Missing a chunk of the season with an Achilles irritation, Francis Coquelin hasn’t played as much as would want to ahead of the big Champions League clash against Bayern Munich.
Whether he starts remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: he’s one of the players with the most European experience at Villarreal, with 58 appearances across various competitions over the years.
Most of those have come with Arsenal, the club he spent nine years at and made 160 appearances for before leaving for Valencia back in 2018 in a £12.6m.
His road to the Gunners’ first-team was done the hard way, first playing for the U18s before integrating their reserves.
Then came loans to Lorient, SC Freiburg and then Charlton, but an early return in December 2014 when Arsène Wenger recalled him kickstarted his time for Arsenal proper.
Now at Villarreal, the player sat down with So Foot, with whom he discussed his career to date, including his time with the London side.
It all started when he was spotted by the now iconic Gilles Grimandi while playing for France’s U17s when he was still at Laval.
He said: “He was monitoring me and quickly told me Arsenal were interested in me. It was a positive shock, especially when at that time, Arsenal was still a beautiful machine. In fact, the ‘trend’ of French players signing in England was at that time.”
Grabbing the chance with both hands, the player loved his time in London, where he sat down and told himself it was going to be all about work and decided to ignore outside influences.
Called back from his loan from Charlton, which he asked for himself, when Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere were all injured, Coquelin then started playing more regularly under Wenger.
How did that feel? “It was amazing! I was playing with Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil in front of me. I could send them rubbish balls, and they controlled them with ease. The understanding I had with Cazorla particularly stayed with me. He’s really impressive. I could do what I wanted on the pitch, I knew he would always there as a guarantee.”