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October 2016
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How to become an Arsenal legend

Tim Charlesworth

I must confess, I am a little over-excited at the news that Coquelin is ‘back in training’.  Of course, it is never quite clear what is meant by this sort of thing.  Wenger can be a bit of tease, and it may well be that he is not ready to play for a few weeks yet.  I shall certainly have cold sweats every time I hear the ‘setback’ word for a while.  Even so, his absence seems shorter than first thought, and I suspect we won’t be far into February before we see him back in the team.

The Coquelin injury was my worst nightmare, not because he is necessarily our most important player, but because there was such a big difference between his quality and the quality of his replacements (Arteta and Flamini).

Actually we have missed Coquelin a little less than I feared.  I think the injury has cost us points, but not many.  This is largely thanks to some excellent performances from Matthieu Flamini.  Most especially in the Olympiacos and Man City games, where he absolutely got the best out of himself and produced priceless performances.

What I rather hope will happen from now onwards is that: Coquelin will come back into the team, stay in it, and the team will win the league.  Should this happen, I will always look back on Flamini’s period in the team with affection and recognise a major contribution made to a title winning side.  I expect that Flamini will probably leave the club at the end of the season, realising that with the development of Elneny, Chambers and others, his future chances will be very limited.

And if all this happens, it will change my perception of Flamini forever.  He will then be a bloke who played a heroic part in a title winning team.  I love all the Arsenal title winning teams – and if this one wins, it might just be my favourite of all time, due to the redemptive effect it would have on Wenger’s reputation.

Up until recently, I thought of Flamini as one of those traitors who abandoned the club, damaging both the team and his own career, during the lean years (I define the lean years as the ones between Henry’s departure and Ozil’s arrival).

In Flamini’s defence, the club wasn’t very loyal to him either in 2007-8.  Arsenal seemed quite happy to let his contract run down until he unexpectedly displaced Giberto from the team at the start of 2007-8, when suddenly, they were keen to sign him up to a new contract.  But football fans are a bit harsh.  Our affection depends on all sorts of things, which are beyond a player’s control.

I remember Manninger, for example, with more affection than, say, Hleb.  This is a little unfair on Hleb (a lovely player with stick legs, who suffered from the same shooting allergy as Ozil).  In many ways Hleb made more of a contribution to our club than Manninger.

Manninger, however, was loyal, and crucially, made a great contribution in a winning cause.  For those who don’t recall, Manninger was the reserve goalkeeper who kept six consecutive clean sheets deputising for the injured Seaman in the 1997-8 double-winning team.  This run of games came at a crucial point in the season and included a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.  At the end of the season, Manninger only had seven appearances and therefore didn’t qualify for a Premiership winners medal (10 appearances were required).  He was, however, granted special dispensation by the FA in recognition of his contribution, and did receive a medal.  His record of six consecutive clean sheets remains a joint club record.  Overall, Manninger made 64 appearances for Arsenal over four seasons, without ever becoming first choice.

Hleb, by contrast, appeared 129 times, and was first choice during his entire Arsenal career.   He made an important contribution to the fourth place trophy wins in 2005-6, 2006-7 and 2007-8 (3rd).  I can accept that fourth place is important enough to qualify as a trophy, but not that it confers legendary status on its winners.  Hleb’s biggest problem however, is the selfish manner in which he left to join Barcelona.

A legend needs not only to contribute to a winning team, but also so show some loyalty.  Flamini was a bit disloyal when he left the first time, but in my book he has now done his penance with a tough professional stint as a squad player.  His namesake, Debuchy has shown us just how hard it is to do a good job of being a squad player when you don’t get many games!

So with just a handful of good games at the back end of his career, Flamini may have transferred himself from  the ‘slightly disloyal, also-ran’ group with Hleb, to the legendary hero group with Manninger.  Well done Matthieu.  Congratulations, you have done your job exceptionally well.  Now its over to your teammates.  If they get it right, you will be a legend!


More anniversaries

  • 22 January 1910: Man U played their last home match before moving to Old Trafford – a successful move to a larger stadium that may well have been a model for Henry Norris with his move of Arsenal to Highbury.
  • 22 January 1921: Arsenal played Tottenham for second week running, winning 3-2 at Highbury – making this the first Highbury derby between the two teams.  A crowd of 60,600 turned up – the highest thus far at Highbury.

The Untold Books

Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99.  For more details and to buy a copyplease click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search forWoolwich Arsenal.




18 comments to How to become an Arsenal legend

  • Usama Zaka

    Its very rare for Wenger to bring back players who left the club, even with Wenger wishing that they should stay.

    Henry (for a short stint) and Flamini are the only exceptions that returned. Henry was probably looking to lift up the team’s morale with his transfer.

    Flamini on the other hand became an out of favour at Milan and an out of contract player with no where to go. Out of nowhere Arsene Wenger allowed him to train with the club and gave him the chance to sign again.

    If you compare this to other players who left the club in a bad manner, bragged about it, lost their way in football, and then tried to come back by one way or another (Fabregas, Adebayor, Van Persie, Nasri)…. then you realize the importance and significance of a manager’s trust, more specifically Arsene Wenger’s trust.

  • nicky

    A righteous tribute to two Arsenal stalwarts.
    Manninger’s contribution to our cause has, in my view, always been under-rated and his stats speak for themselves.
    As for Flamini, it was “Lucky Arsenal” the day he returned to the fold, searching for some playing time. 😉

  • Sid

    Flamini also helped us reach the 2006 Champions final at left back in the record breaking defence. Then got dropped for the half fit Cole who went on to leave soon after.
    Add that to the go and join Birmingham in the summer just before he let his contract run down.
    Two sides to every story, I guess

  • Usama Zaka

    I started supporting Arsenal in the very difficult 2006-2007 season, and Flamini started to play at his peak, even continuing the next season and when I saw him leave, I was surprised and disappointed as well just like Tim mentioned.

