"...It's not even the continued presence of Francis Coquelin, who by rights should have swarms of killer bees set on him the second he approaches a football pitch."
It's happened at last; the Premier League is finally rid of its most inexplicable entity. Francis Coquelin has moved to Valencia, Arsenal somehow managed to avoid having to literally pay another club to take him off their hands, and blood pressure around north London has dropped by a collective 15 points. Do they do blood pressure in points? Maybe.
Known (mildly problematically) as 'Mad Franky' to his fans and 'ARGHSGOUSERG BLOODY HELL HIM AGAIN?' to the rest of the world, Coquelin has started at least half of Arsenal's Premier League games in each of the last three seasons. That includes 2014/15, the season that he was on loan at Charlton until literally the middle of December.
I'd probably put Coquelin alongside Robles on the list of 'players who I absolutely do not understand anyone defending at all ever'— Chris Deeley (@ThatChris1209) April 17, 2017
That first half-season, from December through until May, saw Santi Cazorla - at that point actually still alive and human - hold his hand and make him look like a genuinely acceptable Premier League midfielder. The effort broke Cazorla, who has featured in just 23 of Arsenal's 98 league games since the end of that season.
A slight aside here, but those games in the second half of the 2014/15 season have to go down as Cazorla's greatest ever - better than his season as Spanish Player of the Year at Recreativo, better than the following season, which saw him guide Villarreal to second place in La Liga and led to him publicly rejecting interest from Real Madrid. The year he spent dragging Malaga kicking and screaming into the Champions League for the first time in their history? Absolutely nothing compared to six months of making Francis Coquelin look like not just a competent footballer, but someone who might actually be good. Properly good.
It's impossible to overstate Coquelin's potential for a boneheaded, game-changing mistake. A moth flying to a flame looks absolutely glacial compared to the World Most Frustrating Player© charging headlong out of position to a ball that he's never going to make. When he has no players covering, he speeds up.
The highlight reel Bad Franky moment will probably always be Eden Hazard's goal against Arsenal last February, which saw him flung aside like a good idea in a Conservative Party manifesto brainstorm. And that's a shame, because he was so much worse than that.
The real Francis Coquelin wasn't the one who was caught off balance by a rampaging run from one of the best forwards in the country. The real Coquelin was the man who so often failed to pick out a player ten yards to his right at a crucial moment. The man who drifted out of position in the blink of an eye, but couldn't move back in line any faster than coastal erosion. The man who could scarcely tackle without conceding a free kick, and yet somehow only got sent off once in 105 league appearances for Arsenal.
What did he he do to earn that time on the pitch, those 6,107 Premier League minutes in Arsenal colours? Well, he ran around some; although rarely to (or indeed from) the right places. He passed the ball a lot; mostly accurately if only about 10 yards and almost always sideways. Mostly though, he just bloody loved Arsenal and happened to be there at a time when their deep-lying midfield options were Aaron Ramsey (an attacking playmaker), Granit Xhaka (a deep playmaker who can't tackle), Jack Wilshere (broken, and basically an attacking playmaker), Mohamed Elneny (despised by Arsene Wenger for no conceivable reason despite being basically alright) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (lol).
Coquelin was never the worst player at Arsenal - that dubious honour will go to David Ospina forever and ever until Arsene Wenger finally runs out of patience with his Quaver-wrists, shot-stopping ability of a drunk five-year-old and general aura of ineptitude and failure and finally smashes his brains out with the 'World's Best Manager' mug Wojciech Szczesny left him before heading off to Juventus for next to nothing.
No, Coquelin was never the worst. That was always arguably the most frustrating thing about him - the way he skated by just fractionally ahead of the criticism. How he was always the man, despite proving himself singularly unable to do so, backed to 'do a job'.
And there, in a nutshell, is the thing about Francis Coquelin. It's not that he's a bad player - they're everywhere. Actually, they're mostly concentrated around the Midlands area this season, but that's probably just some kind of statistical anomaly, it's not like the Midlands draws in mediocrity and blandness like some kind of hypothetical Beige Hole. [editor's note: it does]
160 - Francis Coquelin has played more games under Arsene Wenger than any other outfield player who hasn't scored. Adieu.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 10, 2018
The thing about most bad players is that they get found out. They'll fail their way downwards, dropping through the leagues and making a living, but never playing - say - five seasons of Champions League football. Then there's the other type of bad player; the one that has something. The player who'll do nothing for six games out of seven, but will score two thunderbastards on that seventh and turn the game upside down. The kind of player who stays at a high level just in case. Just in case they ever figure it out. Just in case they can ever be consistent, one day. Just look at Moussa 'Championship Level All But Three Games of the Season' Sissoko, making a killing at Spurs.
That's why Coquelin stands out. Over an extended period of time at one of the country's top clubs, he played badly over and over again, never had the game-changing ability and yet played more and more minutes, year on year. Yeah, even last season. Even after The Hazard Incident. He's failed upwards, and...and...oh. Oh, that's the thing isn't it? This isn't disdain for a bad footballer. This is jealousy. I'm jealous of Francis Coquelin's career trajectory.
Oh, sod this.