Arsenal Can Rely On Flamini
On the 21st of November Francis Coquelin went in for a heavy challenge on Claudio Yacob and ended up with a serious knee injury. Many were already worrying this spelt disaster for Arsenal’s title ambitions when his replacement that day, Mikel Arteta gifted West Brom the win, contributing to their first goal before actually scoring their second. Arteta had to come off in that game, another in a series of injuries that have dogged the last years of the midfielders Arsenal career. We ended that day in 4th, although only 2 points off the leaders Leicester.
And so Arsenal turned to Matheiu Flamini, who had received somewhat of a popularity boost as a result of his heroics against Tottenham and his efforts to save the planet. The prospect of him playing regularly however was not something that some fans were particularly happy about, citing our need to play our experienced midfielder as an example of insufficient squad depth. Since his introduction we have played 9 games in all competitions, winning 7 (Flamini was absent for 1 with a thigh strain), drawing 1 and losing 1. These included a good performance in the vital CL game against Olympiakos as well as the game against Manchester City where he skillfully marked David Silva out of the game.
If we ignore the humiliation versus Southampton, which we must do, not only to preserve our sanity but also because all of our players were crushing disappointments that day, can any game be selected and it argued that Flamini had a bad game? I can’t think of one. Now I’m not arguing that Flamini is the perfect midfielder that all children should aspire to be but for a 2nd/3rd choice DM I think his contribution is a valid one and indeed one we should be more appreciative of. He’s never going to be the guy to slide in, beat 3 guys then play a perfect cross field ball but he’s done well and helped the side out admirably.
During this period he has broken up play when we require it, covered for our fullbacks when they’re in attacking positions and generally done what we would regard as the basics without issue. Now some would argue that as an Arsenal player we need more, yet this is our 2nd/3rd choice, not our first and so we must accept that there is some reduction in quality. If we look at the other big teams Flamini has certainly performed better than his equivalent counterparts, say Mikel at Chelsea or Fernando at City.
It seems we should also address this belief that Flamini is indisciplined or as some say, “a red card waiting to happen”. There is no denying his play is aggressive, described by Wenger as “warrior-like” yet this season Flamini has only been booked twice, one of which was a justified lunge at Danny Rose. As for the belief that Flamini can’t be trusted due to assumed reckless behaviour, in his entire Arsenal career he has only been red carded once, with no dismissals since his return in 2013.
What must also be taken into account is the nature of how we play has also changed slightly in the last month or so due to the unfortunate injury to Santi Cazorla. Cazorla likes to sit deeper, dictating play as well as seeking out those quick passing sequences and as so functions as a controlling influence from the centre. Following his injury Ramsey was reintroduced to the middle of the park, something he hadn’t exactly kept quiet that he desired. Ramsey’s strengths come from his movement and willingness to run beyond the striker, typically Giroud but this of course leaves us open in the event of possession turnover. What Ramsey would need to do would be to time those runs responsibly, something he did to perfection in the early half of the 13/14 season, to avoid leaving the defensive onus on Flamini but also to provide an attacking outlet. This was something that Ramsey and Coquelin had proven unable to do successfully the few times the manager experimented with them in the middle, with the last time they featured together there from the start the opening day defeat to West Ham.
Flamini and Ramsey have generally functioned well, although perhaps a little too open at times for peoples liking. This open nature hasn’t been aided by Theo Walcott’s reintroduction to a role on the flanks. Although his defensive input has increased immeasurably since his part in the Tottenham equaliser last year he still has a tendency to let his man go so he has space to counter attack into. This leaves an extra man for Flamini and Ramsey to cover, especially if that player is intelligent and attacks the space, as we saw in the last game versus Newcastle where both Walcott and Chamberlain on the opposite flank were guilty of this.
The whole point of having experienced squad players is so that they can be used in moments of crisis, when first selections are not available through injury or dips in form. When turned to these players have an opportunity to prove their worth and help the team though that patch, think Rosicky in his spring time element driving us to a CL spot. Flamini has done this through the hectic Christmas schedule and whilst Coquelin has started running again in recovery from injury, there are still a lot of difficult games to play before he returns. Let’s hope that Flamini is able to approach these with the same drive and professionalism he has shown as he seeks to prove Arsene Wenger’s decision to retain him for this year was the right one.
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