Will Flamini come back to Eng­land to haunt Arse­nal’s ti­tle chal­lenge?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

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.

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