30th September 2015: All-too-familiar failings leave us facing early Euro elimination

Evening. We’re now facing the ignominy of failing to qualify from our Champions League group for the first time in 16 years thanks to a 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos last night, with the nature of all three goals conceded best described as pitiful from an Arsenal perspective.

The first arrived after Gabriel and Koscielny attacked the same ball as it was floated into our box and the former eventually raced out to block a shot, deflecting it over the bar. When the resultant corner was swung out to the edge of our penalty area for their player to hit first-time, Mesut Ozil was the only one to read it and react. But then, inexplicably, he pulled out of a possible slide to cut the ball out and appeared too scared to engage in a challenge. An all-too-familiar unwillingness to get physical from our flimsy German schemer.

Meanwhile, as the ball was struck towards our goal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain half turned away in just the same cowardly, ‘what if the ball hits me in the face?’, manner in which his team-mate had done a split-second earlier, and the ball deflected off his foot before nestling in the corner with David Ospina helpless. An all-too-familiar moment of brainless botching from the Ox.

We then equalised almost instantly as Sanchez cut infield from the left, fed a good run by Theo Walcott and the England man found the net, thanks largely to poor keeping.

But back to our terrible concessions. Olympiakos’ second goal was quite simply a bad mistake by Ospina, as he misjudged his position, palmed a corner over his own goal-line and despite his best attempts to claw the ball away, saw the goal awarded by the first fifth official to ever make a decision of any kind whatsoever. Bad keeping but then, as Arsene said after the game, all keepers make mistakes.

In the emotional aftermath of a disappointing defeat like last night’s, people will obviously point to Petr Cech’s omission for such a vital game and blame the boss, but aside from the fact he was reportedly nursing a small calf injury, Cech has already shown this season that he’s far from faultless and frankly, I disagree with most fans that say Ospina’s a bad keeper. By my reckoning, that was his first major error in an Arsenal shirt and that he’s suddenly being portrayed as the reincarnation of Manuel Almunia is way wide of the mark.

So onto the third and my personal favourite in terms of summing up our players’ infuriatingly, brainless management of games at crucial times over the last countless campaigns. There are too many examples to list and the most recent before last night was after we pulled a goal back against Monaco at home and recklessly left ourselves open at the back whilst chasing an equaliser at 2-1 only to concede a third.

So having restored parity last night when Sanchez headed home to make it 2-2 from a precise Walcott cross, we had plenty of time on the clock to calm down, clear our heads, regain composure, remind ourselves of the score and the fact we didn’t need to rush a winner, yet did need to ensure we didn’t concede a third at all costs.

Instead, we conceded almost straight from the kick-off. Evidently, we were assuming the visitors couldn’t possibly get a third, were disorganised, half-arsed in our defending, with Per Mertesacker’s lack of a challenge as the ball was struck past Ospina encapsulating the criminal complacency.

After that, despite plenty of effort, we failed to grab a third equaliser and now have zero points from our first two games with a double header against Bayern Munich next up in the competition. Perfect.

A wider worry though, is our home form this season. That’s now two defeats, a draw and a win over Stoke, with five conceded and four scored at Emirates stadium. That needs to change and we have the chance to do it on Sunday when he entertain league leaders Man Utd.

As far as I’m concerned, Europe can take a back-seat for the next three weeks because we now need to ensure a likely early European exit is offset by a genuine tilt at the Premier League title. That said, on the evidence of last night, we’re too timid and too stupid as a squad, to end the long wait.

Back tomorrow.

29th September 2015: Champions League Preview – Three points a must

Welcome back. So the Champions League returns this evening as we host Olympiakos and after losing at Dinamo Zagreb on matchday one, picking up all three points against the Greek champions is almost a must if we want to reach the knockout stages.

As such, I’m expecting Arsene Wenger to field as strong a line-up as possible which, with a bit of luck, will include Francis Coquelin who has been a doubt with a knee injury. There’s also been some rumours flying around that Petr Cech has some form of minor injury and may not be risked with David Ospina replacing him between the sticks and if that is the case, I’d rather we didn’t take any risks despite the importance of a win tonight. We’ll see.

Elsewhere in the team, the boss spoke about checking on the recovery of those who had played both against Tottenham in the league cup a week ago and Saturday’s win at Leicester and the only players who started both games are Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. The latter has already been ruled out of tonight’s game through injury so perhaps we’ll see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replace Ramsey on the right of the attack.

