Why Mathieu Flamini Has Been the Revelation for Arsenal This Season

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIFebruary 27, 2014

CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 30:  Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal elebrates as he scores their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Cardiff City and Arsenal at Cardiff City Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Last summer, when Arsenal were still contenders to buy Luis Suarez for £40,000,001 and every fan was clamoring for a world-class striker, the Gunners signed Mathieu Flamini.

They didn't even sign him from anyone. As with Flamini's last three transfers, the Frenchman was unattached when he was signed up. He had not even been on Arsene Wenger's radar—he was merely training with the squad to maintain fitness before he was called upon.

At the time, a three-year contract seemed absurd. There appeared no reason to tie down a 29-year-old midfielder for any extended period of time when more glamorous and expensive solutions to Arsenal's depth issue there could be procured on the transfer market.

"What a farce. What a copout."

Everyone expected Wenger to finally spring for the elite striker that would vault Arsenal to title contention or at least spend some of the princely sum sitting in the club's bank account.

Instead, he acquired just his second new player of the summer and brought Arsenal's total transfer spending to a sum total of £0 in the process.

"What a farce. Typical Arsenal."

CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 30:  Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal (R) celebrates with Mesut Oezil as he scores their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Cardiff City and Arsenal at Cardiff City Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Cardiff, Wal
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

As it stands now, however, Flamini was the best piece of short-term business Arsenal did last summer.

I am fully aware of how provocative the preceding statement is in virtue of the blockbuster signing of Yaya Sanogo and a German named Mesut. Because both are young and have a good deal of potential in their right and left feet, respectively, I intentionally restricted the scope of my declaration to "short-term."

With that said, Flamini has been just about as valuable as Mesut Ozil this season, though his contributions have come in a different area of midfield. In fact, the dirty work the Frenchman does at the butt of the midfield three allows Ozil to work his magic at the tip.

Better yet, Flamini actually enjoys toiling in the dark arts. He described the importance of his task to Arsenal.com recently:

My most important job on the pitch is to protect the back four and it is not easy, especially when the other team is focused offensively and has so many players of real quality. ...

When I play with any of the boys in midfield I have to sit in front of the defence and do the dirty work but I enjoy doing it. My pleasure is to give them the possibility to attack and, when we lose the ball, to get it back as quickly as possible.

What a blessing it is for Arsenal to finally have someone in the squad who will not take any guff from opposing teams and, though certainly not the most technically proficient player, is actually happy to engross himself in the physical side of the game.

The effect he has had on Arsenal's midfield is akin to that which Per Mertesacker had on the Gunners' defense when he was brought on board in 2011. The giant German was, and still is, completely unlike any other defender in the squad: tall, slow, not fleet of foot and an excellent marshal.

He has had a transformative effect on the back line, adding the sort of intelligent, no-nonsense stability that Arsenal sorely lacked before his arrival.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal shows his frustration during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on December 8, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Fans who have followed the club for several years can recall the perilous days of Alex Song as the Gunners' sole defensive midfield option. While the Cameroonian is physically strapping, he was often more focused on creating flashy scoring opportunities than protecting the back four.

Flamini is just the opposite sort of player. He does an even better job than Mikel Arteta, who is more focused on ball distribution and understated, intelligent defensive work.

The Spaniard will not intimidate any opponents and prefers to lead by example. Flamini will insert himself into any tenuous situation and is frequently seen screaming and gesturing at his teammates at various points during matches.

Neither approach is objectively better, but Flamini's is unique within Arsenal's squad and as such highly valuable.

His value is not derived from a totally unique skill set, as with Santi Cazorla or Ozil. Rather, he is crucially important because he provides Arsenal with the brawn they otherwise lack and is necessary to win the Premier League title.

And to think Arsenal got all that for free.