Should Arteta emulate Flamini for Arsenal or stick to his guns?

Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini will sit out for the Gunners’ clash with Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates on Tuesday.

The French defensive midfielder suffered a concussion in the North Londoners’ 4-1 victory over Norwich on Saturday and will likely be sidelined precautionary by coach Arsene Wenger.

Aaron Ramsey came on to replace the 29-year-old at the weekend just before half time and the young Welshman, in fine form so far this season, scored one and made another of Arsenal’s goals against the Canaries.

However, I would expect Wenger to opt to bring back vice-captain Mikel Arteta on Tuesday, given the Spaniard’s ability to retain possession and protect the backline against such high level opposition.

Arteta functioned in that very same holding role last season when the Gunners beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at the Allianz Arena prior to their eventual winning of the competition in the final against Dortmund at Wembley.

Arteta and Flamini operate in the same role at Arsenal – the fans had been crying out for Wenger to sign a defensive midfielder all summer prior to his decision to re-sign free agent Flamini who absconded in 2004 for AC Milan.

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Arteta is an exceptional passer of the ball and reader of the game – his ability to control the tempo and dictate the play has been a staple of the Gunners’ setup since he arrived in replacement of Cesc Fabregas in 2011.

However, it wasn’t until his compatriot Santi Cazorla arrived at the Emirates last summer that Arteta was converted into a deeper-lying holding midfielder and, although it had never been his natural position, he took to the responsibility of the role very effectively.

He is not stranger to the art of tackling and his anticipation of danger is astute, he rarely gives the ball away and he has the experience at 31 years of age to ensure the focus and commitment of the team is in place.

Not only does Arteta act as a holding midfielder in a technical and tactical sense but, moreover, in a mental capacity as well – he holds the team together, leads the youngsters and keeps the play positive.

Flamini is altogether quite different – he is far more combative, feistier, and more negative in terms of his breaking up of the play, and whilst he is a competent passer of the ball, he rarely involves himself in attacking phases of play. He tends to stay back rather than allow himself to get sucked forward when Arsenal are in possession and he ensures the Gunners have a physical presence in central areas to combine with their smaller, slighter and more creative players.

Arteta too can be combative and physical – as I said, he is no stranger to getting stuck in and he takes on the responsibility of protecting the back line well – but I wonder whether, especially up against the free-flowing attacking and expansive play of a side like Dortmund, whether he might take a leaf out of Flamini’s workbook, as it were, and really throw his weight around as a more traditional defensive midfielder.

If he continues to play the game that comes naturally to him in that role, especially at home, Arsenal will likely find themselves taking a greater share of possession than Dortmund over 90 minutes but, as we have seen against well drilled opposition, the Gunners can and do have a tendency to get caught on the break and left exposed at the back and I think, if Arteta tried to emulate what Flamini has brought to the team so far this term, that physical confidence, and combative mentality, Arsenal would likely find it easier to break the Germans down.

image: © wonker

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