But with Mikel Arteta also sidelined, if Coquelin doesn’t quite make it, Ramsey would likely be needed to play in central midfield even if he is in desperate need of a rest, because with Jack Wilshere recovering from a fractured leg, we really are down to the bare bones in that area of the pitch at the moment.

Olivier Giroud serves a one-match ban for the red card he received in Croatia and Gabriel could potentially return in defence after serving his own suspension domestically. All that considered, my guess is we’ll line-up as follows:

Ospina;

Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal;

Coquelin, Cazorla;

Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Sanchez;

Walcott

That team looks more than capable of getting the win, although we’ll need to be wary of a side who Arsene suggested will have prepared well for this game because they are dominating their own league with ease, having won five out five so far this term.

Indeed, their current manager, the Portuguese, former Estoril right-back Marco Silva, was in bullish mood when he spoke at his press conference yesterday, explaining that whilst Arsenal and Bayern Munich are favourites to emerge from the group, his side have prepared well, are ambitious and ‘have to go for it’. He said:

We know it will be a difficult game, how big a team Arsenal are and we respect them, but we believe in our own strengths and are ready for a strong game. We are going to come here and show our best self, to show what we can do. We have analysed the jobs which Arsenal do well and will try not to make mistakes, bring to them match what we have done in training. If you asked people who would be the first two in the group, people would say it is Bayern and Arsenal, but football is not like this – there are no rules to say the favourites must win all of the games. We did not manage to win against Bayern, and yes the Dinamo win over Arsenal has made it more difficult for us, but we have our own ambitions and there are no limits to them. You have to go for it and we hope that we can change the situation in the group.

In terms of the history between the clubs, we’ve faced Olympiakos six times previously – all in the Champions League group stages – winning our three home games but losing the three at their place. So the omens for tonight at Emirates stadium at least, are good.

The first meeting in north London came in September 2009, when we beat them 2-0 thanks to goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin. The next was two years later and goals by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andre Santos secured us a 2-1 win, and the last match between the sides in London came in 2012, ending 3-1 in our favour thanks to strikes by Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Ramsey.

Not long left until the teams are announced now  so I’ll leave it there and see you tomorrow.

COME ON ARSENAL!

28th September 2015: No rotation required when we host Greek champions

Evening all. Who stayed up to watch the blood supermoon last night / early this morning? No? Me neither. But any talk of lunar events like today’s never fails to make me crave Jaffa Cakes. Timeless advertising from McVities right there.

As an aside, something else I think transcends the fourth dimension, is the irrefutable class of Arsenal football club. Watching Arsene Wenger and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain speak at their press conference earlier today, ahead of our Champions League game against Olympiakos tomorrow night, it was a pleasure to listen to them both speak so honestly and eloquently as representatives of the club, especially when you hear the vulgar, venomous drivel others in the game (naming no names but I’m talking about Jose Mourinho) spew on a weekly basis.

Anyway, the game tomorrow has become a must win if we want to avoid a group stage exit after losing at Dinamo Zagreb. When you consider we still have to play Bayern Munich and Robert ‘five goals in nine minutes’ Lewandowski twice, then taking maximum points against the other teams seems our easiest route to the knock-out stage. Arsene said as much today, agreeing that winning the game was vital, whilst refuting the claim that our loss in Croatia on matchday one was because he made too many changes to his first-choice line-up:

You have to win your home games if you want to qualify from the group stage, it is simple as that. We cannot afford to drop points now against anyone at home. I don’t believe it (defeat in Zagreb) is down to selection at all, I believe that the 20 players I have available can play in every single game. I close my eyes, just take a position and I am confident we have a very strong team. On the day [at Zagreb], basically the same team played at Tottenham and won in the League Cup in a game that was much more physical, so I believe it was just on the night that we didn’t play well.

The latest team news revealed Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are both out of contention with ‘slight muscular problems’ but should only be unavailable for a matter of days. So it’s just as well then that Francis Coquelin was pictured training today, albeit with his knee strapped, and the boss says he’ll see how the Frenchman responds to two days worth of training but expects him to be ‘alright’ for tomorrow.

In defence, Gabriel is available again after serving a one-game domestic suspension and perhaps the Brazilian will be brought straight back in to give either Per or Laurent a rest before we host Man United on Sunday. That said, Arsene says the game at the weekend will have no bearing on his selection. Instead he’ll look at players who’ve played three times in the last ten days or so as possible reasons to rotate:

The game will not interfere with that at all. It is more the games we played before that could have an influence. Some players had two tough games at Tottenham and at Leicester, where they were a high level physically. I will have to analyse that today and make my decisions.

