Arsenal v Sheffield United – John Fleck can underline Scotland claims as Blades go for rare double

THIS hard little professional has put Scotland in dreamland.

Ignored: John Fleck.
Ignored: John Fleck.

Few of a Tartan persuasion and from a certain age will ever forget those words – uttered by an Englishman in revered commentator David Coleman – immediately after Archie Gemmill’s classic World Cup strike for ‘Ally’s Army’ against the Netherlands in the Argentine city of Mendoza in June, 1978.

Tough, steely, but quietly-spoken and no great lover of fanfare, Gemmill was one of those who did his talking on the pitch.

There were no big celebrations after that wonder goal. It was a few handshakes and straight back to the centre circle. There was work still to be done.

Former Scottish international Archie Gemmill. Picture: Frank Tewkesbury/Getty Images

Which brings us nicely to Sheffield United’s John Fleck.

Like Paisley-born Gemmill, Fleck is one of those who leads by example through setting the highest of standards.

One withering on-pitch look towards a team-mate who does not meet those would speak far more than words – the Glaswegian is not one for suffering fools. Or fielding daft questions either.

Plainly a doer, he leaves the chatter off the pitch to others. Much as Gemmill used to do.

That fact that Scotland have regularly ignored Fleck’s considerable talents over the past few years is one of the great unfathomable footballing mysteries of our time. Fleck, being Fleck, just gets on with it.

Today, his Premier League story; the story of a midfielder who has come from League One backwaters at Coventry to become one of the most well-respected players in the Premier League takes him to Arsenal.

Those Gunners midfielders who trudged off the pitch after their 1-0 loss at Bramall Lane in the reverse fixture on October 21 and probably looked across to Fleck and said: ‘Who is he?’ certainly know plenty about him now.

Fleck, 28, one of a hardcore of Blades players who have been with Chris Wilder right the way through his staggering journey managing his boyhood club, said: “Everyone has different paths in their careers and different ways to get there.

“We have come through from League One and had some good times. Others get here quicker, but I think it is the right time in our careers because we are a bit more experienced. You can have it at 21 and not be ready and never get the chance again.

“I am sure the gaffer could have changed it if he wanted to, but decided to stick by us and give us a chance. So far, we’ve repaid that. It us up to us to keep improving.

“The novelty has not worn off. Every game at this level is exciting. Arsenal is another important game and day out for the fans, but for us it is about getting the right result.

“We go there with a plan, we know it will be difficult. They have still got world-class players and a good manager.

“We never did ever set targets, but the aim was to stay in league and accumulate points. We have had a good start, there is no getting away from that.

“But it up to us to keep it going and see where it can take us.”

The Premier League table may denote that the Blades sit in a decidedly rosy sixth position ahead of their first league trip to the Emirates Stadium in just over 14 years since December, 2006, but a self-motivated group may feel the need to prove a point today.

Their last away-day amid exalted company ended in a 2-0 defeat to champions-elect Liverpool.

No disgrace for sure, but there was still a nagging feeling within the inner sanctum of the Blades dressing room that they were slightly off it collectively, given their sky-high levels this season.

Today presents a tantalising chance for the Bramall Lane outfit to secure a first league double over Arsenal since 1946-47.

You also have to go back to 1970-71 for the first time that the Blades won an away game against the Gunners – Scottish winger Stewart Scullion netting in a 1-0 success in August, 1971.

For Scullion’s compatriot Fleck, there is some handy personal motivation as well, having been part of a Coventry side who were thrashed 4-0 at the Emirates in an FA Cup tie almost six years ago in front of a 5,000-strong visiting contingent from the Midlands.

Today, Unitedites travel south with not just blind hope, but belief. This should not just a day out; those days have long gone.

Fleck said: “I remember that (Coventry) game. It seems a long time ago now. Arsenal were flying at the time.

“But being here, this squad is a lot better and a more tight-knit group. We are confident we can get something from game if we get the performance right.

“Away to Manchester City, we played quite well, but lost 2-0. In the Liverpool game, we did not play at our best and they did.

“No way were we going to get anything from Liverpool playing as we did.

“We took it on the chin and moved on and it up to us to go there (to Arsenal) and put in a better display than West Ham and see if we can get a result.

“As a group, we need to get back to playing well. We are going to have bad games; it is part and parcel of game. But we need to get back to our standards.”

Another authoritative showing from Fleck today would increase the clamour for him to become a regular part of the Scotland scene, with a gaping midfield berth waiting to filled given the injury absence of John McGinn in the nation’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final with Israel at Hampden Park on March 26.

As ever, Fleck is not one to bang his own drum. He will let his performances continue to talk for him.

Capped twice by his country, the midfielder observed: “We will see how much the form is helping with Scotland when that comes around, won’t we?”