ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger hailed “fighter” Mathieu Flamini after the out-of-favour midfielder’s brace inspired a Capital One Cup derby victory last night.
The 31-year-old, who almost left the club in the summer, scored both goals on his first appearance of the season -- the decisive second a rasping volley from the edge of the box.
It ended the Gunners’ run of successive defeats, set up a fourth-round trip to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday -- shock winners at Newcastle -- and earned praise from Wenger.
“He’s a fighter Mathieu, a winner as well. I told him at the start of the season that it might be difficult to be a starter but he decided to stay and he did fight,” said the Arsenal boss.
“I fought to keep him. He was certainly frustrated for a long time and he went for it and scored two good goals -- especially the second one. Overall we responded well mentally and physically to the challenge we faced tonight.”
Tottenham looked the most likely victors before Flamini’s 78th-minute strike, having equalised through a Calum Chambers own goal and overwhelmed their rivals.
Defeat ended a three-game winning run was their first since the opening day visit to Manchester United but manager Mauricio Pochettino insisted he was far from demoralised.
“In football you need some luck and today it was against us,” Pochettino said. “We need to take a lot of positive things. It’s true our supporters are very disappointed and we feel very bad. We want to win and when it’s your enemy, more. But this is football. We have to be happy with the way we played and disappointed with the result.”
While Spurs made eight changes for this, their third game in a week, Arsenal rested 10 men, yet it was the Gunners who found fluency first and took the lead in the 26th minute.
The lesser-spotted Joel Campbell had already headed over before Michel Vorm generously parried Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s drive to Flamini, who found the roof of the net.
Spurs looked most dangerous down the left, where full-back Danny Rose twice embarrassed rusty Arsenal defender Mathieu Debuchy but could not beat goalkeeper David Ospina.
Half-time galvanised the hosts, and striker Harry Kane had a goal disallowed for offside moments before Tottenham equalised through Chambers in the 56th minute.
Winger Nacer Chadli drilled across goal and the skittish youngster, who deflected Eden Hazard’s shot into his own net against Chelsea on Saturday, diverted past Ospina.
Kane’s bicycle kick forced Kieran Gibbs to head off the line as Tottenham's bombardment continued, but Arsenal’s introduction of Alexis Sanchez would help stem the tide.
He tested Vorm following a surge in from the left, yet it was the unlikely figure of Flamini who struck the winner, meeting a looping high ball with a low 20-yard volley.
FOURTH ROUND DRAW
Manchester City v Crystal Palace
Liverool v AFC Bournemouth
Manchester United v Middlesbrough
Everton v Norwich City
Southampton v Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal
Hull City v Leicester City
Stoke City v Chelsea