Although Flamini’s volley was a rare moment of quality in this match, the two sides put on an intriguing and spirited show. There were personnel and tactical tweaks, hearty challenges, and a few nervous moments for Arsenal’s defenders.
Here are three points that stood out.
Mathieu Flamini does a wicked Aaron Ramsey impression
We don’t know if Flamini can deliver mundane lines with a slight Welsh lilt, and it’s almost certain he can’t reproduce Ramsey’s level of performance on a regular basis, but for this one night at White Hart Lane, Flamini looked every bit the all-energy, goal-scoring midfielder.
Arsenal’s first goal owed to Flamini’s effort to follow up on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot. In the 26th minute, Flamini takes off into the Tottenham area just as Oxlade-Chamberlain lets the ball run across himself and turns. Flamini continues his run where Tottenham’s central defenders don’t follow, pounces on the rebound, and lifts a lovely poacher’s finish over Tottenham keeper Michel Vorm.
That’s the kind of energy and product Ramsey has produced when he’s in form, from a similar position in Arsenal’s central midfield.
As Flamini explained, "I tried to be a bit creative today. I had the opportunity. I felt there was maybe a possibility, so I went forward [for the first goal], and the ball came back to my feet."
Flamini’s game-winner was opportunistic in a different way. He has a lash at a poor clearance on the edge of the Tottenham area and drives it into Vorm’s net. The same intent—albeit with a lower degree of difficulty and less spectacular execution—that Ramsey delivered on with his eye-catching Champions League goal against Galatasaray last season.
During the rest of the match, Flamini harried Tottenham, occasionally as the team’s most forward presser as Ramsey often does, and dropped beside Mikel Arteta when Tottenham advanced.
This range of activity meant that Arteta and Flamini did not clog the midfield as much as we might have expected the duo to do; instead, Flamini produced an attacking threat and end product that Arsenal’s central midfield has struggled to create so far this season.
Arsène Wenger agrees with Jack Wilshere
The Arsenal manager made 10 changes to the side that played at Chelsea on Saturday, leaving only Ramsey, who reprised his national team role as a free playmaker. This despite Wenger’s comments before the match intimating he’d resist wholesale rotation:
It is an opportunity for Arsenal to win an important game and for the players who play for our club to defend our club and qualify. Apart from that, we played with the team in Zagreb, and we didn’t win, so we want to come back now and win our cup games because that’s vital to us.
It’s that last hint about the consequences of rotation in Zagreb that led us to think more of the first choice XI might be involved from the start on Wednesday.
But the manager seems to share Jack Wilshere’s view that there’s a scent of poo about Tottenham.
He holds his nose at the Capital One Cup as well, when necessary. It’s long been fourth on his list of priorities, and a derby matchup didn’t change that thinking.
This is an understandable--and now vindicated—choice, given where the match falls in Arsenal’s calendar. In three days, the team travels to Leicester, needing a win against an undefeated opponent to spark its league season. Then, on Tuesday comes the absolute must-win home contest against Olympiacos in the Champions League.
With three matches in six days, Wenger looked past the passion of a cup tie with the rivals and gave his preferred starters a rest. Flamini, especially, took advantage of the opportunity.
Arsenal’s right was all wrong
The pair of right back Mathieu Debuchy and forward Joel Campbell was the most vulnerable part of Arsenal’s setup. Campbell’s defensive interventions were notable because they were so rare, and Debuchy suffered on his own.
The Frenchman was the architect of some of his problems as well, making questionable decisions to advance, getting sucked in to the center of the defense, and giving the ball away far too often.
It was Debuchy’s errant central pass that started the Tottenham move leading to Calum Chambers’s unfortunate own goal. Debuchy also got caught under the cross-field pass just enough to allow Tottenham’s Nacer Chadli to control it and send the ball toward David Ospina’s goal.
Campbell, playing as one of two inverted wingers, couldn’t get a free header on goal in the first half.
On the evidence of this match and Debuchy’s performance a week ago in Zagreb, the pair aren’t close to working themselves into the manager’s preferred lineup.
Tottenham adjusted its pressing game to focus on Chambers and Debuchy, unlike last season’s league encounter when they targeted Francis Coquelin and Ramsey in the center of midfield.
With Arteta’s vision, positioning, and calm on the ball at the base of Arsenal’s midfield, an aggressive midfield press might not have worked as well; plus, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino no doubt studied Chambers against Liverpool and Debuchy against Dinamo Zagreb and decided they were easier prey. Chambers acquitted himself well, despite his decisive part in the Tottenham goal.