Arsene also said he hadn’t decided who he’d pick in goal for the game tomorrow but I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t Petr Cech to be honest. With five days between the games, we have plenty of time to recover before we host United, so there’s no need whatsoever not to go full strength against the Greeks.

He was also asked if the increasingly competitive Premier League was having a detrimental effect of English clubs’ performance in Europe and said he thought it was too early to tell:

I believe that the Premier League is very, very tough. Is that an influence or not? I don’t know but it’s a bit early to come to any conclusions. We have to wait a little bit longer. A second year without [English clubs] being successful and you could come to a conclusion of, ‘Yes, there’s something we have to analyse deeply’, but I don’t believe so at the moment. You cannot say [English clubs] are at that level [of the past] now because in the last two years Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the Champions League. We have to say they were the better teams. Are we far away? I don’t think so but we have to show that with our performance.

My own take on the subject is that I think people sometimes overplay the strength of our league. Yes it seems to be producing more favourable results against the bigger sides than previously but to suggest other leagues aren’t as strong is wide of the mark I think. Barcelona were battered by Celta Vigo just last weekend and Sevilla’s success in the Europa League in recent seasons are just two small examples of why other leagues aren’t as weak as we often make out they are.

Til Tuesday.

27th September 2015: Nearly a fifth of the season done

When you stop and consider we’re now just shy of having already played 20 percent of this season’s Premier League campaign, not only is it f*cking frightening how fast time flies, it’s not as early in the season as, to me at least, it feels.

So it was perhaps a little overdue that we clicked into gear and oh my did we do that in an attacking sense at the King Power stadium yesterday.

Alexis Sanchez finally appears to have overcome his lack of a proper pre-season and Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have found their shooting boots, looking increasingly like the perfect duo to share the striker’s role this season (at least until Danny Welbeck returns at Christmas and we sign Robert Lewandowski in a shock January transfer that is). Pace, power, aerial ability, hold-up play and now clinical finishing – between them, we suddenly seem to have plenty of talent at the tip of our attack to cater for any opposition.

At the other end of the pitch, Petr Cech, after a nightmare performance on the opening day against West Ham, is playing much more like the imposing, world class, shot repelling Galactico Goalie we all thought we were getting when he signed in the summer. Speaking to Arsenal Player after yesterday’s game, Arsene Wenger called the win our best performance of the season ‘going forward’ and hailed his goalscorers on the day. He said:

Certainly it was the most convincing [display of the season] going forward, yes. It was a tricky game because Leicester hadn’t lost, and I was a bit concerned because we did not want to lose ground on the other teams – so it was a big win for us. I am pleased with [the strikers’] games. Giroud is sharp in training and in the matches as well, I think he played well at Tottenham. Walcott is improving game after game, he holds the ball better up front, his movement is great and both of them scored, which is what you want. I believe [Alexis] wasn’t back to his best after the Copa America, it took him a while to get his competitive edge and now he has played well again and he is back to his level.

The top of the table is tight, and after Man City’s start to the season suggested they may run away with it, consecutive defeats leaves the title race wide open. Leaders United are up next at the Emirates where a win would leave us level on points with them, Chelsea continue their flirtation with the relegation zone, Liverpool’s hopes of a first championship in decades is reliant on multiple implosions elsewhere and realistically nobody else has a hope in hell of being crowned champions, no matter how impressive their start (sorry West Ham).

All that said however, as results all over the league have already shown this season, there will be few easy games, if any, between now and May and attacking performances like yesterday’s need to become the norm rather than the exception if we’re to win it.

Per Mertesacker played his first Premier League game in a month at Leicester following illness and admitted the team had some defensive worries during the match but thinks we deserved our win overall. Speaking to Arsenal Player, he said:

We tried our best and in the second half we had more possession. We expected it to be tense before the game and we tried to match them physically and we did that, especially in the second half. We struggled defensively but I’d say we got back to our striking force and more than four goals is something very special. At times we lacked defensive stability but that is normal at Leicester. It was good for me to get some game time. I still lack a bit of fitness but it was good today. I say we deserved that especially after the second half.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott called his own performance yesterday his best since returning from a long-term knee injury and also praised team-mate Sanchez, tipping the Chilean to continue contributing goals on a regular basis now he has broken his duck for the season:

It will be up there since the knee injury and, before that, the Tottenham game. I have always said I want to play up front. When I get the opportunity I can improve and learn the position a little more. The manager has had faith in me and I just want to repay him. He (Sanchez) is a top-quality player and even when he is not scoring goals he works so hard for us. He tracks back and does a lot for the team. I am sure he going to flourish now with many, many more important goals.

