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!
- 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.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal