Player analysis: What are Arsenal fans getting in the return of Mathieu Flamini?

The defensive midfielder has headed back to the Emirates Stadium on a free transfer, but will he provide something different than what he gave the Gunners earlier in his career?

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The Independent Football

Mathieu Flamini re-joined Arsenal yesterday on a three-year deal after he was released by Milan at the end of last season, but what will the midfielder offer the Gunners in his second spell at the Emirates?

Flamini angered Arsenal supporters when he refused to sign a new contract with the club as his current deal expired in 2008, having joined the north Londoners in 2004. Alongside Cesc Fabregas, who arrived at the club a year early, Arsene Wenger had appeared to have secured an exciting, young duo that would form the Gunners midfield for years to come.

But by this time, Flamini had already upset his former club Marseille, having agreed to sign a long-term senior contract, only to go against his word and sign a deal with the then-Premier League champions instead.

Marseille manager Jose Anigo felt betrayed by Flamini, and said at the time: "This is a beautiful treason. He used me."

Flamini struggled early on in his career, although both he and Fabregas started to feature in Arsenal’s first-team more and more as their development continued. Having made 32 appearances in his debut season at Highbury, he went on to become a permanent figure in the Arsenal midfield the following season – although his lack of goals saw him drop back as the Gunners’ defensive midfielder to allow Fabregas to develop his attacking threat we see today.

Having scored his first goal against Everton in the 7-0 victory in May 2005, Flamini became the final Arsenal player to score at Highbury in their traditional red and white home kit.

He showed his ability to cover at full-back following a series of injuries to Arsenal’s defence, and he proved more than capable to cover the left-back role despite being right-footed.

The Italian came off the bench in the 76th minute in Arsenal’s Champions League final against Barcelona as they looked to defend their 1-0 lead despite being down to 10-men, but late goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti put pay to the Gunners hopes of European glory.

Flamini started to become disillusioned with his role as a utility player, but the 2007-08 season saw a significant increase in his performances as both he and Fabregas became mainstays in the Arsenal first-team, taking over from Gilberto Silva and the injury-prone Abou Diaby.

However, his contract was now into its final year, and Gunners’ fans warmed to him as he became somewhat of a favourite in the Arsenal midfield – perhaps after he showed he could finally reach his potential that Wenger had spoken of.

Despite Arsenal’s attempts to commit Flamini to a new contract, he rejected their offers and left the club on a free transfer, eventually signing with Italian side AC Milan.

After his departure, he claimed to still be an Arsenal fan at heart and said: "Arsenal are in my heart and they will be in my heart for ever. I will always be an Arsenal fan and leaving was not easy."

His time with the Serie A giants was a disjointed one, struggling to appear in midfield in his first season as again he was used as a utility player, but he featured regularly as Milan regained the Serie A title. Having again regressed to a rotation role, he suffered a serious knee-injury that kept him out of the entire 2011-12 season.

The 29-year-old was released at the end of the season, but later agreed a one-year contract to remain with the club until his release earlier this season.

Having again departed on a free transfer – Flamini has never cost a penny when moving club throughout his career – he started training with Arsenal to maintain his fitness, and he appears to have impressed Wenger once again, as the Frenchman looks to strengthen his squad despite having yet to spend a penny in the transfer window.