Szczesny, Fabianski, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott. Of Arsenal’s senior playing squad, these are the nine players who don’t currently have injury problems ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Fenerbahce – a quite ridiculous level of an injury crisis. The club’s thin squad doesn’t help, but it’s rare that six players get substantial knocks in one match, as happened in Arsenal’s calamitous loss to Aston Villa on the first day of the Premier League season.
The main talk will be about Arsène Wenger and his lack of summer spending, which is of course utterly galling for all Arsenal fans. With the Suarez deal seemingly dead in the water and Luiz Gustavo joining Wolfsburg, there aren’t any deals reportedly on the table for Arsenal, although Wenger insisted that they work “24 hours a day” on transfers.
Mathieu Flamini has been training with the Gunners this summer, and Wenger will certainly have been running the rule over the French midfielder who departed from AC Milan on a free transfer in 2008. This was on the back of an impressive season in central midfield alongside Cesc Fabregas, with Flamini doing the dirty work while Fabregas created.
As well as that season, Flamini had an impressive 2005/06 campaign filling in at left back during Arsenal’s injury crisis – as Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy both had long-term injuries, the French midfielder covered at full back admirably as Arsenal went all the way to the Champions League final.
The fact that Flamini can do the dirty work in midfield alongside more creative players and his ability to cover in defensive positions, plus his immediate availability, mean that the signing would make sense on the short-term, although it’s unlikely that the former Marseille man would have much of a long-term future at Arsenal, especially at 29.
However, it wouldn’t be acceptable for Flamini to be Arsenal’s only signing in midfield. Mikel Arteta is Arsenal’s only midfielder capable of defending, and that was clear for all to see on Saturday – particularly when Gabriel Agbonlahor strolled through the centre of the park to win the first penalty for Villa. Anyone who thought Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere could adequately protect the defence will be reconsidering that stance.
Even Arteta last season struggled at times, especially given his dwindling pace – there were many occasions when Arteta was out-done by a faster player and was forced to commit a cynical foul. If he couldn’t bring the player down, the player would be free to run at the defence, with no other midfielders offering much protection.
Arsenal clearly need cover in quite a few positions at this moment, and they need it sooner rather than later. But it’s been obvious for a while that what’s also vital is a long-term replacement for Mikel Arteta. Mathieu Flamini can provide the former, but shouldn’t be considered as the latter – he’s only two years younger than Arteta, and since he was released by AC Milan, probably isn’t capable of reproducing the form he showed in 2007/08 to earn that move.
It’s quite ridiculous that Arsenal are relying on Arteta, previously a creative midfielder at Everton, as their only midfielder capable of providing defensive protection. Alex Song was let go last summer, with Arsenal fans mostly accepting it as long as they signed cover. No midfielder was signed, with Francis Coquelin providing the back-up.
This summer, Coquelin was let go, meaning that Arsenal have zero cover for Arteta left. Arsenal may need to upgrade on Olivier Giroud, but they need a quality midfielder soon. Flamini can offer cover, but if he’s the only signing in midfield, Arsène Wenger will have few defenders left – in midfield or in the fan-base.