Arsenal are simply soaring at the moment. Despite the hiccup vs. Villa on the opening day. Arsenal have only dropped 2 points in the Premier League of which they sit top and have a maximum points total out of their two games in the Champions League.
The improved form of the Gunners and the increased optimism is mainly down to the new found stability of the club accompanied with the acquisition of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, the upgraded form of Aaron Ramsey and the resigning of Mathieu Flamini who plays in the typically underrated defensive midfield role.
Flamini, who described his reinstatement back at Arsenal as “returning home”, is looking like yet another masterstroke by Arsène Wenger.
To the surprise of many, he has been one of the first names on the team sheet due to his performances and it is as if he has never left. After his baptism of fire in the 1-0 win over Tottenham in September, the Frenchman has gone strength to strength and has displayed the gritty attributes in midfield that Arsenal have been crying out for since, well, Flamini departed for AC Milan in 2008.
Unfortunately, the enforcer suffered concussion due to a clash of heads with Leroy Fer in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Norwich on Saturday and Wenger ruled him out Tuesdays mouth-watering clash with Dortmund. Although a minor injury, ( he will be fit for Saturdays trip to Selhurst Park) it’s an injury that could be potentially critical to Arsenal’s chances of shutting a menacing Dortmund out at the Emirates.
It’s certainly not crisis point for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has been a standout performer in a more defensive role, rediscovering his deep-lying abilities since he joined from Everton. But also, Ramsey, Wilshere and even Cazorla can all all fill in deeper in defensive midfield positions if needed. The XI Arsène Wenger decides to go with will hardly be experimental but none of the aforementioned players can offer a substitute to what Flamini contributes on the pitch.
Perhaps the most obvious weakness that Arsenal would suffer in a Flamini-less team. It is no secret that Arsenal have improved dramatically defensively but Dortmund are a level above any team Arsenal have played this season.
The Germans, who finished runners up in the competition last year, also boats a dignified run of form losing just one of their last 10 games (2-0 away to Borussia Monchengladbach).
Despite the loss of golden boy Mario Gotze, who departed for Bayern Munich in the summer, Jürgen Klopp categorically wanted to maintain the harmony to the unique brand of attacking football at Dortmund. The need for a dynamic, interchangeable attacking player was top the shopping list and a player who was compatible with the Dortmund system was Shakhtar Donetsk’s Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The stylish number 10 primarily plays just behind Lewandowski, and isn’t restricted to a central role. The playmaker likes to interplay with Reus in particular, but the main component of his game, remains his goal scoring prowess. He scored 29 goals in all competitions for Shakhtar last season and has transferred his form to his new club, excelling at Dortmund with 4 goals already.
Arsenal will most likely start with a double-pivot of Ramsey and Arteta and while the duo will have a lot of the ball against a Dortmund side know to sit deeper away from home, they will have the burden of keeping an eye on the movements of Mkhitaryan and Reus to ensure Arsenal are not susceptible to the counter-attack.
Considering that most of the goals Arsenal conceded last year were initiated in “the hole”, the presence alone of Flamini limited the space and time of any attacking midfielder operating in the area. Creative players who have come up against the Frenchman such as Mousa Dembélé , Marek Hamšík and Mathieu Valbuena got little change out of the former Marseille man when he was playing.
The fact the other players know that Flamini is sitting behind them gives the players peace of mind and allows them to focus on attacking. Arteta and especially Ramsey will have to display maturity tonight and make sure we are not too open in midfield.
Team cohesion & momentum.
Flamini was desperate to re-join the Gunners following a training stint and gives the impression that he will fight tooth and nail for the club. He said himself that he has unfinished business after his abrupt departure in 2008, and his shows with his warrior-like performances. While we familiarise Arsenal with attractive, free flowing football, the need for grit and determination essential in any team, any successful team I might add.
The instant impact Flamini has had is no coincidence, not only because he had previously spent four years with the Gunners, but he displayed natural leader qualities. Flamini’s presence on the pitch is vital for a team often criticized for lacking natural leaders, he takes responsibility when others haven’t as shown against Stoke. Some of the younger players need that protection and reinforcement from the more experienced players.
Tonight against a tough Dortmund side, leadership will be more important than ever. And Arsenal will have to go without one of the most dominant personalities in the dressing room.
Arsenal fans will still fancy themselves to get the result tonight and it maybe hold more significance than most people might think.
Although Arsenal look comfortable at the top going in to tonight’s game, a loss would mean that Arsenal would need to pick up points away at both Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, who are both sides who play better on home soil. It is not a position Arsenal will want to find themselves in what makes the game a must win.
They will have to do it without their summer signing who has been a revelation for the Gunners. A loss against Dortmund could expose how important Flamini is to his side.
How do you think Arsenal will do without their midfield general tonight?