Arsene Wenger says his decision to switch formation has seen Francis Coquelin pay a heavy price.
With his side stuttering in the league and low in confidence, the boss begrudgingly introduced a three-man defence against Middlesbrough back in April last year.
Up to that point of the season, the France midfielder had made 18 starts in the Premier League. Since then, he’s made only three starts from a possible 29 games. His only start this season was in defence at Manchester City.
While there has been game time in the Carabao Cup and Europa League (six starts in total), the boss told Arsenal.com that life has been unfair on Coquelin.
“He is 100 per cent professional, Francis, and an example for everybody, and all the young players. Life has been a bit unfair with him, it’s true.
“That’s also down a bit to our change in system – he paid a heavy price for that – but overall he’s in a very good shape.
“We’ll have games, many games now, so that will help him keep his focus and maintain his quality at a very high level.”
While the change in formation hasn’t worked in Coquelin’s favour nor has the injury to Santi Cazorla.
The Frenchman played his best football alongside the Spaniard in the centre of the park, often winning the ball back and making quick passes to his more skilful teammate to spring attacks. Santi has now been sidelined since November 2016 and Francis hasn’t really struck up a similar partnership since.
Coquelin will likely get game time in this weekend’s FA Cup match with Nottingham Forest. Ahead of the trip to the City Ground, Arsene Wenger explained why he’s looking forward to starting the defence of his FA Cup crown.
“It’s welcome, in the sense that in the FA Cup we have positive experiences. I overall believe that our recent performances have been very strong.
“It’s another opportunity in a different competition to give some competition to players that deserve it but also to show you can maintain the quality.
“You know that the first round, or the third round as you call it, is very important. It’s always a very difficult one.”
He added: “I will select a team that is always adapted to the difficulty we face.
“We have some fresh players who are top quality and will try to take advantage of that.”