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YIN AND YANG

The Santi Cazorla & Francis Coquelin double pivot – how one injury ended two careers at Arsenal

What do you get when you cross an ambidextrous Spaniard with a tough-tackling Frenchman?

Regrets have littered the Emirates Stadium for years.

Be it those of Arsenal’s own making – allowing the contracts of Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, et al. to run down, or others out of their control like the numerous lengthy-injuries to key players such as Hector Bellerin.

One regret that falls within the latter is the ankle problem that ultimately ended Santi Cazorla’s majesty over north London.

Not even divine intervention could help him

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Not even divine intervention could help him

After six years of treating the Premier League like his playground, the Spaniard’s time on these shores was brought to a bitter end after an injury that not only threatened to take his career, but also his ability to walk.

Cazorla was deprived of 668 days on the pitch during an agonising two years in which he had 11 operations and battled through a gangrene infection, with bacteria eating as much as eight centimetres of his ankle tendon.

While the worst case scenario was thankfully avoided, it was an injury that’s effects weren’t exclusive to Cazorla.

An all too familiar sight in his final days in north London

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An all too familiar sight in his final days in north London

It wasn’t just an injury that ended one Arsenal career, it was an injury that ended two. 

Perhaps Cazorla’s greatest magic trick of all was how he improved Francis Coquelin dramatically beyond his levels.

That’s not to say the man affectionately(?) referred to by Arsenal fans as ‘Le Crunch’ was not a capable player in his own right, but he’d probably tell you himself that his game had its limitations.

Yet those limitations seemed to vanish instantly within one wave of Cazorla’s ambidextrous wand.

The streets won’t forget

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The streets won’t forget

With Arsene Wenger battling an injury plague that had spread like wildfire among his midfield barracks, Coquelin was recalled early from a loan spell with Championship side Charlton in the 2014/15 season.

While it looked at first as though the Frenchman was simply brought back to sporadically plug gaps when needed, the reality was that alongside Cazorla, the pair would go onto form what Arsenal fans still reflect on as one of their best midfield partnerships of the modern era.

Yin and yang

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Yin and yang

The trickery and skill of Cazorla acted as the perfect tonic to the Frenchman’s tough-tackling and Arsenal had accidentally stumbled across the formula they needed to glue everything together in a flourishing side.

However, the unorthodox relationship was far from a one-way street according to Cazorla, who at one point went as far as branding Coquelin as “one of the best players in this position”, with the Frenchman still holding the record for the most interceptions (13) in a Premier League game against Everton in 2016.

Their partnership extended to other sports too

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Their partnership extended to other sports too

 

‘Coqzorla’s’ crowning glory and hallmark moment undoubtedly came in *that* performance at the Etihad in a 2-0 win over the reigning champions Man City in January 2015.

Going away to a top-six rival and dominating the game, all while leaving with a clean sheet intact, was something that Arsenal had seldom achieved prior to that night in Manchester.

However, through a Man of the Match performance from Cazorla in which he provided a goal and an assist, propped up by the steely determination of Coquelin, the pair etched themselves into Gunners folklore.

Left for dead

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Left for dead

Arsenal would go onto finish the season in 3rd place and lift their second FA Cup in as many years, yet the ascent up Wembley’s 107 stairs would mark the peak and subsequent fall of the midfield partnership that brought them to those dizzy heights in the first place.

Injuries plagued Cazorla for much of the following season, leaving Wenger with the near-impossible task of not only finding a replacement, but also a suitable partner for Coquelin.

Cazorla watching on like a proud father

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Cazorla watching on like a proud father

Wenger turned to Granit Xhaka to almost work both roles that had been conducted by the pair so well just a year prior and while it was hoped the Swiss midfielder would marry the metronic passing of the Spaniard with the steely nature of the Frenchman, in reality, he proved to be neither a master of any.

It could only be one or the other in Wenger’s eyes

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It could only be one or the other in Wenger’s eyes

Coquelin would request a move away from north London having seen his game time slashed and was subsequently sold to Valencia in 2018 where he has enjoyed flurries of success.

Elsewhere in La Liga, Cazorla was snapped up by his former club Villarreal on a free transfer and well, the rest is history after the 35-year-old proved himself capable of still turning in performances worthy of call ups to the Spanish national team.

The past meets the present

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The past meets the present

You can assume with a fair degree of confidence that had Cazorla stayed injury-free, he would still be lining up alongside Coquelin at the Emirates this season.

It was the unconventional double pivot that’s genius came from it’s unpredictability and was cut short far too soon.