It’s Olympiakos up next in the Champions League on Tuesday night of course and the need for a win has been heightened after losing to Dinamo Zagreb so it will be interesting to see whether, and to what degree, the boss shuffles his pack. With the United game not until Sunday, my early guess would be that he’ll pick an unchanged line-up during the week (Flamini aside) before we entertain United late on Sunday afternoon.

See you next week.

26th September 2015: Walcott classy and Sanchez sizzling at King Power stadium

So Alexis Sanchez is back. After six league games and two in the cups without finding the net, our Chilean magician produced a hat-trick at Leicester City this afternoon to help us to a 5-2 win and fourth place in the table.

The only real question mark over how we’d line-up before the game was which duo would be picked to play in the middle of the park, and in the end, Arsene Wenger went with my own pre-game preference and chose Mathieu Flamini to partner the returning Santi Cazorla. But a hamstring injury meant the Frenchman was replaced by Mikel Arteta after just 21 minutes of action, by which point the score already stood at 1-1.

I only really kind of watched the game as a dodgy stream and various distractions ensured my attention to the game was somewhat spurious, but it seemed as though we struggled defensively early on in what was an open, end-to-end start to the match.

Jamie Vardy had been highlighted as one for the Arsenal defence to keep a close eye on and he showed just why on 13 minutes, collecting a long ball forward out near the left touchline and zooming towards our back four. Nobody got close enough to him, Hector Bellerin was caught upfield, and Vardy coolly placed the ball past Petr Cech and into the far corner. A decent finish from a man in form but worryingly easy for the England international from our point of view.

It could have been worse a few minutes later as Vardy saw his header clip off the cross bar but that passage of play actually ended up in an equalizer for us – and what a move it was. Riyad Mahrez fluffed an attempted dummy as he took on one of our defenders in our box and the ball made it’s way to Cazorla nearby. He let the ball run across him with typical impudence before finding Mesut Ozil.

The German then held off a challenge and shifted the ball out wide to our left and Alexis Sanchez, who in turn fed Cazorla, and he produced the perfect through ball into Theo Walcott, who had held and timed his run brilliantly. Our new number one centre forward took a touch or two to take the ball away from the defender before finishing left-footed into the far corner off a post. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes by any stretch of the imagination but it was clinical and that would be the story of our finishing all day.

We took the lead shortly after half-time as Sanchez tapped home a goal which was almost identical to his strike at the King Power last season, following a cross from the right from Bellerin. I’m sure there were other chances at both ends in the first half, but I can’t remember them, and we carried the one-goal lead into the interval.

Our third, and Sanchez’s second, was sumptuous and owed it’s origin to the left foot of Ozil. Earlier in the move, Walcott had begged for the ball and repeatedly re-timed his runs to stay onside but the ball eventually found Ozil on the edge of the box and he looked up, spotted Sanchez running at the heart of the host’s back-line and clipped a clever, lofted ball for Sanchez to attack and glance home past Kasper Schmeichel.

But if his first two goals were crafted by his team-mates, Sanchez’s third was all about him. He collected a throw-in, flicked the ball one side of his marker, ran around the other before unleashing a deadly accurate, low strike from some 25 yards just inside the near post to make it 4-1.

Yet still, considering Leicester’s powers of recovery this season, it didn’t feel as though the scoring would end there, just nine minutes before the end. And it didn’t, because Vardy grabbed his and Leicester’s second with another unerring, side-footed finish into the far corner, before we broke forward again, Nacho Monreal pulled back a cross, and sub Olivier Giroud swept home a first-time finish in the third minute of added time.

Maybe the scoreline was harsh on the hosts but statistically, one of our opponents were due a bit of a battering sooner or later because we had created more chances than any other team heading into this game, yet had the worst conversion rate too. That profligacy in front of goal was never going to last, whilst with players like Cazorla and Ozil in our creative ranks, the chances were bound to continue to flow.

Sanchez and his three goals aside, I thought Walcott was absolutely superb. His runs were relentless, their timing spot-on and his general link-up play, which is often deemed not cultured enough, was classy. In fact, for those who have said he lacks the requisite awareness and movement to play up front, well, Theo was producing what I can only describe as multi-mini-runs yesterday.

