Sunday 25 February 2018

Mathieu Flamini is proving to be Arsenal's secret weapon

Arsenal's Mathieu Flamini
Arsenal's Mathieu Flamini

Jeremy Wilson

When Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta suddenly joined Jack Wilshere in the Arsenal treatment room last month, Arsene Wenger was asked if he regretted his decision not to sign Morgan Schneiderlin given that he must now rely on Mathieu Flamini.

“What is your name?” said Wenger. “I will tell that to Flamini.”

 Maybe he did, because fundamental to Arsenal actually widening the gap to their main rivals in the Premier League title race has been the unexpectedly impressive contribution of Flamini.

He has been part of an Arsenal side that has won four straight games since Cazorla’s injury and formed a central midfield partnership with Aaron Ramsey that was the platform to potentially season-defining victories in Athens against Olympiakos to remain in the Champions League and then in the Premier League against Manchester City.

 Flamini’s wider record of 36 wins and 16 draws in the 52 league matches that he has played at The Emirates is also extraordinary. His form is underpinning an increasingly persuasive argument that he might just be worth another year on his contract even after almost joining Galatasaray during the summer.

Flamini is still only 31 and, while the Christmas schedule will provide the ultimate test, starting against Southampton on Boxing Day, he does appear physically capable of playing twice a week on a regular basis. “The more games you have in your legs, the better you become,” says Flamini. “You gain in confidence and you become better physically. You gain physically so the possibility to do game after game is obviously good for me.”

 Coquelin was a spectator on Monday and impressed by his replacement. “Aaron is a little bit more offensive,” he said. “Mathieu was getting forward a bit more compared to what he did in the first games he played, but against Manchester City he showed a lot of discipline to play really well. He’s really important in big games and they both showed great quality.”

With the January transfer window opening shortly, the big looming issue for Wenger is whether Flamini’s form will make it unnecessary to add to his midfield options.

 Wilshere is due back from injury next month but Wenger has still instructed his scouts to scour the world market in search either of a permanent addition who could enhance his squad in the longer-term, especially after Flamini and Arteta have departed, or a loan deal that is strictly to help this season.

What Wenger will try to avoid is being forced into any permanent deal for a player who might not then be part of his plans once Wilshere, Cazorla and Coquelin are all back. Flamini’s form, though, has averted an emergency and retained momentum in a season that had briefly looked in danger of fizzling out. His influence has already been considerable.

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