Will Flamini come back to England to haunt Arsenal’s title challenge?
ARSENE WENGER’S undoubted delight at seeing his Arsenal side clamber to the summit of the Premier League table this week must have been tempered by a story 24 hours later involving one of their rivals, Manchester City.
Reports from Italy linked City, under new manager Roberto Mancini, with the former Arsenal midfield player Matthieu Flamini.
If there is one player who would surely enhance Arsenal’s own title challenge it would have to be Flamini.
The day the Frenchman quit Arsenal for AC Milan, I sensed the Londoners would miss him hugely.
For much of the time since he left in May 2008, Arsenal’s defensive organisation has been nowhere near as good without the able French international.
Flamini provided the glue in the structure, guarding the approaches to the Arsenal goal as the defensive midfielder.
Flamini grabbed an enticing four-year contract with the Rossoneri but has since perhaps learned that sometimes the grass can appear greener on the other side.
Under coach Leonardo, Flamini has struggled to secure regular first team football. It is the old story – one coach’s opinion of a player may vary dramatically from another’s.
Whatever the reason, Flamini needs to have regular first team exposure with the 2010 soccer World Cup now so close.
Without that, he might well miss out on a place in Raymond Domenech’s squad.
So Manchester City appears interested, probably initially on a loan basis until the end of the season.
But even as they went to the top of the table this week with a 4-2 home win over Bolton, Arsenal reminded us of the Achilles heel in their game.
They may have eventually completed their seventh win in the last nine League games.
That moved them above leaders Chelsea on goals scored, although the Londoners have a game in hand.
But in the match, Arsenal trailed 2-0 to Bolton within the first 28 minutes. It required strikes by Thomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas either side of half time to haul them level.
The point is, Arsenal still have defensive concerns. They still lack a defensive midfielder of Flamini’s quality, vision and commitment to help protect the back four.
Of course the Gunners are tremendous going forward. We all know that and it has been the case throughout Wenger’s tenure at the club.
But what will decide Arsenal’s title challenge will be how they cope defensively against the top clubs; Chelsea and Manchester United.
They must still visit Stamford Bridge and memories of the way Chelsea demolished them 3-0 at The Emirates last November, a defeat which put them 11 points off the lead and apparently out of the title race, must still haunt Gunners fans.
You can’t give clubs like Chelsea or United two goal starts and still expect to win.
Flamini would be an ideal player to slot back into this Arsenal side.
He would offer them much better midfield balance and stiffen the defensive sinews.
How ironic, then, if he goes to Manchester City and does a job for them.