Mathieu Flamini: The Pros and Cons of Signing the Tenacious Midfielder
When Arsenal swooped for Sol Campbell in 2010 after he walked out of his Notts County contract, his arrival was met with mixed emotions—Gunners' fans wondered why the manager couldn’t go into the market to get a more decent central defender.
In fairness to the fans, Campbell was in his twilight years and had little left in the tank.
In his second stint with the club, he made 14 appearances and scored a goal against FC Porto. He then went to Newcastle for a short spell before finally hanging his boots.
Following a long-term shoulder injury to Lukasz Fabianski, another mysterious finger injury to Wojciech Szczesny and some shambolic performances from Manuel Almunia, Arsene Wenger again rolled back the years, this time to sign mad Jens Lehmann, and he was then the custodian between the sticks in Arsenal’s away victory against Blackpool.
Szczesny recovered afterwards and continued in goal until the end of the campaign.
A year after Lehmann finished his stint at the club, Arsenal required cover in attack when Gervinho departed to represent his nation in the 2012 AFCON.
With the boss clearly having no faith in panic-buy Park Chu-Young, and certainly not ready to splurge on a striker, the manager shocked the world when he managed to coax the King of Arsenal, Thierry Henry, to return for a second spell.
Henry relished the opportunity and solidified his immortal status with a peach of a finish against Sunderland, adding another goal to his long-standing goalscoring record at Arsenal.
The only player with the potential to break that record had already scored 132 goals at frantic pace, but Robin Van Persie and the little boy inside him departed for Arsenal’s eternal rivals.
Now, following the debacle against Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, the fans have again voiced their sheer frustration over the club’s inability to spend some cash.
There were reports of a failed bid for Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye (via ESPN), but it seems as if Arsene Wenger has found that defensive midfielder he always wanted.
After keeping his fitness levels in check and training extensively with the Gunners, the Guardian—in common with many other sports columns—has reported that Arsenal are set to re-sign tenacious midfielder Mathieu Flamini as a free agent following his contract expiration with AC Milan, the team he left Arsenal to join in 2008.
The 29-year-old holding midfielder spent four years with Arsenal from 2004 to 2008, making a total of 153 appearances and scoring eight goals.
After arriving as a free agent from Marseille, he found himself on the fringes at Arsenal, but got an extended run of games, albeit in an unfamiliar left-back position, following injuries to Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy.
He rose to prominence in the 2007/08 campaign, where he forged a telepathic understanding with Cesc Fabregas in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, with Tomas Rosicky and Aliaksandr Hleb providing width on the flanks.
After his amazing performances that season, Flamini ditched the Gunners for more money to join AC Milan, making 122 appearances in five seasons with the Italian side.
Despite the fact that he was synonymous with first-team action at Arsenal, Flamini failed to command a starting berth in Italy and even featured as a full-back more times than he expected.
Flamini’s potential return to Arsenal has been met with mixed emotions—some fans are very happy about his second coming while others have been unimpressed with the fact that the Gunners don’t seem to want to invest in quality talent out there.
Without further ado, here are the pros and cons of signing Mathieu Flamini, from my own perspective.
PROS: He’ll Provide Adequate Cover in Midfield
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
This is the primary reason why Arsenal need his services.
Abou Diaby has been injured for as long as I can remember and Arsenal’s chief enforcer, Mikel Arteta, is also nursing a thigh injury.
With Francis Coquelin shipped out on loan, the Gunners are desperately light in midfield and can only call on the services of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to play in the double pivot, two players with injury records of their own.
Flamini is a natural defensive midfielder with vast Premier League experience so he won’t be expected to go through any adaptation period.
He will provide depth and, making things simpler, he has been there and done that. I certainly won’t mind more piledrivers from long distance like his surface-to-goal missile against Newcastle.
His Versatility Can Come in Handy
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
In Arsenal’s run to the Champions League final in 2006, Arsene Wenger placed his faith in Flamini to do a job for his team at left-back.
The Flanimal embraced his new role and performed admirably before losing his place to Ashley Cole in the final at Paris.
In his days at AC Milan, he was used as an emergency right-back and even though he lacked the attacking instincts and crossing ability of a full-back, there were no issues with his defensive side, as he ravaged opposition wingers in his spells as a make-shift full-back.
At Arsenal, the injuries keep ramping up in several positions and that trend hasn’t stopped this season. Flamini will provide perfect cover in midfield as well as for the full-back positions.
I even believe he can do a good job as a centre-back if given the chance.
Phil Cole/Getty Images
As the saying goes, the best things in life are free.
A player of Flamini’s quality would arrive at the Emirates for nothing and Arsene Wenger has to be heralded for convincing him to sign on for a second spell at the club.
He would not expect to walk into the first team but he arrives as a free agent, which is good for the club’s coffers as they would not be touched yet again.
As if the club were planning to…
He Would Want to Pay the Fans Back with More Stellar Performances
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Flamini was a fan favourite in the 2007/08 season and was undoubtedly one of the finest holding midfielders in the business at that point in time.
However, many Gooners were shocked to see the Frenchman jump ship after AC Milan offered him a higher salary than Arsenal, ending his four-year stint in North London.
Now he’s returning to the club, some fans would be happy to see him strut his stuff, but he would be on a personal mission to win the fans back and he can only do that with some stellar performances on the pitch.
Let’s hope to see the Flamini of old who was a thorn in the flesh of opposition attackers.
CONS: There Are Better Defensive Midfielders out There
Tony Marshall/Getty Images
If you’re left with a choice to purchase one defensive midfielder from a list containing Asier Illarramendi, Luiz Gustavo, Mathieu Flamini, Lars Bender, and Marouane Fellaini, the Frenchman would be the last player you would probably consider.
That clearly means that a club such as Arsenal, with the resources at their disposal, should be going for the other available players on this aforementioned list.
Illarramendi and Luiz Gustavo currently have new employers, but the Bender twins are still available and there’s also a man-mountain in the form of Fellaini yet to be snapped up by the predators of European football.
Flamini is clearly a cheap option, but Arsenal can really afford to sign any top player they want.
This is the same team that had a £40million + £1 deal rejected for Luis Suarez. With £40m, the Gunners can buy any midfielder on that list and there will be excess change left.
A Sign of Desperation
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger had the entire summer to find a defensive midfielder, but he chose to fold his arms as many players slipped past him.
Following a shocking home defeat to Aston Villa, the manager is now on a trolley dash to sign talent from Europe.
It’s a shame to see that he has gone for another cheap option like Flamini.
His Arrival Doesn’t Justify Francis Coquelin’s Loan Move to Freiburg
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger had assessed his squad for the 2013/14 season and decided Francis Coquelin wasn’t going to be a part of it so he consciously decided to let him out on loan to Freiburg.
Signing Flamini clearly means that shipping Le Coq out was a poor piece of judgment from the boss, as it was glaringly obvious that Mikel Arteta would need cover in the wake of any injury, but he failed to do that.
Now he has rolled back the years to sign Flamini when he should have left Coquelin in the squad all along.
Flamini’s Injury Record
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Despite the fact that Flamini is meant to be adequate cover in the wake of any injuries, he’s a player with an extensive injury record of his own.
Since his move to Milan, he has been plagued with a series of muscular problems and one can only hope that he doesn’t come to the club to add to Arsenal’s fitness woes as well.
To wrap things up, I feel that signing Flamini might turn out to be a good piece of business but, in all honesty, there are better options out there.