It does feel as if Arsenal have experienced a bit of the worst and a bit of best that sport has to offer over the last few games. I, like many other fans, got extremely angry and frustrated watching the defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea, with my displeasure being directed at the team, the officials and opposition. There was a sense that Arsenal had been cheated out of the game at Stamford Bridge, a view backed up by subsequent FA actions for Diego Costa and Gabriel, and the club was in need of a bit of a lift.
No-one could ever have seriously predicted that said lift would be provided by Mathieu Flamini. Despite being a man of some excellent nicknames (the Flame, Flam, the Corsican), none of which that I can take credit for, and being a man who has always given his all when wearing the red and white, Mathieu Flamini hasn’t been particularly popular with supporters in the last year or so. While it is very true that he has his limitations, it’s never for a lack of effort or passion when playing for the Arsenal that has led to some indifferent performances from the Frenchman.
But this is one of the great things about sport that keeps us coming back. There can be a saturation of media coverage and analysis, but no-one can ever guarantee what will happen, and so Mathieu Flamini proved by becoming Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp in the same evening and winning Arsenal a North London derby.
Too often in football, partly fuelled by the hyped-up transfer market, there is a focus on what a player can’t do, rather than what they can do. On derby day at the Lane, Mathieu Flamini managed to make people forget what he can’t do with a spirited performance in his first game of the season, and realigned views on what he is capable of as a player.
In a Capital One Cup game that lacked a bit of cohesion because of the changes made by both sides, Flamini led the way with the drive and the determination you need when playing against Tottenham. When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first half shot was parried by Michel Vorm, Flamini was the surprise player who’d committed to chasing the shot in case of the ball coming back out, and he was rewarded with a left footed finish into the roof of the net.
Having made the point that sport remains unpredictable, there’s still plenty of occurrences that aren’t surprising. Moments after scoring, Flamini charged into Danny Rose and picked up a yellow card.
The Gunners did find themselves pinned back a bit after half-time as Tottenham looked to repeat the comeback victory they achieved in the most recent league meeting between the teams last season. Spurs got too much joy down Arsenal’s righ-hand side as Mathieu Debuchy struggled, and for a period in the second half, it felt as if Arsenal couldn’t keep hold of possession. The somewhat inevitable equaliser came when Calum Chambers could only divert a low cross past David Ospina.
At that stage, there only looked like one team who’d go on to win the match, and that team wasn’t Arsenal. Kieran Gibbs made a heroic goal-line clearance to deny Kane, and that moment seemed to spark Arsnal into life again. The introduction of Alexis into the fray gave the Gunners more of an outlet on the counter-attack, Aaron Ramsey was able to get on the ball a bit more and Arsenal looked to expose the pretty useless Fazio in the Spurs defence.
To avoid extra time, the match still needed someone to take responsibility and make the difference in the game. Step forward the Flame to set quite an average derby alight. As the ball dropped out of the North London sky 25 yards out from Tottenham’s goal with 12 minutes to go, it was the sort of inviting opportunity that usually ends with a ball volleyed miles back into the stands. Not if your name is Mathieu Flamini though. The Frenchman timed his approach perfectly and lashed a sweet volley into the bottom corner. The celebrations were wild after the initial shock of not believing that Mathieu Flamini had indeed just scored a beaut of a volley from outside the box.
For the remainder of the match, Arsenal were disciplined and sensible, and could have snatched a third goal on the break. Overall, there were plenty of positive performances for Arsene Wenger to take away from the game. After the suspect defensive showing in Zagreb, with the exception of the rusty Mathieu Debuchy, Arsenal’s back four looked pretty good with Kieran Gibbs particularly impressing. Per Mertesacker was a calming influence when Spurs built up a head of steam in the second half and, own goal aside, Calum Chambers looked much more assured than he did earlier in the season.
But it was Mathieu Flamini’s night. He probably won’t get a game at the weekend and may still leave the club in the not too distant future, but he should now be a genuine cult hero. There haven’t been many better winning goals in a North London derby at a White Hart Lane. Mathieu Flamini, I salute you.