Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday October 5 2007
This is to be a regular feature that i've had in mind since the summer. Frankly, I rarely agree with any of the choices made for Arsenal.com's player of the month, but I still cannot quite shake the injustice of Gilberto not getting player of the season last year. Not to take anything away from the outright winner, Cesc, but Gilberto was head and shoulders above everybody. But hey ho, that's the beauty of football I suppose, it's all about opinions, and that's why sites such as this thrive. Fortunately, I've got me a publishing url, so I have license to shout mine from the rooftops, an opportunity I rarely pass up.
Anyways, Arsenal.com has announced Cesc Fabregas as September's player of the month. Quite understandable really as the diminutive Catalonian produced his usual outstanding performances, littered with a total of four goals and seven assists. Emmanuel Adebayor might also have been a worthy winner with his six goals in September. When contemplating player of the month, Kolo Toure is always in the running (literally, in fact, I often wonder if the guy knows how to stay still, I have visions of him disappearing home from training, only to sit their literally vibrating in his armchair). The Ivorian has been solid as ever this season, but with many doubting his captaincy credentials (well, I did anyway), the armnband has given him a new lease of life as he has cajoled and organised the back four, bringing them forwards with his surging runs and barking instructions at set pieces.
But for me there was only ever one winner for September's player of the month. Nobody has personnified Arsenal's current form better than Mathieu Flamini. It's relatively easy for a footballer to come into a winning team and perform, but I truly believe Matty has been one of the main instigators of our renaissance. With accomplished players such as Denilson, Diaby, Fabregas, Gilberto and latterly Diarra and the young Song waiting in the wings, Flamini indicated a desire to leave Arsenal this summer. In truth, this wasn't an admission that caused shockwaves with this writer. Flamini was always a player who gave his all, humming around the pitch like a wasp in a beer garden. But he lacked presence, he didn't have the positional sense of a Gilberto or a Song, nor the brute force of a Diaby and he was certainly behind Denilson and Fabregas in terms of technique (who isn't?) Consequently, he always gave off the headless chicken vibe and I wasn't particularly troubled by the prospect of his departure.
But Flamini had a change of heart in the summer and decided to fight for his place. Fair enough, I thought, good luck with that! With Gilberto joining the group later than the rest of the squad, Wenger turned to Flamini to be Fabregas's new defensive foil. In the Pompey game, Sagna was forced off after a collision with, ironically, Flamini in a typically committed challenge. Flam played the rest of the game at right back and was immaculate. O.K, perhaps that's where his future is, as a deputy full back. Two weeks later and the testing North London derby, Gilberto had centre half duties to attend to so Flamini played in the middle. He was the best player on the pitch, easily compromising fatty Huddlestone's 'power' and, well, you don't really have to do a lot to stop Jenas do you? If anything, let him have the ball. But this was no flash in the pan, three days later Arsene picked Flamini ahead of Gilberto in the centre of midfield for the home tie with Sevilla. Once again, he was marvellous, his positional sense suddenly having morphed with maturity, as he anticipated passes and broke up play with tenacity. In fact, I doubt he was more than ten yards away from the ball at any one time in the whole nenity minutes. His vibrant kinesis of season's past still present, but a new found intelligence had burrowed it's way into his game.
Another fine performance against Derby is hardly the biggest commendation given the brittle opposition, but he showed great improvement in another area of his game in the away victory at Upton Park. While his commitment has always been admirable, his actual physical power looked to be lacking. But faced with the hard nosed midfield triumvirate of Bowyer, Parker and Noble, Flamini gave as good, probably more, than he got. In turn, this has freed up Cesc Fabregas to play further up the pitch and do the damage in the final third. Cesc is very prepared to bear the physical brunt, but Flamini's army general 'leave em to me guv' stance has provided the perfect foil for Fabregas and his brilliant performances are now being backed up with end product more than at any stage of his career.
The greatest compliment you can pay Flamini right now is that Gilberto, last year's player of the year (officially!) is kicking his heels on the bench. It's not a situation that I disagree with at all. It's easy to feel for Gilberto as he is the model professional and an affable a pro footballer as you're ever likely to see, but sentimentality must never rule team selction and Flamini is worthy of his place right now. It also affirms the importance of having competition for places, Flamini will know he has to maintain his current purple patch with Gilberto, Diarra, Denilson, Diaby and Song salivating noisily in the background. What I particularly like is Flamini's humility, he knows his job and performs it with strict discipline. Win the ball back, give to Cesc, Hleb or Rosicky, all of whom are more likely to play a defence splitting pass or trouble a goalkeeper from range. But with the confidence brimming from him, I think Flamini's technique has improved too, he now looks comfortable spreading the play to either full back, or searching out a running striker. For those reasons Mathieu Flamini wins my player of the month award. Unfortunately, this isn't an award that will be presented to him on the pitch, nor is it sponsored by some faceless corporation. In fact, it doesn't even carry a grotesque piece of mantlepiece fodder that would not look out of place in an Amsterdam sex shop. But for what it's worth Matty, appreciated mate. Keep it up.LD.
Date:Friday October 5 2007
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