Arsenal’s FA Cup final victory against Aston Villa was an astoundingly dominant performance, by far the most convincing Wembley win of recent times.
The 4-0 scoreline summarises the game, but further statistics were equally revealing: it was 16-2 on shots, 9-0 for shots on target, 8-0 on corners.
The Gunners were never significantly troubled by Aston Villa, who struggled to work the ball into the final third with any regularity. Their only two attempts, from Charles N’Zogbia and Jack Grealish, were both struck from long-range and blocked by Arsenal players.
Villa’s struggles in possession were partly caused by poor performances from their own players, but Francis Coquelin also deserves a huge amount of credit. After half a season of excellent performances, the Frenchman’s competence can no longer come as a huge surprise. Nevertheless, his performance at Wembley was outstanding, particularly the way he won possession so consistently and so smoothly.
Statistically, the key to Coquelin’s performance was the number of ‘recoveries’ he made. His tackling and intercepting also featured (two each), but 11 recoveries was an extremely high figure, something you’ll rarely see in a top-level game.
‘Recoveries’ isn’t a term generally used in football discourse, but they’re a key part of the way Opta record ball-winning. Recovering the ball is, essentially, either collecting the ball when it has run loose and is not under control by any other player, or taking charge of the ball when it’s been played directly to them (any movement towards the ball would be classed as an interception).
This explains precisely why Coquelin was so good - his positioning was excellent, and he was proactive in the way he won the ball. Villa’s midfield play was scrappy and often passes simply went astray.
Coquelin was always on hand to nip in ahead of opponents and win possession, before playing a simple pass to a midfield colleague.
It wasn’t about sudden darts forward to intercept the ball, or crunching tackles to dispossess opponents. It was about intervening in scrappy situations with an element of calmness, bringing control to the game. Every time there was a brief pause when the ball ran loose, Coquelin was on hand to get Arsenal going again.
Coquelin’s style feels unusual for a young defensive midfielder: he’s extremely composed and yet capable of scrapping to win possession too - a rare combination for a player of his age. Often, those most confident on the ball aren’t capable of getting stuck in, and those considered great ball-winners aren’t blessed with guile in possession. Coquelin appears to have both.
“It’s unbelievable, winning 4-0 as well with the way we played,” Coquelin said on Saturday. “I think the whole team has been tremendous and the last six months have been amazing for me. To end it off with a trophy is just great. Six months ago I was at Charlton and today I’m winning the FA Cup. Football can go so quick and I’m really pleased to get this trophy. It was a big day in my career.”
Other players’ Wembley performances will be remembered more fondly - Santi Cazorla was officially man-of-the-match, while Alexis Sanchez’s goal was truly spectacular. But Coquelin was as crucial as anyone in ensuring Arsenal were always on the front foot, and the relative lack of plaudits is unlikely to trouble the understated Frenchman.
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