It all began with a scintillating debut performance for the Gunners against Tottenham Hotspurs, as Arsene Wenger’s valiant soldiers held their nerve to seal a 1-0 victory, one which was followed by the mind-boggling capture of Mesut Ozil. With Mikel Arteta suffering a thigh injury early in the season, Mathieu Flamini slotted into the holding midfield like he never left, and his enforcing presence liberated Aaron Ramsey to strut his stuff in attack like Cesc Fabregas in the 2007/08 campaign.
With Arteta undoubtedly an indispensable player to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was forced to make a decision on his holding-midfield pairing when the Spaniard was fully fit. He ended up fielding Arteta and Flamini in the heart of the midfield, which ensured that Ramsey was deployed on the right wing, a position he hasn't gotten much joy from in the past.
Against Napoli at the Emirates, it seemed like a stroke of genius, as the Arteta-Flamini combo was water-tight in midfield, providing a fulcrum to instigate attacks as well as protecting the back four behind them. Ozil opened his goalscoring account with a peach of a finish, a goal which was provided by Ramsey from the right wing. Arsene Wenger deployed the same squad against West Brom, but they were probably affected by their midweek exertions, and the Gunners put up a collective substandard performance with just enough in the tank to salvage a draw.
When the Gunners hosted Norwich after the international break, they were firing on all cylinders, and Jack Wilshere’s goal after an exquisite team move gets better with each passing replay. However, the magnificent midfield performance in the 4-1 victory was marred by a concussion suffered by Flamini after a clash of heads with Alexander Tettey.
Following the team doctor’s advice, Flamini was rested against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, and all thoroughbred Gooners could attest that his absence was hugely felt. The visiting holding-midfield combination of Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender smothered Arteta, and with Ramsey bombing forward, the midfield was lost. If Arteta had the raging Flamini by his side, it would have been another positive outcome.
Notwithstanding, Flamini made a highly welcome comeback against Crystal Palace, but after just eight minutes or so, he was replaced by Serge Gnabry after suffering a groin injury. Shortly after the game, Wayne Versey of Goal.com reported that he’d be out for two weeks:
Flamini is set to miss the club’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash against Liverpool next Saturday, as well as the crucial Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund and Tuesday’s Capital One Cup tie against Chelsea.
Goal understands that Flamini is now expected to be sidelined for a fortnight with the injury and that he is targeting the trip to Manchester United on November 10 for his return.
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His tackles, interceptions and clearances would have been very vital in the crucial clashes against Liverpool, Dortmund and potentially Manchester United. The Reds are riding high in the league and are just two points behind Arsenal with arguably the best strike force in the Premier League.
Daniel Sturridge may have scored an exquisite goal in the weekend against West Brom, but I may be quick to comment on how free he was allowed to waltz through the midfield unmarked before bearing down on goal, picking his spot and producing a chip Carlos Vela would have been proud of. Having a Flamini-esque midfielder would have mitigated that.
In the wake of Flamini’s loss, Arsenal can only count on the services of Arteta, who will serve a match ban for his professional foul on ex-Gunner Marouane Chamakh. Arteta’s ban ensures that he misses the game against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, a game he was sure to miss anyway.
Flamini’s performances this season have proved that he offered what the Gunners had lacked since Alex Song: grit, determination, doggedness, tenacity, “dirtiness” and an enforcing presence in midfield.
It’s a big shame that the Gunners would miss a player of his immense qualities in these crucial games coming up next month.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily.
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