This signing was perhaps lost in all the hysteria of deadline day at The Emirates with a record-breaking £42.5 million spent on a fleet-footed number 10. However regardless of this 29 year old’s transfer fee, or lack of it – Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger swooped for the midfielder on a free – Mathieu Flamini may turn out to be a great bit of business by the French dictator.
Flamini was a much maligned character if you listened to the terraces at Ashburton Grove after he ran down his contract and left in May 2008 in his first spell in North London. He then chose to head for Italy and AC Milan.
This left a bitter taste in Arsenal supporters mouths especially when the club were still looking for a replacement for the colossal Patrick Vieira who departed for AC’s near neighbours Internazionale two years earlier.
Mathieu Flamini joined Arsenal after the club’s invincible season in 2003-2004 from Marseille as a young, raw midfielder. However his versatility is one of the Frenchman’s distinctive traits and this helped him slot in on the left of a back four that kept a record 10 clean sheets on their way to the 2006 Champions League final.
This is why I believe, following a summer where Flamini rejected a new two year deal from AC Milan, Arsène Wenger decided to re-sign his compatriot after seeing renewed vigour and determination from the 29 year old.
Flamini has always held Arsenal close to his heart and in the lead up to the Champions League tie between AC Milan and Arsenal in 2009, the year after he left North London – Flamini spoke highly of his memories at his former employers stating, “Arsenal are in my heart and they will be in my heart forever” and added “I will always be an Arsenal fan and leaving was not easy”.
Despite his impressive performances at the back end of his Arsenal tenure he must have thought he went back in time to his early days in London as he was cast as merely a utility man when he arrived at the San Siro.
He only notched two goals in 76 league appearances over his first three seasons for the Rossoneri and suffered cruciate ligament damage on his right knee which sidelined the then 27 year old for a whole season.
The campaign concluded and initially Flamini wasn’t offered a new contract by President Adriano Galliani however an agreement was reached by the beginning of July 2012 with the French international taking a significant pay cut.
One of the main reasons Wenger was forced to let his fellow countryman leave was his wage demands. Arsenal weren’t prepared to pay over £50,000 for Flamini, with AC Milan and Juventus ready to swoop.
However, the other argument could be Wenger’s stubbornness not to break his stringent wage structure meant the Frenchman had no choice but to reluctantly move on. Wenger cited the clubs large debts for his obstinacy on wages – but surely if he really wanted to retain Flamini’s services he would have been more negotiable.
Move forward five years and Arsenal’s new number 20 arrived with the message to the Arsenal fans that he always loved the club, trying to endear himself to that fans that once sang his plaudits. His first appearance in a Red and White shirt came somewhat unexpectedly after Jack Wilshere was forced off on the half hour mark, Flamini slotted into the midfield three against none other than Tottenham Hotspur.
Nevertheless it was like he had never been away, resembling the player that usurped Gilberto Silva from the starting eleven during the 2006/07 season forming a fledgling partnership with the talented Cesc Fàbregas.
Having had Flamini training with Arsenal before re-signing, Wenger will have had the unusual luxury of judging the utility of Flamini in training before taking the decision to offer him a contract. Arsenal have gained an experienced and unflappable influence in Mathieu Flamini, a player who in his first spell at the club allowed Cesc Fàbregas to flourish further up the pitch.
You may only begin to see how this free signing, criticised by some, starts to repay Arsène Wenger with real governing performances as the season progresses. Arsenal has a famous Achilles heel of losing their way during the mid-point of the campaign, but Flamini could provide the unlikely steel that they so require.