After so much talk about Arsenal’s lack of cover in the defensive midfield position for Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini provided a reminder of his presence with two goals to beat Tottenham in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. In an evenly matched north London derby, it was two finishes, the second a stunning volley, from the veteran Frenchman, making his first start since February, that proved the difference. And manager Arsene Wenger may need Flamini to repeat that kind of form on Saturday when Arsenal visit Leicester City in the Premier League.
Coquelin missed the League Cup third-round duel in midweek with a knee injury. And, worryingly, ahead of the match Wenger couldn’t give any specifics about his likely return, saying “We hope it is just a short-term problem.”
Given the history Wenger has with initially stating that one of his players has only a minor problem only to later have to rule them out for the long term -- Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck are currently sidelined examples -- the situation is a concern. Much interest then will be paid to Wenger’s press conference on Friday to discover whether Coquelin, such a key player since coming into the team in January, can take the field against Leicester. If not, then the next question will be how much of a hectic upcoming schedule, which sees matches against Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the next month, he will miss.
Perhaps just as big a problem right now, however, concerns the fact that Arsenal were required to rely on two goals from Flamini against Spurs. Long revered for their free-flowing attacking play, Wenger’s side have scored just eight goals in as many games in all competitions this season. On Wednesday, the reasons for those struggles were in evidence.
Olivier Giroud returned to the starting lineup for the first time since his red card against Dinamo Zagreb last week, but again failed to distinguish himself. Between him and Theo Walcott, they have four goals in 15 appearances this season, doing little to dispel the widely held belief that Arsenal needed to sign a top-class striker in the summer.
In truth, though, they have not exactly been helped by those behind them. Playing in his more favored central role, Aaron Ramsey made a similarly minimal impact to that he has offered when deployed out wide for much of this season. And, unlike the first half of last term, Alexis Sanchez hasn’t been able to make up for his team’s cracks. Coming on as a substitute at White Hart Lane, the Chilean injected some intensity into Arsenal’s performance but with his one chance he showed the same errant finishing that leaves him still without a goal this campaign.
It must surely be tempting for Wenger to now promote Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the starting XI against Leicester. In his limited minutes this season, the England midfielder has offered a spark that many of his attacking colleagues have been lacking. That was again true against Tottenham, when his shot set up Flamini’s first goal and he later went on a stirring run before just failing with his finish.
Arsenal’s Saturday opponents will be able to count on an attacking player in red-hot form. Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez has lit up the Premier League this season, scoring five goals and adding three assists. If Arsenal are to move above fourth-placed Leicester in the table and avoid falling further behind leaders Manchester City, containing the Algerian, as well as channeling some of his flair into their own attacking ranks, will be required.