Is Mathieu Flamini as Important to Arsenal as Mesut Ozil?

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Is Mathieu Flamini as Important to Arsenal as Mesut Ozil?
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In an opinion piece published earlier this week, the Telegraph's Alan Smith argued that Mathieu Flamini provides as much value to Arsenal as Mesut Ozil at the moment. 

That's a bold opinion, but in looking at the nuances of Smith's argument, it's clear that he has a point.

But is Flamini as important to Arsenal as Ozil? I would argue that he's not, though it might be closer than you think.

To begin with, let's take a look at both players and what they have accomplished in their brief spells with Arsenal (in Flamini's case, this is his second spell with the club).

 

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Flamini: Tangibles and Intangibles

Flamini, 29, signed with Arsenal on a free transfer on Aug. 29, rejoining the club after five years in Italy with AC Milan. He previously played for Arsenal from 2004-08, making 153 appearances.

He made his debut Sept. 1 in the win over Tottenham Hotspur, replacing the injured Jack Wilshere in the first half. Since then he has played the full 90 minutes in both of Arsenal's league matches against Sunderland and Stoke (both 3-1 wins) and nearly the full 90 in the Champions League against Marseille (he was subbed off in second-half stoppage time).

Flamini has not scored or assisted a goal in that time, but that is not his game. A tough, defensive-minded midfielder, Flamini has helped bring much-needed stability and grit to Arsenal's midsection. In addition, he has passed with 91-percent accuracy in the league, per Squawka, which makes him a good fit for Arsenal's flowing attacking style.

But let's concentrate on Flamini's less flashy qualities. Consider the following graphics from FourFourTwo's Stats Zone, which show Flamini's defensive dashboard from the matches against Sunderland, Marseille and Stoke, in that order.

An X represents a tackle, a circle means a clearance and a diamond is an interception. For those stats, green represents a success, orange a failure. A black triangle represents a foul committed, and a gray triangle standing on its side stands for a blocked shot.

Here's Flamini's defensive dashboard for the Sunderland game, his first full 90 minutes in his second spell with Arsenal:

The two fouls committed near the box are not good, but the two clearances and two blocked shots (one of each inside and outside the box) make up for that. Flamini won two tackles and lost none.

Against Marseille, Flamini was similarly effective. He recorded three successful tackles (again without a single failure), two interceptions and one successful clearance (though he also failed one clearance inside the box):

Against Stoke, Flamini was perhaps most impressive. In that match, the French midfielder recorded three successful tackles, three successful clearances (all in the box) and three interceptions. In addition, per FourFourTwo's Stat Zone he completed 67 of his 70 passes, or 96 percent: 

The value of Flamini's passing, tackling and positioning shows up in the stats, but another of his qualities does not. Theo Walcott explained it succinctly in an interview with Nik Brumsack of Arsenal.com: "The likes of Mathieu coming in—he's a leader and you saw him bossing people around. That's what we need."

Flamini is a new face in the squad (in a manner of speaking), but he is already providing crucial qualities Arsenal have lacked in recent seasons, including toughness and no-nonsense leadership. Those aren't necessarily the flashiest of traits, but their value to any team is undeniable.

 

Ozil: Making Everyone Around Him Better

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Arsenal signed Ozil from Real Madrid on Sept. 2, the final day of the summer transfer window, for a club-record £42.5 million fee. Although Arsenal already had a number of players who could fill an attacking-midfield role, Ozil has already demonstrated his immense value.

The German international playmaker marked his debut with an assist and a flurry of stylish, incisive passes as Arsenal won 3-1 at Sunderland on Sept. 14. He completed 34 of 38 passes in the attacking third (89 percent) and, as this graphic from FourFourTwo's StatsZone shows, he easily could have recorded more than one assist if Theo Walcott had brought his finishing boots:

His next league match, the 3-1 home win over Stoke, yielded two more assists. Ozil was also involved on the other goal, a rebound converted by Aaron Ramsey from Ozil's shot from a direct free kick. 

He also created four chances from open play, per FourFourTwo:

Through just two league matches, then, Ozil has recorded more assists (three) than any other player in the Premier League. Most of his rivals in that statistical category have played five matches.

In addition, like Flamini, Ozil contributes in an intangible way, as explained by in-form striker Olivier Giroud to Rob Kelly of Arsenal.com:

Everything is easier with (Ozil). He always plays in the right way, nothing else. He has a fantastic, lovely first touch so it is really easy to find each other, especially for the third goal (against Sunderland).

I feel really good on the pitch in my relationships, especially with our new player, Mesut. There are a lot of good feelings.

In other words, a player of Ozil's quality makes his teammates better simply by being in the squad.

He's also the type of player who ties everything together. He's the glue, so to speak, or to borrow Arsene Wenger's phrase to describe Robert Pires in years gone by, the oil in the machine.

 

Verdict

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So is Flamini really as important to Arsenal as Ozil? In short, no. It's a nice thought—maybe even a purposefully provocative one—but no.

Flamini provides value in defensive midfield, an area in which Arsenal have struggled for years. He represents a more combative option than Mikel Arteta, but as Smith himself notes, Flamini certainly will not play every match, even when fit. 

In essence, Flamini is an option for Wenger—and a useful option at that. Ozil, on the other hand, is a game-changer, a top-class player who makes his teammates better.

What's more, Ozil's arrival has lifted the spirits of everyone associated with Arsenal. Following the opening-day defeat at home to Aston Villa, negativity was widespread. Today, optimism is just as pervasive.

Many factors have contributed to Arsenal's early ascent to the top of the Premiership table. One that has not been discussed here is the emergence of Aaron Ramsey, who has been perhaps the league's best overall player in the opening month.

Flamini has played a role as well. He has served as an ideal foil to Ozil and has surprised even Wenger with his effectiveness and utility.

Ozil, however, has been more important, both for his on-field contributions and the almost mystical powers his arrival has wielded on the mood surrounding the club.  

 

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