By Michael Clements
As the 2014/15 season came to a close we saw the emergence of Hector Bellarin, Francis Coquelin and not-so-young-gun Nacho Monreal into the first team almost simultaneously. All three were given their opportunity via injuries to others in their positions.
Gibbs has been on and off the Physio table for a while now, and Monreal finally staked his claim as the legitimate left-back starter heading into the final third of last season. Debuchy fell into a rut of bad luck after dislocating his shoulder, only weeks after returning from ankle surgery. This gave Bellarin every chance to make his mark, and he's done just that. Coquelin's situation is a touch more 'romantic' as his Arsenal career looked to be coming to an end. After several loan spell's at different clubs, he was eventually recalled from his loan at Charlton Athletic as we found ourselves severely short in the midfield due to injuries. The Frenchman's impact was immediate and intense, and he's been in the starting eleven ever since.
Then came the 2015/16 season - Perhaps fans forgot the impact these fellas had the previous season and Wenger's decision to maintain faith in these players without dipping into the transfer market was questioned, a lot. The call for a new Defensive Midfielder was echoed by almost every Gooner across the planet, but this maybe had more to do with Arteta's seemingly declining form and fitness rather than Coquelin's ability. Eyebrows were also raised when Monreal assumed the role as starting left-back ahead of Gibbs versus Chelsea in the Charity Shield then West Ham in the opening game of the season.
Monreal, while not the youngest player in the squad at 29, has improved dramatically. To me, he always lacked pace up the wing and when he did venture up he always got caught at the back when he was unable to retreat effectively. Now he's pinging in crosses, diving into tackles and generally bossing that left hand side. Bare in mind, too that the Spaniard's effort allows for Alexis to be more affective in his position on the left wing.
Francis Coquelin has become that rock in the center of the park. He's a big lad, but possesses the kind of agility you'd expect from a player considerably smaller than him which allows him to be effective from one box to the other with little adjustment. Perhaps my favourite thing about the Coq is that he's the first (and often, the only...) player to come to his team mates' side when in any sort of confrontation. Just look at the Gabriel/Costa situation - sure, Gabriel got sent off, but Coquelin was there, in the midst of everything trying to defuse and defend his team mate. Surprisingly, he doesn't get as many yellows as you'd imagine in that position - only two in eight appearances so far in the Premier League. He's that 'fuck off' player that you need in a formation like the one we're deploying currently. We allow our full backs to fly forward, so our DM can drop back. Our big Coq has become an integral part of this Arsenal team.
Hector Bellarin - the fastest man every to live, according to FIFA16, has perhaps been the highlight of the season so far. His display against Bayern on Tuesday night will only draw more attention to his uprising, but us Gooners have seen it coming for a while. Concerns were voiced over whether his lightening pace up the wing would sacrifice his defensive responsiblities, but the 20 year old Spaniard has so far managed to stay responsible at both ends of the pitch. His work rate is up there with Alexis, his pace......we all know, and his crosses are nothing to shake a stick at either. At 20, he's shaping up to be one of the Wenger's best captures in the last decade. Let's just hope he doesn't want to return 'home' to Barca when he hits his prime...
Another player worth talking about in this conversation is Gabriel Paulista. At just 24 (very young for a central defender) he's only just beginning to show his worth, and from the moment he stepped onto the field with the cannon on his chest he impressed upon many. Wenger has a habit of plucking players with immense work rates, and Gabriel is yet another example of that. In order to earn the respect of the Arsenal faithful, all you've got to do is show that you want to be out there, and that you recognize the significance of that badge on your chest. Gabriel Paulista already looks to be the sort of player that will lay down for his team, and even though he received a red card for the Costa drama, he still showed the fans that he's up for it and, given some time to mature will no doubt be a player to count on in the future.
Overall, some very promising performances from this group of players. Could this injection of youth be the difference in our title bid this season? I bloody hope so.
Come On You Gunners!