THE BLOG

Why Francis Coquelin (Not Harry Kane) Is the Premier League's Find of the Season

16/04/2015 18:03 BST | Updated 16/06/2015 10:59 BST

It's 26 December, 2014 and a Tottenham academy graduate has scored his 10th goal of a breakthrough campaign. Just up the road, another youngster, this one belonging to Arsenal, is two days away from his first start of the Premier League season.

Level on points after 18 matches apiece, Arsenal were above their rivals on goal difference only. The pair were sixth and seventh respectively, with Southampton and West Ham both better positioned.

Almost four months on from that day, the Tottenham player has found the net on a further 19 occasions in all competitions and was on the scoresheet within 80 seconds of a dream England debut. His club remain seventh in the table.

The Arsenal player has not scored a single goal since then, nor has he provided an assist (his Spurs counterpart has three), but his team are now 12 points clear of their neighbours - and 27 goals better off.

Harry Kane is a deserving recipient of his plaudits, but it's Francis Coquelin who has made the bigger impact.

A year ago, both players faced uncertain futures at their respective clubs. Tottenham were laying the foundations for a managerial switchover, which would see them dispense of former Under-21 team boss and Kane aide, Tim Sherwood, in favour of then Southampton head coach Mauricio Pochettino, who despite an admirable track-record of working with young players, wasn't guaranteed to take to a striker who'd scored just three Premier League goals in his entire career.

But Coquelin's fate appeared yet more bleak. About to turn 23, he was coming to the end of an unremarkable campaign on loan at Bundesliga strugglers SC Freiburg and had a year remaining on his Emirates Stadium contract. It had been 18 months since the imposing midfielder last started a Premier League game for Arsene Wenger's side.

Just a day after Kane's top-flight career took off with a last-minute winner at Villa Park, Coquelin was banished to Championship side Charlton Athletic on loan, having played once for Arsenal all season - as an emergency left-back in a 2-1 League Cup defeat to Southampton.

In switching to the Valley, Coquelin was following a path previously trodden by former team-mate Emmanuel Frimpong - who earned his first call up to Arsenal's senior squad on the day Coquelin made his professional bow, but now plays for Russian side FC Ufa following an unsuccessful spell at Barnsley. In the eyes of many, the Frenchman would suffer a similar fate.

Even when Coquelin was recalled by the Gunners, he was viewed as a short-term solution; cover for injured trio Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. After three substitute appearances, against Newcastle, Liverpool and QPR, Coquelin was handed his first start in 25 months for the trip to West Ham.

At this stage, Kane had bulldozed his way into Spurs' starting line-up on merit; Coquelin had stumbled into Arsenal's by accident.

Two wins and a defeat from his first three starts couldn't cork Arsenal fans' desires of signing a new defensive midfield player, but Coquelin would go a long way to changing that in his next outing against Manchester City. It was as authoritative a display as Arsenal have had against top-four opposition in years and Coquelin was at the heart of it; winning 100 percent of his tackles, 88 percent of his aerial duels and making six interceptions as the Gunners brushed the champions aside by two goals to nil on their own turf.

Two weeks later, Coquelin was agreeing a long-term extension to his Emirates deal - keeping him in north London until 2019. At this point, he was arguably the first name on Wenger's team sheet. Coquelin has started every game since then and has failed to win on only one occasion - a 2-1 derby defeat to Tottenham in which Kane scored twice.

The eight-game winning streak that followed has catapulted Arsenal into surprise title contention, and though they are seven points behind leaders Chelsea having played a game more, it's a world away from their usual end-of-season slog for fourth place and where they were at the back end of 2014.

Coquelin arguably saved his best display until last, making a league-high 11 interceptions (including two clearances), two blocks and completing 100 percent of his tackles once more, as Arsenal overcame the toughest challenge of their recent run with a 1-0 win at Burnley on Saturday.

Coquelin epitomises this 'new Arsenal' team; one that is no longer afraid to win 'ugly' when it needs to. Who knows how much closer they may have been to the title had Coquelin been involved at the Liberty Stadium in November, when they limped to a 2-1 defeat against Swansea, or against Manchester United later that month when they lost by the same scoreline.

Even without Kane's goals, Tottenham, seven points clear of eighth place, would have found a way of finishing seventh.

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