Relic or revolutionary? Flamini hails Arsenal boss Wenger
Title showdown with Chelsea will be manager's 1,000th game in charge
NO PLAYER in the current Arsenal dressing room is as well placed to pass judgment on Arsene Wenger's reign as manager as Mathieu Flamini. The 30-year-old midfielder rejoined the Gunners last summer nine years after arriving for his first stint in north London. In all that time Flamini has made 182 appearances for Arsenal, an impressive number but a long way short of the 999 matches that Wenger has overseen since his appointment at the start of the 1996-97 season.
Wenger celebrates his 1000th game in charge on Saturday when Arsenal travel across London to Chelsea, and win or lose Flamini says it will be a landmark to remember for the club: "It's an unbelievable achievement," said the Frenchman. "He means so much to the club for the achievements he has done until now. Congratulations to him, first of all."
Asked for the secret to Wenger's longevity at the club - he is the longest serving Arsenal manager by five years, and has ten years on the second longest-serving manager in England - Flamini replied: "I think it's [because he is] someone who knows exactly what he wants. He has a vision since the beginning, he's moved to Arsenal and he still has the same one. He know exactly how he wants to play... He's not really changed, he's still the same person. He had a philosophy before and he still has the same ones, that's why it's so easy for me to come back and to find my place in this team."
The cynic might say that in Flamini's words lies the reason why Arsenal have not won a trophy since the FA Cup in 2005 – that their manager's footballing philosophy hasn't moved with the times and the revolutionary is now the relic, unable to keep pace with the way the game has changed.
But with Arsenal still in contention for their first league title since 2004 – they lie third, four points behind leaders Chelsea, and also in the semi-final of the FA Cup Cup – Flamini is confident the Gunners will have something to celebrate in May. "Both competitions are very important for us," he said. "It's a great opportunity, everyone is waiting for Arsenal to win a title and everyone is talking around the club that Arsenal haven't won a title for a while. It's a great opportunity for us and it's in our hands and I can assure everyone we will do everything to go through and win it this year."
Demonstrating his time at Arsenal has left him with a mastery of the football cliche, Flamini warned that the title race "is not a marathon, now it's a sprint". With Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City separated by just six points, Flamini knows that defeat on Saturday at Stamford Bridge could prove fatal to their title ambitions. "The Premier League is very competitive, it's a very open championship and that means every single point is important... In the title race, it's very important not to drop any more points."