He’d go, then hold, then arc, all the while eyes fixed on his teammate in possession, waiting, urging and sometimes gesticulating where he wanted the ball before repeating that process several times, all in a solitary attack. He can of course still improve considerably , but this recent run in his favoured role has seen him look better and better in his all-round game and regularly find the net.

A bit abrupt but that’s it for today, I’ll be back tomorrow with post match reaction from the manager etc.

Til then.

25th September 2015: Premier League Preview – Can we hunt down the high-flying Foxes?

Happy Friday folks. Fourth plays host to fifth in the Premier League tomorrow, as we travel to Leicester City looking to get our title challenge back on track after last Saturday’s referee-inspired robbery in west London cost us three valuable points.

We should be fresh, having made ten changes for the mid-week win at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup and I’m expecting Arsene Wenger to make nearly as many alterations again for the game at the King Power stadium, with only Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey and one of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini keeping their place from Wednesday night’s starting line-up.

Francis Coquelin may start training tomorrow and was due for a scan today on the knee he injured at Stamford Bridge according to Arsene Wenger, but the ‘slight bone bruising’ is not thought to be too serious, and he should only be out for the short-term. Let’s hope we’re right with our early prognosis for once and ‘short-term’ doesn’t morph into ‘many months’ the next time we hear from Arsene, because frankly, I don’t think I could handle that emotionally after Jack and Welbz.

The fact that Coquelin misses the trip to Leicester does leave the boss with a selection dilemma in central midfield though – does he reward Mathieu Flamini’s man-of-the-match, two-goal display against Spurs with a rare league start tomorrow? Or does he pick Mikel Arteta to be our most deep-lying midfielder? Factor in the availability of Santi Cazorla after he served a one-match ban and the pairing he’ll pick in central midfield is far from easy to guess.

I can’t see us playing Ramsey and Cazorla as a pair if I’m honest, and Arteta with Cazorla didn’t seem to work at all against Dinamo Zagreb. Cazorla would have to play from the right or be dropped if Arsene went with Arteta-Ramsey and I don’t think I like that scenario at all. So if I was pressed, a Cazorla-Flamini combo would probably be my choice, even if I can’t recall them ever being deployed as the central duo in the past. That said, any two from Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey and Cazorla is possible I suppose, so as always, we’ll have to wait and see. He may even reuse Arteta-Flamini – only Arsene knows.

Elsewhere in the team though, normal selection service should resume. I think we’ll see Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott all regain their starting places. Gabriel serves a one-match ban for improper conduct after it was confirmed by the FA today, so he misses out and Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all still side-lined through injury for a good while yet of course.

As for Leicester, they’ve built on their strong end to last season and come flying out of the blocks to secure 12 points from their opening six games under new manager Claudio Ranieri. One of the features of their stellar start has been going a goal or two down only to come storming back later on in games, so if we take the lead tomorrow, we’ll have to be wary of becoming complacent. Anything other than an 8-0 lead going into second half stoppage time and I’ll be as nervous as Jose Mourinho in a meeting with Roman Abramovich after his latest club-embarrassing outburst.

Arsene discussed the Foxes’ form at his pre-match press conference today, highlighting the emergence of pacy forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, praising their recruitment and discussing his past meetings with Ranieri, when the Italian was manager of Chelsea over ten years ago. He said:

They had a very strong finish last year. They finished with seven wins in the final part of the season. They scouted very well and the emergence of players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy makes them always dangerous. They brought in N’Golo Kante and I think they have done a very good job. They made 10 changes on Tuesday night against West Ham who made only three, and they had just beaten Manchester City away from home. They beat West Ham and that shows that they have a massive squad. Against Claudio it was difficult because when he left Chelsea, he built the team that was so successful at the start. I remember them finishing second in the league with Ranieri and the team was upcoming with young players like John Terry and Frank Lampard who were the players that contributed to the success of Chelsea. I’ve followed his career because I have a big respect for Claudio Ranieri. He’s a great manager and a great man as well. Ranieri is Italian, they love clean sheets in Italy and they love to defend well. We would love to defend well against Leicester but also to attack well.

Hopefully, we’ll manage to do both tomorrow and go one better than last season’s draw at Leicester and pick up all three points. The Foxes will no doubt be full of confidence and in Mahrez, they have a winger who can twist a defender’s blood with his feints and turns of direction, so we’ll have to find some of our very best form to get a good result, keeping it tight at the back, and with a little luck, finally clicking as an attacking force, something I don’t think we’ve managed so far this season if I’m honest.

