When it was announced that Mathieu Flamini would be the second signing for Arsenal this summer, few thought that the return of the Frenchman, five years after he left to Italy, would bring the necessary toughness and “badness” this team has been missing for so long.
Not that Flamini was a bad signing, especially coming for free; but at the time it looked like Arsene Wenger was once again going to miss out on top talent in the transfer market, which further infuriated Arsenal fans for their manager settling for less than bright talent.
But players like Flamini address a need Arsenal have had for a very long time. He might not be the most physical imposing player in the world due to his small stature, but players like Javier Mascherano have had one hell of a career without being too big, only to give a completely different sense through their tackling and heart they put in the match.
An interesting incident from Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Stoke this weekend might the perfect example of just what Flamini brings to the table: When sensing that Marc Wilson seemed a bit too eager to tackle Jack Wilshere quite brutally, which is something Stoke players tend to do against everyone, Flamini decided he’d had enough.
He walked up to Wilson and had a less than friendly little chat with him, which kept Wilson away from Wilshere for the rest of the match. Maybe it had something to do with the yellow card Wilson was carrying, but it might also have been about Flamini giving him some sort of warning (rumored to be “I’ll blind you”) to keep away from Wilshere, who isn’t capable of protecting himself on the pitch.
Without Mikel Arteta (now making his way back), it was vital for Arsenal to have an actual defensive midfielder who isn’t just another playmaker in disguise. Arsenal began the season using Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere together in the defensive midfield, but has now moved Wilshere even further away from the center of things, as Ozil and Ramsey play in the middle.
Maybe once Podolski and Cazrola return Wilshere will return to a more central position and Flamini will once again find himself on the bench; there’s also Arteta who’ll be looking to get back in the lineup. However, even without the passing and dribbling ability some of his teammates possess, Flamini might turn out to be one of the more important players for Arsenal this season, simply being a one-of-a-kind player on a team that is rarely showing its “ugly” side.