Mathieu Flamini. A name already hated more than most among Spurs fanseven for an Arsenal player. After he left Arsenal in 2008, he still came back to hurt Spurs, literally, breaking Vedran Corluka’s foot during their 2011 Champions League match against AC Milan. It was an awful challenge, wild and high, and went insufficiently punished with Flamini getting a yellow card for what was a blatant sending off offence. The Frenchman went even further by claiming it was a legitimate tackle and he had “no regrets” before the return leg. Nobody would have imagined Flamini still had the ability to hurt Spurs, and his brace in the League Cup derby game was all the more painful for it. He has been largely lamented by Arsenal fans, and Arsenal fans alone, since his return to the Premier League in 2013 but he has vindicated Arsene Wenger’s decision to reacquire him in a single match.
In the 77th minute, Spurs were on top in the game and were looking the more likely to grab a winner before they decided to forget about marking the defensive midfielder. He may have scored a tap-in in the first half, but there was no way he could do it again, and certainly not from 25 yards. Or so you would have thought. It was Flamini’s first ever two goal haul for Arsenal, and probably his last. Leave it to Spurs to come up with more and more creative ways to lose important games. They have teased the ability to win these games over the last few years, with victories over Arsenal and Chelsea last year, but this was Spurs at their Spursy-est. Flamini has scored 1 goal in his previous 60 appearances. This can’t actually have happened.
Spurs had won 3 on the trot, beating Crystal Palace and Sunderland in the league, and Qarabag in Europe. They have not conceded a league goal in a month, and were starting to look like they might pull it all together this year. Arsenal was the worst possible draw for them. The first game in the League Cup can frequently be overcome with a weakened team, and even if drawn against another big team, it lacks the intensity of a league game. But not Arsenal. A North London derby is always taken seriously and this was no different, despite eight changes to the team which won 1-0 against Palace. Of the three players who stayed in the team, Harry Kane is the only striker at the club and Eric Dier, Spurs’ player of the season so far, has played nearly every minute in defensive midfield.
Both are vital players but cannot be expected to play every game. Kane, in particular, looks tired and short on confidence. Spurs played more games than anyone else last term and will be up there again this year. Pochettino would have loved to rest him this week, with Spurs having 4 fixtures in 9 days, and another midweek game coming up against Monaco, who deliciously dumped Arsenal out of the Champions League last Spring. The last minute, Berahino-shaped tunnel vision in the transfer window is looking a more and more egregious mistake by the second.
Some people will see going out of the cup this early as a blessing in disguise. They may have a point, Spurs’ form dropped off badly after their run to the final last year, and yet, it hurts to be out of the cup. Spurs will not win the league this year. It is highly likely that they won’t finish in the top four, even with Chelsea and Liverpool’s current form and even if they dropped out of all the cups as soon as they can. Personally, I would rather they threw everything they have at the Europa League, but they can ill afford to ignore any chance of silverware, and this result is a disappointment.