Happy birthday to Nick Hornby who must be Arsenal’s most famous fan. I mean, other than the Queen, her majesty, god save her, and all that. Most of my American readers will know Nick by his movies and books like “High Fidelity” and so on, but not many Americans know that he also wrote a book called Fever Pitch. This book was so good it got made into two different movies. One about Nick’s own life as an Arsenal fan (which is what the books is about) and one about a Red Socks fanatic that starred Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore and sucked huge donkey balls. You would do well to not confuse the two films, unfortunately they are both called “Fever Pitch.”
The 1997 version of Fever Pitch is available via Netflix if you have that service and I highly recommend seeing the movie. For one, you will get a chance to experience what it was like climbing the steps of Highbury, cresting the top and having the old pitch fill your eyes. And for another, you’ll get to sort of see what it was like to be an Arsenal supporter in 1989, when Arsenal won the league, at Anfield, for the first time in 18 years. Us “recent” converts could use a dose of humility in seeing the sheer ecstasy that overcomes the fans when you have to wait 18 years before the team wins something major.
Nick also has a blog in which he occasionally still writes about Arsenal. In fact, the latest entry is a timely little musing on the mentality of some fans, you should check it out.
Anyway, happy birthday old man.
And now on to installment #2 (poop) of the top five Arsenal players of the season: Matthieu Flamini.
I kinda went down a rabbit hole this morning looking for some stats that would back me up on this claim of Flamini being one of Arsenal’s top five. When I emerged, I still didn’t have anything and so, I’m going to “make shit up.”
“Flattuso” that’s reportedly his nickname and if you watch him for a match, I mean pay attention to what he’s doing on the pitch to the exclusion of everyone else you can see why they call him that. The man is a menace — he’s just everywhere. Wherever the ball is I expect Flamini to either already be there or to pop up at any second. Whenever Arsenal need their opponent’s best player covered, Flamini’s on the job. Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Ronaldo, all have suffered under his ubiquitousness. He’s like a pit bull, once he gets his teeth into you he doesn’t let go.
Many of us saw this in him several years ago when he came on the pitch as a substitute left back — you remember, when Ashley Cole was supposedly injured but was instead meeting Chelsea’s people in hotel rooms? Flamini made me forget all about Cole that year and when Arsenal traded Cole for Gallas I said, “we don’t need him, we’ve got Flamini!”
But then his career took a poor turn. See, he didn’t want to play left back. He fancied himself a holding midfielder and the Rock of Gilberto was in that spot already — how do you unseat the captain of a team, a World Cup winner, and all around one of the most beloved members of the team?
He didn’t go to the press and complain like Lassana Diarra did. He didn’t create unrest in the locker room like Jens Lehmann does. He put his head down and gutted it out. Putting in some impressive performances for the second team in the Carling Cup and generally doing anything the boss asked him to do. Hell, I imagine if Wenger asked, Flamini would carry the team’s water.
And this year, that hard work has paid off. I don’t have any sparkling quantitative data (he only has 3 goals and 3 assists) to show you except one thing: 74 fouls committed. In his case, that’s not a bad number! That’s his job: foul people when needed.
Like here, when Nani did the seal dribble:
That’s a good tackle.
I don’t have the average number of km he runs in a game or the work rate he puts in or whatever you want. But I do have comments from his teammates and I think those will have to do.
Mathieu is mentally strong and is a winner. Players who never give up mentally always improve. He’s responsible for the tempo in our game.
Cesc has a lot to say about his midfield partner:
He was amazing, not just tonight but he has been amazing all season. I’m a big fan of his. He’s hyperactive, on and off the pitch. I don’t know how he does it but he has so much power. With his encouragement we play better. He has so much passion for the game. He enjoys it and he hates losing
And yes, even the press says nice things about him, like when he ran circles around Milan at the San Siro:
In Mathieu Flamini, the Arsenal manager has found a midfielder who is willing to share the workload.
They smothered Milan, snuffed out that genius Kaka, and then pulled off one of the most jaw-dropping results in the history of the European Cup. Milan’s supporters even clapped them off the pitch.
Yes, they were that impressive.
Flamini has proven to be the perfect foil for Fabregas this season; protecting the defense, allowing Cesc to attack, and covering for him when he makes mistakes. Yes, he has been impressive. So much so that the rumors are flying that he will make a move to Juve or somewhere. But only at Arsenal does he have the chance to really build a long term partnership with a player who could be one of the best ever. So, please sign the deal Matthieu, obviously Arsenal need you.