The summer of 2013/14 will be remembered by Arsenal fans as the time when the club unshackled itself from financial constraints to sign German super-star Mesut Ozil. The arrival of another player has gone unnoticed behind the fanfare, however, the re-signing of Mathieu Flamini on a free transfer may prove to be a stroke of genius by Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal teams of recent years have often been accused of being soft, accused of being unable to cope with physical team, accused of having no vocal leaders capable of rallying the squad. So when the record signing of Ozil was announced, pundits continued to criticise Wenger, saying the signing of an attacking midfielder didn't solve the Gunners' defensive issues.
The fact that Flamini was signed on a free transfer meant that football experts considered the Frenchman past it, however, at 29 years of age, the defensive midfielder is arguably at his peak and it shouldn't be ignored that he rejected a new 2 year contract from AC Milan, who clearly felt he had more to give.
Jack Wilshere's illness and subsequent early withdrawal during the North London Derby thrust Flamini straight into the demands of a high energy Barclays Premier League match and the Frenchman thrived under the pressure. Flamini, who's 3 caps for France came under Wenger's tutelage, took it upon himself to rally the troops, be it with a full blooded sliding tackle or by vocally directing his teammates.
His spell in Serie A will no doubt have improved his tactical knowledge, playing alongside experienced midfielders such as Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, this was evident with Flamini showing impeccable positional awareness. The absence of Mikel Arteta who played the deeper role for Arsenal last season, has given the former Marseille youth team player a prolonged stay in the Gunners' midfield and his solid performances have allowed the likes of Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey in particular to shine in the attacking department.
Arteta may find it difficult to regain his place in the first team when he returns from his torn quadricep injury, as Flamini is staking his claim as one of Arsenal's most influential players. Arteta was more of an attacking midfielder during his time at Everton, so although he performed diligently in a deeper role, his attacking instincts had to be curtailed.
The demands of playing in four competitions however, will mean that Wenger will have plenty of midfielders to choose from if and when the need to rotate arises.
Arsenal's strong start to the season is all the more impressive considering the fact that the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have been hampered by injury.
If Arsenal can keep the core of the team fit and maintain their strong start to the season, the return of the injured players will boost the squad especially during the busy winter period.
A striker to help take the burden off Giroud would be a welcome addition in January and with a bit of luck, this may be the year Arsenal win some silverware.
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