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.