Rennais. Francis scored the winner. It was reported that Lorient wanted to extend the loan for another season, but nothing happened, and he returned to Arsenal with a determination to succeed.
He made his debut in *that* game at Old Trafford and was voted Man of the Match on Arsenal.com in the 2-1 loss at Tottenham. After playing in a few more games filling in at right-back, he signed a new long-term contract with the club. And this season he’s looking to become a regular, or at least to play more.
Francis is one of my favourite players at the club. He is very similar to Nico Yennaris, except he’s more advanced. As he’s older he’s had more time to progress, but regardless of age I genuinely think he can become a world-class, commanding central-midfielder. His attitude and intelligence in the tackle mixed with his pace and passing make him suitable in that role. And with him wanting more chances, when they do arrive, he should logically give 100%.
He’s shown on a few occasions what he can do but he has been a bit sloppy as well. Irrespective of occasional sloppiness, the young Frenchman does have talent in abundance, in which ever position he’s played in. He’s a great prospect.
Best Position – He’s not adverse to playing full-back and has done well when he’s played there. But again, I believe his best position is in the middle. All of his best attributes make him the perfect defensive midfield. He’s a tough-tackling version of Mikel Arteta and learning from Mikel will only help him improve.
Best Attributes – Like Nico Yennaris, he’s not the tallest or biggest DM, but he’s tenacious, gritty and capable of marking his opponent into obscurity. He gets forward well, providing great support for the attackers when the opportunity allows. He has a fantastic attitude and perhaps his best attribute, is versatility. He’s played DM, RB and LB for Arsenal – all convincingly – and his battling spirit means he’ll suit either of those roles.
It will be an interesting battle, and a battle that may see one either leave, or switch positions. Maybe they’ll both play together and another midfielder will miss out? They played alongside each other versus Coventry and done well. Both can play right-back so may have to challenge not each other, but Carl Jenkinson also as they both search for first-team football. The great thing is, neither have complained and both have said they’re willing to play anywhere for Arsenal. That’s the attitude we all love as fans.
We do have many midfield talents and some will have to leave to pave the way for the more stand-out talents. That of course means not everyone will make it, but I hope they both do.
I personally rate Coquelin higher but Yennaris isn’t far off in my estimation. They are similar players so maybe it’ll be one or the other? I guess we’ll have to wait and see – but who would you pick if it was up to you?