Without Mesut Ozil, Arsenal aren’t sudden title contenders and league leaders in the Premier League, but they weren’t exactly short on creativity in the midfield before his arrival. However, bringing back Mathieu Flamini gave the team a real defensive midfielder and not a converted one for the first time in a very long while, happening to be the biggest reason for their success this season.
It’s hard to look just at Flamini after the wonderful goals scored by Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil (twice) and Aaron Ramsey, as Arsenal beat Norwich 4-1 and took a two point lead at the top of the Premiership. However, the manner in which they struggled with possession and dominance in the second half had a direct link to Flamini leaving the pitch injured after 37 minutes, and might some cause for concern.
Mikel Arteta was never a true answer at that position, especially against elite teams. If Flamini isn’t out for a long time, his presence should be enough to keep the ball rolling for Arsenal, partnering with either Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere behind the more creative trio of Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Wilshere, giving Arsenal what just might be the most fun to watch attacking midfield in Europe.
There’s no need to expand on Ozil, who was one of the best players in the world before he signed with the Gunners, and his performances so far, including the first two league goals for the club, haven’t discredited his reputation one bit. He doesn’t exactly play behind Giroud because there seems to be a lot of freedom in the Arsenal system, allowing Wilshere and Cazorla, originally playing in wider positions, to roam freely and switch positions at will. When you have intelligent players doing that, there’s really no chance of seeing anyone confused, hindering the gameplan.
But behind all the creativity, slick passing and scoring there has to be someone representing hard work. Arteta, as adaptable as he may be, isn’t the player that Arsenal want alone in the defensive midfield if they’re going to make this season the one that finally breaks the glass ceiling of fourth place and the Champions League second round. Flamini made it possible to have some confidence in the back, but if the Frenchman isn’t playing, Arsenal seem unbalanced and vulnerable.
Aaron Ramsey has played well in a defensive role this season, not really stooping him from moving forward and scoring some wonderful goals, including a fantastic one in the win over Norwich. However, there is a chance Flamini, suffering from a concussion, is going to need more than just a few days of rest before he’s back in the lineup, which means that he’ll have to assume his role for two or three matches.
Olivier Giroud didn’t score, but did assist on the opening two goals. Just like Chelsea, Arsenal’s system since Ozil has arrived means the most important finishers come from the midfield. When there’s no pressure of scoring on Ozil, he’s truly a delightful striker to watch playing – excellent movement, vision and positioning, playing much better when he doesn’t have to be the one under pressure to bring some clinical finish every time.