Over the past month Matthieu Flamini has barely played due to injuries and suspension. Considering Flamini is the only recognised defensive midfielder Arsenal have, you would have expected Arsenal would have been leaking goals in his absence; quite the opposite happened:
"Since their 2-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal have kept 5 clean sheets in 7 games. This run has largely coincided with the return of Mikel Arteta. He has effectively replaced Mathieu Flamini during this run and has struck a good partnership with Aaron Ramsey. Although they have both been dribbled by players far more than Flamini, Arteta and Ramsey have successfully attempted more tackles, interceptions and average far more passes per game than Flamini."
*Quoted from Scoop on the City
That just leaves Arteta and Flamini to duke it out for the other central midfield position. Lets look at what they both bring to the table. Starting with Arteta, his combination play with Ramsey is a high octane one. They both charge forward looking to intercept the ball early and keep the opposition camped in their own area. Due to this they receive more touches on the ball, explaining why they average more passes than Flamini. It also the reason they have both made more tackles and interceptions. The downside to this is that they are vulnerable against skilled opposition. Arsenal's defeat against Dortmund is a prime example. Ramsey who had a horrid game, dallied on the ball and was dispossessed which directly led to the first Dortmund goal. For the second goal the Arsenal midfield parted like the Red Sea for Dortmund to cross through.
Luckily, with Arsenal's defence being on top form, Arsenal have not been overexposed as the likes of Gibbs and Koscienly (who have the next highest tackling stats) are able to calmly deal with whatever leftovers have seeped through. However, last season the whole Arsenal back-line were for the most part appalling. This is the reason why Flamini was brought in. Unlike Arteta and Ramsey who swarm their opponents in a risky manner, Flamini is a typical defensive midfielder who holds position, in essence marking space making it very difficult the thread through the middle. Flamini has only been dribbled 3 times (0.4 per game) this season. Compare his paltry figure with Arteta's and Ramsey's figure of 1.8 per game each, it becomes apparent Flamini offers a steady base to work with, but the creative onus is very much on his partner. It is no surprise when both Arteta and Flamini played as the double pivot against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, Arsenal struggled to create any chances - both the lowest amount of chances they have created this season.
*All statistics courtesy of WhoScored