Monday, 7 October 2013

Mathieu Flamini giving Arsenal the perfect balance on his return to the ... -

"It is easy to say we have been conceding fewer goals because the two centre-backs have been solid and the goalkeeper has done alright but having Mathieu back at the club doing the dirty work – tackling and the stuff other players may not have been as happy to do – has helped us a lot," goalkeeper Szczesny said.

"He [Flamini] has been fantastic for us. There is a good balance in the team."

That "balance" is all around the pitch as Arsenal travel to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday hoping to consolidate their position at the top of the Premier League and extend their remarkable run of away victories in all competitions to 13, while breaking their league record of eight, set in the 2001-02 title-winning campaign.

The goals of Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud and the defensive organisation of Per Mertesacker have contributed along with, of course, the stellar £42.5? million signing of Mesut Özil, the main orchestrator of the dismantling of Napoli.

It is Flamini's arrival, however, that has proved particularly intriguing.

"I think it was an important signing," Wenger said. "I had hesitations about it, I must tell you. He left us and the players who leave do not necessarily come back."

There are also the circumstances of that departure. Flamini never lacked belief. But he flitted in and out of games, in and out of teams, earning that perennially unwanted tag as a utility man – even coming on as left-back for Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final.

Afterwards he sought out Wenger and said that if he was not good enough to play in midfield he was not good enough for Arsenal.

It was not until his final season, with his contract expiring, that he established himself. There was talk of buying out the last year while, in exasperation, he authorised his uncle to call the French sports newspaper L'Equipe to publicise his potential availability, a move that irritated Wenger.

In August, Wenger was giving the most circumspect of assessments to questions as to whether Flamini would return after being released by Milan.

"He is just here to work on his fitness," was Wenger's response.

His coyness was undoubtedly also due to the fact that signing another free transfer – Arsenal's only deal at that stage was free agent Yaya Sanogo – before a big name would go down badly with the supporters. It did.

"I'd literally rather sign you," the Arsenal fan and chat-show host Piers Morgan said on the social network site Twitter in response to a ribbing from former Tottenham Hotspur striker Gary Lineker about Flamini's return.

Wenger had hesitated but, in fact, the player's reaction to that helped the manager decide.

"I spoke with him and I told him I had not made up my mind, but his resolute attitude to join us convinced me," Wenger said.

"He had other proposals. I said: 'Look if you want to go somewhere else you can – I am not ready yet.' But he waited. So once he decided to do that you think there's something special there and that he really wants to join us."

The difference Flamini has made is evident.

During his first spell at Arsenal – from 2004 to 2008 – Flamini earned the nickname "Gattuso" from his team-mates after the feisty Milan midfielder alongside whom he eventually played.

It was not a nickname that Flamini embraced, believing himself a far more creative force than Ringhio – the 'Snarler' – and having compared himself to Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. But Wenger said Flamini has matured since his last stint at the club.

"He is 29 now," he said. "At that age you know better who you are as a player. When he arrived here he wanted to be more offensive but today he knows what are his qualities and accepts that part of it."

That acceptance came with maturity while Flamini has, again, quickly become one of the most vocal players in what can be a quiet Arsenal team.

"I felt when I saw him in training I saw he could give something the team needs," Wenger said. "He has given us a balance between attacking and defending.

"He is somebody who accepts to do the dark role in the team. We looked a little bit, sometimes in the big occasions, afraid defensively. So it gives us something more on that front."

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