An original Goonersphere article.
During the final match of this past season, it was easy to overlook the fact that three players who had spent a cumulative 22 years at our club, were there to bid farewell to Arsenal, and to Gooners everywhere.
It was excusable, so don’t feel too guilty. The crescendo of hilarity that was our calamitous neighbours and their heartfelt gift to us was perhaps one of the finest from a blooper reel of massive proportions. The unexpected fiasco that was their 5-1 drubbing at the hands of ten-man, already relegated Newcastle will always be remembered fondly, merely for the fact that we had consigned ourselves to a league placing that was below them for the first time in two decades. Yet, they did what they do better than anyone, and the good feeling and mirth that ensued from the full-time whistle and long into the night meant it was an occasion that will long be recalled as perfect banter ammo.
Amidst the peals of laughter however, Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky were present in the stadium to say sayonara.
The traditional lap of honour was Flamini’s opportunity to say goodbye, as well as our forgotten club captain Arteta.
Tomas Rosicky though, had spent a decade in our colours, and whilst his appearances amounted to few, he left no one in any doubt as to where his fealty lay.
At half time, he was presented with a silver cannon, to commemorate and celebrate what a fantastic achievement spending ten years at our club really is. The whole crowd should have been there to witness it, and lavish him with the same affection he holds for our club. It was half-time though, so more than half of the Gooner faithful were not present to do so.
I was there, and felt he deserved better. However, as the lap of honour began after our thumping of Villa, the players came out, all wearing Rosicky’s name and number on their back. This was a fantastic touch and showed the regard he is held in by one and all.
Mikel Arteta’s post-match interview has done the rounds via social media, and its dissemination is due to his emotional responses. He chokes. His voice breaks. His words on the club he was so proud to join were poignant and pertinent.
It reminded us all what a special man we had at the club. I say man, rather than player, as his time on the pitch over the last two seasons was nominal. There can be no doubt though, that he affected all around him, either on the training pitch, when facing the media, or on the bench. His aura wills respect and an attentive ear. He personified how a player should carry themselves when they carry the cannon on their chest.
Then we come to Flamini. His last season took the gloss from what was a largely successful return to Arsenal, after leaving in 2008 to join AC Milan. His departure back then left many with the acerbic taste of negativity towards him. His fledgling partnership with Cesc was starting to show promise but his apparent mercenary attitude cost us dear.
Upon his return – again on a free transfer – many scoffed. It was just another money-saving scheme by the frugal Wenger, to paper over a gaping wound, rather than stitching it. Thirty six appearances were made by the combative Gaul that season, and we were left in no doubt that he was a welcome addition to the squad.
His last two seasons though, were derided. Costly errors, tactical faux pas and a tendency for red mist to show rather than the required cool blue outlook of experience meant that Flamini was not only making less appearances, but fans could see his limitations clearly.
To a degree, he carried more vitriol than most. The fact he was a free transfer, and his age, meant that he carried the banner for Wenger’s transfer policy.
We should be under no illusions however. Whenever Flamini put on the Arsenal jersey – short sleeves or long – he gave every drop of effort he had.
The sad farewell’s of these club stalwarts invokes memories tinted in gold. Arteta lashing in from 25yards against City. Flamini’s volley against tottenham. Rosicky, and nearly every touch of the ball he made. These three players may reside at very differing points on the barometer of technical skill, but all can be fondly looked upon in the future.
It is also important to avoid tainting the truth with rose-tinted spectacles. For the last two years – whether it be through injury, physical limitation or simply a limit on skill – these players have taken up a valuable squad place that could have been filled far more adequately.
What is of far more significance though, is that these last two years should be forgotten when we do remember these players. Their efforts, their glory moments, warrant far better than for us to sully them with niggling moans. When they were at their best, and they took to the field with their chest covered by our badge, they more than merited selection. They more than deserved their right to that special place in our memory.
Club legends? With such a glittering array of footballing titans in our annals, they do not come close. Let us not pretend however, that they were mere pawns during their tenure.
They were far more than that.
Thank you Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky – and a heartfelt goodbye.