  • nicky

    @Usama Zaka,
    You forget the most distinguished returnee of all…Martin Keown.

  • Nigel

    Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann were two others whom Wenger took back to play after leaving, the latter for only one game. In modern times Martin Keown and John Lukic also did the same.

  • Usama Zaka

    Nicky, Nigel

    Yeah forgot about Keown and Lehmann 🙂

  • serge

    Arsenal legends? There’s probably no more than 50, and Flamini (as much as I like him ) will never qualify.
    He’s at the most a good, 100% full on player.

  • Andy Mack

    The most annoying thing about Hleb (apart from his departure) was that his allergy to shooting was only for us. He scored quite a few for national team and they were mainly shots…..

  • Mandy Dodd

    Look forward to Coq coming back, what a player he has turned out to be. His stats are quite earth shattering, but you don’t need stats to see what he does. It is rumoured Wenger had forsaken schneiderlin for Coq… wonderful as it would be to have both , not an option, just glad we have Coquelin…..and now, he has some very excellent backup.
    As for Flam, think he has exceeded expectations. Always knew he would be a useful player, but was doubtful he would have the legs to cope in cows absence, especially with teams clearly targeting him.
    When he came back, he told the official site he had unfinished business on the trophy front. So far, on his return, he has contributed to two FA Cups and two CS. If he can help the team go one further this season, while performing in all kinds of adversity, think for me at least , that takes him into legend status.
    I do wonder if he may be offered another year, but whether that is the case or not, wish him to leave Arsenal as a legend ……and then go on to save to world from its fossil fuel issues…..ok maybe asking a bit too much, but just making a point!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I ‘d like to think that Flamini will still be around for some time , even if he gets a little less playing time . He has always played his heart out for us . I never considered him disloyal for leaving for AC Milian ,but was disappointed at that time.

    In fact I remember voting for him on a poll of whom Arsenal fans would like to come back to the club . This included Henry , Cesc and Helb amongst them.
    I think that both him and Arteta have given their best in the absence of Le Coq , and along with Chambers can be proud of their contributions, and standard of play.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Sid. You make a good point about the Champions league final. Flamini and indeed Senderos, were very harshly treated. That defence had not only done well, but broken CL records. I was not happy when Cole and Campbell came in for the final. Of course I forgave Wenger when Campbell scored. Campbell’s goal is another example of how legends are made. We now barely remember it, but if our defence had held on for another 13 minutes we might think of that goal in the same category as Micky Thomas’ goal. Campbell secured his legendary status in other ways, and remains my favourite centre half of all time (up against some pretty stiff Arsenal opposition of course). But if we had held on, or the officials had exercised the offside law, things could be very different!

  • Pat

    It’s nice to be reminded about players like Manninger who make an important contribution and then get forgotten.

    I have a soft spot for Hleb because although he left he never had a bad word to say about Arsenal or Arsene Wenger and indeed almost begged to come back.

  • Pete

    I think Hleb has been quoted as saying that leaving Arsenal was the worst mistake of his career.

    I have always liked Flamini and didn’t really hold his departure against him. As you note, he wasn’t treated hugely well prior to then.

    As for Coquelin’s absence costing points, not really. Since he was injured we have dropped points as follows (all competitions):

    WBA Lost 2-1. We were already behind when Flamini came on (Arteta having been an interim sub) so can’t really blame him. No further goals conceded on his watch.

    Norwich Drew 1-1. Goal came from a low cross from our right which Gabriel didn’t deal with. I don’t think can blame Flamini for that.

    Southampton Lost 4-0. The game was a total disaster and I don’t think Coquelin would have changed the outcome.

    Liverpool Drew 3-3. One could argue that Coquelin may have prevented one of the Liverpool goals but did Flamini have a particularly poor game?

    Stoke Drew 0-0. Flamini was excellent and we didn’t concede.

    Therefore, at the very worst, could argue that Coquelin’s absence cost us 2 points at Liverpool. On the other hand, Flamini was instrumental in shoring up our defence during many tight wins over the period. Would Coquelin have done as well?

    To conclude, much as I like Coquelin, I don’t think his absence has cost us at all. Yet, at least.

  • OlegYch

    Andy, Hleb has only scored 6 in 69 for national team, and 10 in 129 for Arsenal, and that’s only because he is the best finisher in national team

  • OlegYch

    he’s also scored 2 in 20 for bmham, and 21 in 215 for stuttgart, so one goal in 10 games is his standard rate

  • Strus

    Worst time to publish such article. Flamini failed to compose yorself on 2 big chances in the first half. He failed to put Willian under pressure, so Per got red. He failed to keep position and covered view to Koscielny, then Koscielny failed to clear and Costa scored.
    Arsnal failed to win this match, they gave the points to Chelsea. It happened again. What a pity, I’m so pissed that too many players today failed, so the rest hard work was undone.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Strus – must agree with you. Did I jinx Flamini? (article published before the Chelsea game). I don’t really agree with Pete’s analysis. The team is stronger with Le Coq in it and I think some of these results could have been different with him in the team. Nonetheless, the point of the original article was that we haven’t dropped too many points as a result of Le Coq’s absence (a bit spurious to speculate exactly which game might have been different). However, the Chelsea game was clearly an example of exactly what can go wrong with Le Coq missing – overrun in midfield, defenders pushing up to fill the midfield gap, vulnerable to the ball in behind them, then failure to clear the ball and dominate the centre of the red zone, leading to crosses coming in, and to top it all, Flamini’s movement interferes with the centre backs and leads to a goal conceded to Lucifer/Costa. Perhaps I should keep my mouth/pen/keyboard shut.