How many Arsenal supporters scratched their heads when Arsene Wenger announced the re-signing of former gunner Mathieu Flamini after his contract ran out at AC Milan? He wasn’t the big name signing Arsenal fans so desperately wanted. He wasn’t Lars Bender, Sami Khedira or Paul Pogba — names that had been thrown around in the media after the club announced a rather extravagant war chest Wenger was given to spend during the summer transfer window.
The opinion of most Arsenal fans was that Flamini was just a back-up player, someone Arsenal could rotate in and out of the team to keep other players fresh. He’d do a decent job, but he wasn’t going to change games or help the Gunners win a title.
Prior to Flamini re-joining Arsenal, the main thing Arsenal fans remember about him was that Arsenal offered him a new contract but he decided to leave on a free to AC Milan. In the eyes of some Arsenal fans, he didn’t show the club the respect it deserved. In reality, this was a perfect example of short-term memories by English football fans, and their love for revisionist history.
Flamini left because Arsenal didn’t show the faith in him that he deserved. There was a point where he was filling it at left back for Arsenal, doing a solid job and starting games, yet it wasn’t his preferred position. He became restless and wanted to prove he could do a job in the middle.
Once he was given his chance within the engine room at Arsenal alongside Cesc Fabregas, he began to show just how important he was for Arsenal. He wasn’t the tallest, strongest, fastest nor the most technically gifted player on the pitch, but his aggressive approach and unwavering determination in the middle was just what the doctor needed.
Arsenal have always been a club where flamboyant players would hypnotize fans with their beautiful football, but not since Gilberto Silva has the club truly had a midfield general. Arsenal have sorely missed someone who was willing to put in a shift ahead of the defense and break down play. That was Flamini.
When Flamini initially left Arsenal in 2008, it was reportedly because the club was unwilling to increase his wages by a significant amount.
Meanwhile, all the headlines — since the start of the season — have focused on the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. They’ve been the creative and goal-scoring forces at Arsenal so far, helping the team begin to play the type of football the fans have become accustomed to over the years.
However, as eye-catching as their play has been, chances are they wouldn’t be able to produce the goods quite as well as they could without Flamini supporting the defense quite like he has.
Would Aaron Ramsey be the box-to-box dynamo he has become if he had to be more disciplined in his defensive duties? Would Ozil be quite as effective as he’s been this season if he had to worry about the trouble one misplaced pass could put the team in? Without the Flamini being the enforcer that he’s been on the pitch, the Gunners wouldn’t be able to play the type of football they’ve been playing.
More offensive players may receive all the plaudits that come with playing the beautiful game, but Flamini will be the player at the end of the season who Arsenal supporters will value the most. His consistency and reliability since he came back into the fold is exactly what Arsenal needed and they’ll continue to need it if they’re going to challenge for any trophies this season.