18th May 2016: Au revoir again Mathieu

Welcome back. Although there’s been plenty said and written about the departures of Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky in recent days, Mathieu Flamini’s exit from the club has been noticeably low-key in comparison.

Unlike for the former duo, there are no interviews or commemorative compilations on the official site for the Frenchman for instance. But no matter, because TremendArse has a few farewell words for the two-time Gunner. Only a few mind, because it’s getting late and besides, I’m sure the billions Mathieu’s due to pocket from mass-producing levulinic acid will help him to get over the apparent dearth of public appreciation.

Probably the least naturally-gifted with a ball at his feet of our departing trio, Flamini made up for his relative lack of footballing ability through his extraordinary stamina levels, aggressive ball-winning and overall defensive doggedness – mainly in his first spell at the club between 2004 and 2008, admittedly.

In fact, in the 2007-2008 campaign, Flamini was a midfield force to be reckoned with, complimenting Cesc Fabregas’ game-controlling passing to brilliant effect as we led the Premier League table for most of the season and enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, knocking out reigning champions AC Milan along the way.

Thinking back, only a cynical scythe by Steven Gerrard, which ended Flamini’s involvement in the second-leg of the quarter final at Anfield, stopped us from progressing to the semis, after a mesmeric opening 20-minute spell of football by Arsenal was built on the brilliant ball-nicking of the Frenchman. He was everywhere and Liverpool couldn’t handle him, until Gerrard cottoned on and decided to consciously injure a fellow pro. Still, I’ve moved on …

But back to Flamini and perhaps his muted farewell can, in part, be put down to his insistence on leaving the club in 2008 for Milan, after running down his contract having reportedly indicated he would extend his stay. That was seen by many as an unforgivable abandonment and it’s difficult to get away from the feeling his decision was driven by money rather than football. But then he did leave to join one of Europe’s traditional giants and being half-Italian himself must also have been a major motivator for his move to Milan.

Then came the comeback, in the summer of 2013, when most fans had expected a big-money defensive midfield signing to fill the hole left by Alexandre Song’s move to Barcelona, but instead we got Flamini, offered a contract having initially only been granted access to club facilities to work on his fitness after he left Italy as a free agent.

His second debut for Arsenal was memorable for the fact it came against Tottenham at Emirates stadium, and having entered the action as a substitute, he quickly made his presence known in typically robust style, barking orders, cajoling team-mates helping us to see out a narrow win.

Just like in his previous season as an Arsenal player six years earlier, we led the Premier League for long stretches of the season in 2013-14 and Flamini played a bigger part than many expected, diligently deputising for Mikel Arteta in partnering Aaron Ramsey and doing it pretty well in fairness. His goal at Cardiff that season certainly sticks out for me for example.

Then there was the bromance with Mesut Ozil and if nothing else, helping our record signing to settle in London is enough for me to view Flamini’s second spell as worth the wages. His two goals against Tottenham in the league cup this term will probably go down as the highlight of his second spell at the club but his penalty concession against Barcelona having just come on as sub earlier this year must have been the moment any chance of a contract extension disappeared for good.

So Flamini becomes the third experienced pro to part ways with the club this summer and although I think it will be pretty easy to replace their footballing qualities, we might find it a lot trickier to compensate for their character. Let’s hope not.

Until tomorrow.

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