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Francis Coquelin: “Going to Arsenal was a risk.”

In an extensive interview with Ouest France translated below in full, Arsenal defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin discusses the risks that he has taken in his career to get to where he is today. He also confirms that he has signed a contract extension with Arsenal until 2019.

On resettling into the Arsenal team after numerous loan spells…

“It has gone well, easy. I have been here for 7 years, but this is the first time that I am playing matches consistently. I returned slowly, I got my bearings. The other players had confidence in me, that made things easier.”

On whether he is surprised about where he finds himself now…

“I wasn’t playing, so I asked to be loaned to Charlton, yes. For 1 month. I played 5 games, things were going well. That allowed me to gain confidence, to play game after game, something I have never really known before. The coach (Wenger) asked me to stay (at Arsenal instead of going on loan).”

“So I eventually went on loan for one month, but with a clause in the deal that allowed Arsenal to recall me. I saw that there were injuries: Ramsey, Arteta… Two, three days later… Arsenal call me, I returned before Boxing Day.”

But your return was initially a disappointment?

“That I didn’t play as soon as I returned, I understood that. Then there was a second game, the same thing. I think that the boss saw that I was disappointed. He gave me my chance on the 28th December, against West Ham. It was without a doubt not a simple decision for him, but we won. Not easy, because it is a difficult decision to make to throw on a “youngster” who is less well-known, among the stars that Arsenal have.” 

“I think I had the confidence of the other players. I was playing little, but I was there, at training. I needed to have the confidence of the coach. Without a doubt, he was apprehensive about it. There were uncertainties regarding my physical capacities to play game after game. In this respect, the loan helped me a lot. It is also true that I player in a position that requires a lot of responsibility, in front of the defence. The easy solution (for the boss), is to count on players with the experience of someone like Arteta, Flamini. The boss gave me the chance anyway and during my 14 games we have lost two. This has given everyone confidence.”

What does Wenger ask of you?

“To win the ball back, to play the ball forward quickly… I am difficult to muscle off, even if I am not huge. I didn’t fare too badly against Fellaini against Manchester United. After that, I am not really needed in an attacking sense. When you have Sanchez, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud, Walcott, Welbeck in front of you… I am here to take a weight off the load on those guys there.”

On the 1st leg vs Monaco…

“We must not diminish Monaco’s performance. They had a great, great game and we did not do what was needed. At this level, you really pay for it. And for me, as a Frenchman, I knew what Monaco could bring… But it is true that they scared us less as a prospect than Bayern did. People came down a bit on Olivier Giroud, but we owe him a lot for other victories. He has the heart to put things right in the 2nd leg, and so do we.”

On whether Arsenal can qualify…

“Yes, we can score 3 goals. We have always known how to bounce back, we have just won at Manchester United in the cup. This time the roles are inverted. Monaco are favourites and we have nothing to lose!” 

On whether he feels he left France too quickly as a youngster…

“One could have said that, but not since the last four months! When you are young and you go abroad, you are taking a risk. Especially if you join Arsenal. At the beginning, I didn’t want to go. I came here for a one week trial, I saw guys ready to take each other out… But in life you have to take risks…”

“There are only 2 of us who have made it into the Gunners first team from my generation, those of us who one titles with the youth teams. Wilshere and I. There was also Gilles Sunu, who is playing in France. The others are in the 2nd and 3rd divisions of English football. I have always had confidence in myself. My only regret would have been not to have been able to show what I knew how to do. Now I have got the chance to. If tomorrow, I was asked to leave, I would have no regrets.”

But you have extended your contract…

“Yes, until 2019.”

On who has impressed him the most among his teammates…

“At Arsenal, Cazorla. On a technical level, he is above and beyond. He has been here for 3 years, and I still don’t know if he is right-footed or left-footed… Laurent Koscielny is not as well-reknowned in France as he should be.”

On the French national team…

“I always want more… but I have only played 15 matches this season. I need to settle  and not cut corners.”

What was it that ultimately allowed you to breakthrough…

“I never cheated during training. At the age of 16, when we were required to do cardio work, alone, I would do it. And then I was able to stabilise my private life at the moment that I need to. 2 years ago now, I have met someone who has children. That makes you more responsible. I have also taken the positives from my season at Fribourg, even though it was a struggle. It was good to see something completely different. You realise that you really have everything at Arsenal, even if I knew that already.I have my head firmly on my shoulders, I know where I have come from.”

On Fribourg…

“I arrived at this European club, we were playing to stay up, and I only played 16 matches. They had brought me in to play left midfield or right midfield and that wasn’t my position… But I worked very hard physically over there. Like never before. 12km run, powering through in the forest and in the afternoon interval training. Or 12 times 1000m, on the banks of the river.

“It is very strict, very thorough in Germany. After training, you were forced to stay back for one hour to work on muscles, to recuperate. You work. Since then, I have never been injured. In France, youngsters think they’ve already made it far too early.”

Are you living your dream?

“At the time as a kid, I wanted to be a sports journalist! I started my literary baccalaureate, but I changed that after 15 days, because it wasn’t aligning with my training sessions. I didn’t do my bac after that. I may take it one day, to make my teachers and my mother happy.”

“I started to think that I could do something in football when I started to play CFA2 (reserves) with Laval at the age of 16. Then I did the French youth national teams. At that point, I did everything I could to get here. It is a nice life, yes, in a nice town. But the most important thing is that the people around me can enjoy it for themselves.”

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