The French defensive midfielder, Coquelin, will be sidelined for the next 2 weeks due to a knee injury he sustained against Chelsea a fortnight ago. And while recent scan results have been positive, Wenger would be keen not to rush the tough-tackling midfielder back into action.
Last season, he aggravated an earlier injury he suffered while playing against West Brom, and that subsequently ruled him out for more than 2 months. However, all is fine as he looks to make a return to training soon. But just to be cautious, he might sit out of games against Swansea, Ludogorets and Middlesbrough.
Wenger’s initial worries should be allayed with the depth in quality now available in his squad, and here is how the team could line up without the Frenchman.
Play Xhaka alongside Cazorla
Coquelin definitely brings power and aggressive play to the table, and those have helped provide some sort of stability in the midfield anytime he is in his right frame. But those qualities won’t be lacking in his absence, as summer signing and Switzerland international Granit Xhaka equally possesses them.
And additionally, Xhaka’s ability to carve out chances from the deep is something the French player is yet to master. Thus far, his average pass length is 18 meters, compared to Coquelin’s 14 meters. Xhaka has also created one more chance than Francis this season.
Last season while with Monchengladbach, the Swiss created 22 chances in 28 games, way ahead of Coquelin’s 6 chances in 26 league matches. In 74 league games in 5 seasons, Francis Coquelin is yet to register his name on the score sheet.
Meanwhile, Xhaka’s box-to-box midfield qualities make him a once-in-a-while threat in front of goal from a distance, and he already has a goal in 4 league games this season.
Lining him up alongside Cazorla almost looks more perfect than the Coquelin-Cazorla partnership just because of the added advantages highlighted above.
Play Elneny alongside Cazorla
The former Basel player is also one with his own special attributes. As evident against Burnley, his introduction gave the team an extra leg in the final third.
Elneny’s willingness to always drive forward and contribute to the attack makes him another great choice in Coquelin’s absence. His frequent launch into the attacking forays doesn’t mean he is often caught out of position or leaving Cazorla with much more work to do.
The Egyptian combines his defensive and attacking roles well, and what he lacks in sheer combative strength, he makes up for in wits and creativity. That’s why despite being shorter, he has won an average of 73% duels, compared to Granit’s 40% and Coquelin’s 41%.
Play a 4-1-4-1 formation with Xhaka in front of the defence
With Xhaka more often likely to sit back in most situations, he could be deployed as a lone number 4 in front of the regular back 4.
In this position, his defensive strengths are solely highlighted, and that could come handy against teams with more attacking vigour (Liverpool for instance).
In such situations, Xhaka is best suited to provide adequate cover for the back 4, while Cazorla and Ozil occupy the midfield positions further up the pitch, making creating more goalscoring chances possible.
Not having Coquelin around definitely won’t hurt Arsenal’s campaign as it did last season. Wise business in the summer transfer market meant his absence would be well prepared, and that is what is exactly happening.