Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has admitted that he planned to offload midfielder Francis Coquelin in the January transfer window.
Coquelin, 23, was recalled from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic in December following an injury to Mikel Arteta - and has since become a key member of the Gunners’ first team.
Wenger admits he had serious doubts over whether the former France Under-21 international had a future at the Emirates Stadium - and also revealed that the player himself was not overly keen to return to the Gunners, fearing he would be left on the bench every week.
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Wenger admits his surprise with Coquelin
Speaking to reporters ahead of this evening’s Premier League clash against Queens Park Rangers, Wenger was quoted by Arsenal’s official website as saying: “It is a surprise to everybody.
“The only thing I do is that I never say never to anybody. In my job you have to be open-minded like that. You have to make decisions at times. But never close the door completely for anybody.
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Wenger: I planned to let Coquelin leave
“He was not [in my plans at the start of the season]. I told him to give absolutely everything until Christmas, then we would see together where he was. If you respect that you have done a big part of your job.
“In myself, [I thought] if he doesn't play at Christmas at all, and there's only six months of his contract to go, I [would] let him go somewhere else.”
Wenger reveals Coquelin wasn't happy with loan recall
Coquelin played 16 minutes of Premier League football in his first three matches after securing a surprise return to Arsenal - but his remarkable turnaround began in earnest against West Ham on December 28.
The French midfielder played the entire 90 minutes and subsequently went on to nail down his place in Arsenal’s central midfield.
Wenger added: “He wasn't happy when I called him back [from Charlton]. He played there and he thought I just called him back as cover. He expected in fact to play against QPR and was not playing and was surprised when I played him against West Ham.
“He knows it's an opportunity for him now. Sometimes when you wait for such a long time to get your chance and you get it… the human being is a strange animal - the more you have suffered before, the more you enjoy it.
“On that front I think he has gone through a lot of doubt, questioning himself, certainly at many times being discouraged that he didn’t get a chance. Now that he has a chance he doesn't want to let it slip away. But he is a winner and he wants to win - that's why he is so committed.”
Turning point came against Man City
Perhaps the real turning point for the holding midfielder came in Arsenal’s shock 2-0 win over Premier League champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on January 18.
Coquelin was arguably the Gunners’ Man of the Match, limiting the impact of City’s attacking midfield schemer David Silva and showing Wenger that he could cut it in the biggest matches.
Shortly after Coquelin was rewarded with a new long-term contract, and he is now expected to retain his place in Arsenal’s starting line-up even after captain Arteta returns to action later this season.
Arsenal may require better - but Coquelin deserves a fair chance
While Coquelin has impressed, it hasn’t been all rosy for the revitalised French ace, who was criticised for his performance against AS Monaco in the Champions League last week.
Whether Arsenal do, in fact, require a more experienced midfielder with a little more quality will become apparent by the end of the season.
But for now, Wenger is well within his rights to stick by Coquelin, whose desire to prove himself at the top level certainly can not be questioned.
Do Arsenal need to sign a better holding midfielder than Coquelin this summer? Have your say by leaving a comment in the box below!