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Coquelin & Gabriel have given Arsenal some much needed grit

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Long gone are the days when iconic Arsenal players such as Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira graced the green pitch at Highbury. Not only were the legendary quartet of Gunners superb players, but they were the type of players that fans absolutely adored because of their toughness and will to win. During their respective times in north London, each player won at least three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and three Community Shields.

While Arsenal have had gritty competitors in the club since theirs departures (Jens Lehmann, William Gallas and Mathieu Flamini come to mind), the Gunners have desperately needed a player or two that possess a combination of talent and the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Some have suggested that the lack of trophies following Vieira’s departure in 2005 up until 2014, when the Gunners ended the drought, was partially because the team lacks grit.

Midfielder Jack Wilshere surely has the bulldog attitude and is a fantastic addition to the squad when he is on the pitch; however, the England international has endured his fair share of injury issues and has found it difficult to remain fit.

SEE MORE: Watch Spurs-Arsenal Capital One Cup derby live.

Nevertheless, manager Arsene Wenger made two separate decisions within 45 days of each other during the 2014-15 campaign that would immensely improve his team’s toughness. The first was the recall of Francis Coquelin from loan at Charlton Athletic last December. Coquelin, a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, has been a part of the Arsenal club since 2008; however, the Frenchman had trouble making a significant impact on the team prior to the recall.

Though many Arsenal fans weren’t exactly thrilled to hear news of the player being brought back to the team, Coquelin has been nothing short of fantastic over the last nine months. Not only has the 24-year-old brought toughness and stability to the middle of the pitch, but Coquelin has also performed as well as any other defensive midfielder in the Premier League. Despite his reputation as a no-nonsense player, Coquelin has also only managed to rack up three yellow cards (zero red cards) over his last 23 league matches.

In the month following Wenger’s decision to bring back Coquelin, he also made the choice to sign defender Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal. No, Gabriel was not the household name that many Gooners wanted to fill the void when former captain Thomas Vermaelen left for Barcelona, but the Brazilian appears to be a very shrewd bit of business yet again for the 65-year-old manager.

Gabriel, while not the largest central defender in the league, has looked increasingly more comfortable on the pitch during his time in north London. Last Saturday’s clash with Chelsea proved to be a massive moment for Gabriel, as his toughness was on full display at Stamford Bridge.

SEE MORE: Arsenal win appeal, see Gabriel’s red card rescinded.

The 24-year-old Gabriel stood up for his central defending partner, Laurent Koscielny, following a claw to the face and chest bump from Chelsea’s Diego Costa to Koscielny (Costa has only recently been given a three-match ban for the offense). Both Gabriel and Costa were subsequently yellow carded after the fracas. After what should have been the end of the conflict, Costa proceeded to bait Gabriel, and the Arsenal defender was seen “kicking out” at the Chelsea forward (kicking out is used loosely here). Match referee Mike Dean punished Gabriel for the raised boot with a red card (which was rescinded Tuesday).

Gabriel should not have put himself in the position to be sent off; however, the majority of Gunner supporters praised the defender for sticking up for his teammate during the first incident. There is a vast difference between violence and toughness in sport. The two terms should not be used synonymously. Gabriel’s instincts to support his battery mate earned him respect amongst fans.

No one is suggesting that Coquelin and Gabriel are the same caliber of players as the Arsenal legends mentioned in the beginning of this piece, but the tenacious duo have given this Arsenal team a shot in the arm that they have desperately needed in recent years. There may also still be a hole or two in the Gunners’ current squad; however, the “soft” Arsenal years may be all but over.

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