It was a day everyone at Arsenal would rather forget, but also one Mathieu Flamini feels is important to remember – at least for this latest clash. The midfielder believes that the miserable 6-0 defeat on their last trip to Chelsea can drive his side on their return to Stamford Bridge.
Despite those conflicting thoughts, Flamini acknowledges one thing is absolutely clear about that fixture in March: “We collapsed”.
“We collapsed too quickly,” he elaborates. “After 10 minutes, we were already 2-0 down.”
After 45 minutes, it was 4-0, and Flamini came on at half-time to see it go as high as 6-0. “A nightmare,” as Arsène Wenger pointed out.
It was quite a way to mark the manager’s 1,000th game at Arsenal. Flamini doesn’t want to dwell on any of that now. He wants to use it. When asked if he was driven by the desire for revenge, he said simply: “Of course.
“When you go there, and you lose the way we did last year, it’s something on your mind. We go there, we give everything. It’s important for every single one of us but also important for the fans because I’m sure they remember what happened last year, and we really want to make it up.”
That humiliation will not be the only thing on Arsenal minds, adding an extra edge to the fixture. There is also something that’s possibly even more painful, not least because of other memories. That is the sight of Cesc Fabregas in a Chelsea shirt, actually playing against his old team.
Flamini admits it is “strange for everyone”, but it is particularly strange for him. The French midfielder arrived at Arsenal around the same time as Fabregas, he became close friends with him, and now they live close to each other again in London. They aren’t just former team-mates.
“I came here when I was 20 and he was a couple of years younger, so it’s been 10 years now. In that time, we’ve experienced a lot. We played in the Champions League final [in 2006] together, and I’ve been fighting for him for many years. It was his decision to go to Chelsea and I respect that. He is a very good friend of mine, and whatever he decides I will support it.
“Everyone must make his own choice, so we have to respect his decision. He is a big player. He is doing very well with Chelsea and I am not surprised.”
It may also mean they cannot surprise each other. Flamini and Fabregas were not just close off the pitch, but also on it, as they formed the central midfield two in Arsenal’s initially promising 2007-08 season. Now they will be directly pitted against each other.
“When we were together here we had a great partnership on the pitch. He was more offensive and I was more defensive, working hard for him.
“The difference on Sunday is that I will probably mark him and that will not be easy – first of all, because he is a good player, but also because he is a friend.”
There may even be contact before the match. “We live next to each other! Football is our lives and he’s a friend, but also we have a life outside the pitch. I talk to him and will definitely do so before the game.”
There’s also another twist to all of this. Flamini was the player to leave Arsenal first, joining Milan on a free back in 2008, and he reveals that Fabregas tried his best to persuade him to stay.
“Yes, of course – because we had an amazing partnership on the pitch and a good understanding,” he explains. “Of course he tried, but I respect his decision to come back to England and play for Chelsea, just like he respected my decision to leave and join Milan. Football is not always easy to make decisions, but it’s always important to move forward.”
Flamini claims he came back precisely because of the past. He regrets not winning more trophies with Fabregas and that team, particularly the 2006 Champions League or the 2007-08 title.
“In 2008, we had such a strong team. I’m frustrated because of that. Like I said, I came back because I have unfinished business and I think in my mind I want to clear it up. That’s why I came back, to win titles. We started last year, with the FA Cup, and we have a big ambition this year.”
They also have a big record to rectify, even beyond the 6-0. After all, Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho. That was one of the more concerning things about the March humiliation. It wasn’t just the scale. It was the fact it was the extreme distillation of the difference in their big-game records. Chelsea have a better record in such fixtures, and a much better head-to-head against Arsenal. Flamini acknowledges the team may have to alter something about their approach, maybe even to sit back.
“It’s important to go there and be strong defensively. That will make the difference and help to keep a good balance in the team,” he added. “We know over there that they will probably wait for us and counterattack. We have to be ready from the beginning. We don’t want to make the same mistakes that we made last year. We have learned from our mistakes.
“We gave the right example at Everton, when we were 2-0 down but managed to come back to 2-2, after we lost 3-0 there last year. We just have to go there with the right mentality, because it is a big game.” And a big response is required.Reuse content