Manager Arsene Wenger expects to add to Arsenal’s “core” this summer, but believes if Francis Coquelin had cost £40m (€55.6m) in January rather than coming back from loan at Charlton, there would be little criticism of the squad’s depth.
Arsenal responded from last week’s disappointing home defeat by Swansea to earn a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday, keeping them two points ahead of Manchester United. They can secure third place by beating Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Against the Red Devils, Wenger named an unchanged side for the sixth time in succession, which saw Coquelin retain his place as the Gunners’ defensive midfield enforcer.
It is a role in which the 24-year-old Frenchman has excelled since returning from The Valley at the end of 2014, notably earning praise for his stand-out efforts in the victory at Manchester City.
Coquelin came through the Arsenal youth ranks after being spotted as a raw teenager at Stade Lavallois in 2008, with loan spells way in Lorient and Freiburg before a brief stint at the Addicks was cut short following injuries to the Gunners’ squad.
Wenger feels that had Coquelin, who recently agreed a contract extension, come with a hefty price tag, then his subsequent impressive performances would have not taken so many by surprise.
“The world has changed. The appreciation today of the quality of a player is just down with the money you spend,” said the Arsenal manager.
“If we had bought Coquelin at Christmas for £40m (€55.6m), everyone would say ‘what a signing’. I am sorry he didn’t cost any money, he is still a good player. What is a player worth today? Nobody knows, really. I just wanted to say that if we had bought [Coquelin], nobody would complain that he was a good player.”
Wenger believes Coquelin has the required quality to become a regular in the Arsenal squad next season.
“Nobody would dispute that his performances have been convincing and that he is ready for a fight, even if somebody comes in,” Wenger said.
“He has shown he has the capacity to play for us and play a big part in the success of the team. I believe in him.”
Arsenal have been linked with the likes of unsettled Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling, as well Manchester City midfielder James Milner and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Wenger, however, insists his squad does not need a major summer overhaul, just some key additions.
“We have depth in the squad, and the rest will be decided in the summer. We need first to keep our players,” he said.
“I respect everybody’s opinion, but at the end of the day it’s important we keep the core of the team together and if we can add we will add, but we work on it and the less we talk, the better it is.”
For his part, Dick Advocaat remains coy over his future amid speculation he could extend his stay at the Stadium of Light should he manage to keep the club up.
Reports from the Netherlands have suggested he has promised his wife he will not commit to a longer-term role on Wearside, though he was giving little away when quizzed about his future yesterday.
He said: “We will see. Next week, I will take the decision.”
Sunderland face a difficult conclusion to yet another testing campaign, with away games against FA Cup finalists Arsenal and champions Chelsea.
However, the point they collected at the weekend means any reward from either will be enough to end their relegation fears, even if Hull beat Manchester United on Sunday.
Advocaat has refused to write off either fixture from the off and remains as confident as he has been since day one that they will seal their own fate.
Asked why he was so certain Sunderland would stay up, he replied: “The quality of the players and the quality of the staff.”
Asked if he would settle now for a drab 0-0 draw, the Dutchman replied with a smile: “Yes, just a little bit.”
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