Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has hailed the recent impact of French midfielder Francis Coquelin but admits he did not expect to see the 23-year-old lining up for the Gunners’ first team this season.
Coquelin was sent on loan to Charlton Athletic in November after failing to force his way into Arsenal’s starting line-up earlier this season, before being recalled a month later by Arsene Wenger.
The French holding midfielder has since become an important player for the north London outfit - and produced an effective and disciplined performance during Arsenal’s surprise 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last month.
Mertesacker pleased with Coquelin
Mertesacker admits he is delighted with Coquelin’s progress because it shows Arsenal have some useful youngsters in the squad who can be called upon at short notice.
"You would not have expected to see Francis in our line-up, but he is doing really well," Mertesacker was quoted as saying by the Daily Star. "The younger talent, who were unlikely to play a part this season, have played an absolutely fantastic role and will get the experience now.
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"That is really important, when there is an injury crisis, they can step up and can have a real impact and people can see he has been able to do that."
Coquelin excelling in defensive midfield
Coquelin has played the full 90 minutes in each of Arsenal’s previous five Premier League fixtures and is expected to retain his place for Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated north London derby against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
The France Under-21 international superbly cut off the space between Arsenal’s midfield and defence to limit the impact of Manchester City’s David Silva, and he is expected to perform a similar job against Tottenham’s in-form playmaker Christian Eriksen this weekend.
Mertesacker: Arsenal must be fresh v Spurs
Mertesacker is in confident mood ahead of the clash against Spurs, but admits he and his teammates will need to be fresh for the lunchtime kick-off.
"Last season we did quite well at White Hart Lane, so will try to repeat that," Arsenal’s vice-captain continued. "Now they have a new manager (Mauricio Pochettino), there has been change in the squad.
"It will be a good game, with an early-kick off, so we need to be fresh."
Mertesacker pleased with Gabriel arrival
Wenger could hand a debut to Arsenal’s winter signing Gabriel Paulista, who completed a £13.5 million move from Villarreal last month.
The centre-back is expected to put pressure on both Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, but the former is just pleased Arsenal now have more strength in depth at centre-back.
"It is very promising because we were short at the back, especially in the centre position," Mertesacker added. "We suffered a lot and had to change so many positions."