Thursday 14 December 2017

Flamini proves the unlikely hero to see off Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Arsenal 2

Mathieu Flamini celebrates after scoring the second goal for Arsenal
Mathieu Flamini celebrates after scoring the second goal for Arsenal

Sam Wallace

There are many ways in which Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have expressed their supremacy over their neighbours Tottenham Hotspur in the modern era, but it is hard to recall any as uniquely cruel or unusual as beating them solely with goals scored by Mathieu Flamini.

This Capital One Cup third round tie was won by two goals from a 31-year-old Frenchman who, until kick-off at White Hart Lane had not played at all this season following a summer in which the club had tried to move on Flamini but discovered, without being impolite, that they could not give him away. In the last year of his contract, in his second spell at the club, he gave a mediocre cup tie a pub quiz status.

That Flamini scored once was remarkable enough. That he added the second with a volley hit first time on the run with Spurs in the ascendancy and Arsene Wenger's team struggling to mount a serious attack of their own was one of those rub-your-eyes moments. Yes, that really was Flamini running arms aloft to the Arsenal supporters in the corner to whom he would later chuck his match-shirt as if he did this kind of thing every week.

For Spurs, it was an evening that went badly wrong in a split second, bringing to an end their three-match winning run. Manchester City await at the weekend, and there will be questions about how they let this cup tie go.

Both line-ups were heavy on the peripherals, the squad players and the understudies - a Mikel Arteta here, a Kevin Wimmer there. For Arsenal, Wenger selected Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who would both ordinarily make his first XI, but otherwise it was very much a team drawn from the second choices.

Mauricio Pochettino selected Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier among his side, one that drew slightly more heavily on his first-team regulars. The quality of the game reflected it.

There was not much in this cup tie until Arsenal took the lead on 25 minutes. Hardly a chance was created until Oxlade-Chamberlain took advantage of a poor attempt at a tackle from Dier and hit a low right-foot shot at goal.

Michel Vorm, in for Hugo Lloris, got down to save the ball but only pushed it in front of him. The identity of the man coming in to bury the loose ball was a surprise, to put it mildly: here was Mathieu Flamini, 31 years old and a man who is ordinarily prolific only when it comes to yellow cards. He tends to average a goal a season.

Flamini, playing his first minutes of the season, certainly did not allow the moment to pass him by. He celebrated in front of the Paxton Road End with predictable results and at last we had a decent cup tie.

Spurs committed some numbers to attack and had the best results down Arsenal's right, where Mathieu Debuchy had a dreadful first half that ended with a booking for a foul on Danny Rose.

Kane put himself in the kind of positions where he tends to run with the ball and open up shooting chances but he never found the space to test David Ospina.

Instead the best chance of the latter stages of the first half fell to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was gifted the ball by Federico Fazio. Opening the angle of his body for the right-footed shot beyond Vorm, he misjudged it badly.

Pochettino got the necessary improvement from his Spurs team in the opening stages of the second half and for long periods of that half, after their equaliser, it looked like they might just go on to win the game. Arsenal's energy seemed to wane, and they conceded within ten minutes.

Nacer Chadli picked the ball up on the right wing, collecting an overhit cross from Andros Townsend and driving toward the byline on the left side. He shot in front of Ospina and, in a moment, of uncertainty, Calum Chambers lunged in to help his goalkeeper and clipped the ball past him.

Spurs should have put the game away. Kane hit a volley first time at the far post which Kieran Gibbs stooped down to clear off the line. Pochettino made the first move from the substitutes' bench, brining on Heung-Min Son.

As for Arsenal, Olivier Giroud was doing his best in attack and, as is often the case, finding that his best just was not good enough. Wenger matched the Son substitution by sending on Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was pulled down by Kevin Wimmer as he attacked a cross on 73 minutes in what looked like a very good chance of a penalty. One minute later, Arsenal had retaken the lead.

A Sanchez pass flicked up off the boot of Fazio, dropped steeply and running onto it with his right boot was Flamini who caught the ball true and sent a low shot into the corner. This was a remarkable comeback - a Flamini from the flames - and his goals won it. (© Independent News Service)

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