Back post-match.

COYG!

24th September 2015: Forgotten man Flamini fires us into fourth round

I’ll hold my hands up and admit I wanted Mathieu Flamini to be sold by Arsenal this past summer.

Not because I have any special dislike of the Frenchman, far from it. For instance, I fondly remember his contribution at left back in the run to the Champions League Final in 2006 and his superb partnership with Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park a couple of seasons later.

And despite leaving the club on a Bosman free in the summer of 2008 when we clearly wanted him to stay, I didn’t begrudge him a move to one of the traditional giants of the European club game, AC Milan, particularly considering he’s half Italian and had very likely held a long-term ambition to try out Serie A.

But my reasoning was that if he stayed this summer, we wouldn’t sign somebody like Grzegorz Krychowiak to be a competitor with, or deputy for, Francis Coquelin in the defensive midfield role, and that we needed a younger and to be blunt, better model than Flamini is right now at the age of 31.

That stance hasn’t changed and an upgrade for one or both of Flamini and Mikel Arteta should still be a priority signing in my opinion. Yet last night, Flamini started our game at Tottenham in the third round of the Capital One Cup and came up with two goals – the second as well executed a finish as you could hope to see  – to win us the game. Ben fatto Flamster – that was some strike.

The team in the end was not far off the one The Mirror had predicted and I had relayed here yesterday, with the one alteration being Aaron Ramsey starting, not Alex Iwobi, which meant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played wide left, with Ramsey in the middle, Campbell on the right and Flamini and Arteta anchoring the team behind them. Olivier Giroud led the line as expected but in truth, and far from unexpectedly, we failed to really find any kind attacking rhythm in a first half that was played at a pretty frenetic pace but had few phases of fluent football from either side.

The fact Tottenham also made changes – not as many as our ten alterations – but enough to disrupt any momentum three wins in a row had given them prior to last night, meant neither team looked a likely winner throughout the contest. But Flamini broke the deadlock after 26 minutes, expertly guiding the ball into the roof of the net after their ‘keeper had parried a stinging, low strike by the Ox from the edge of the box into his path.

The hosts leveled the contest 11 minutes after the restart though, when Nacer Chadli’s low cross from the left was diverted past David Ospina and into his own net by Calum Chambers. With Chelsea’s second goal last Saturday now also confirmed as a Chambers own goal, the former Southampton man rather unfortunately has two own goals in two games to his name.

Yet his performance alongside the returning Per Mertesacker in the centre of our defence last night was pretty impressive on the whole I thought, and at just 20 years of age, he still has plenty of time to improve and make the position his own in the the years to come.

But it was all about Flamini last night and after Kieran Gibbs had produced a brilliant, Ashley Cole-esque, goal-line clearance to deny Arsenal fan Harry Kane a first club goal of the season, Mathieu spotted a stray ball lumped high into the air by a Tottenham defender, decided he would decide this north London derby, strode forward with purpose and just the perfect number of steps, all the while with eyes fixed on the prize and produced a technically perfect first-time volley in the bottom corner. What. A. Finish.

Tottenham tried to muster a response and we should have done better with a couple of late counter-attacks but in the end, Flamini’s second goal of the night was enough to secure us a trip to Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the competition. Afterwards, the obvious man-of-the-match made his feelings clear to his detractors in the press and dedicated his goals to the Arsenal fans:

I’m very happy for the team because it was a difficult and tough game. Personally I am happy because I scored two goals. I have heard many things in the press, many people have been talking about me but I have proved everyone wrong. I’ve been working hard and I was ready for the game. The two goals were for them (the fans).They’ve always supported me, they’ve all been behind me and they’ve played a big role in my career. It was important for me to celebrate with them and nobody else. It was the first time I’ve scored two times in a game. [It’s good] to score against Tottenham in a derby in such an important game for Arsenal and the fans.

Even if I remain unconvinced by Flamini as an adequate deputy for Coquelin this season, one thing beyond debate is the man’s character in the heat of battle. He showed in his very first game for us after returning from Milan, incidentally against Spurs at Emirates stadium, that he had the stomach for a fight and although his body may not allow him to zip in on opponents and nick the ball away like in his prime, he can, at times, prove both a decent defensive midfielder and as last night showed, an expert goal poacher.

Till Friday.