Mathieu Flamini
Flamini turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Stoke.

Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith believes Mathieu Flamini is as important to the Gunners as record signing Mesut Ozil after the Frenchman turned in a man-of-the-match display in the 3-1 win over Stoke City.

Ozil helped set up goals for Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna as the north Londoners surged to the Premier League summit after their seventh consecutive win in all competitions.

Much has been made of Arsenal's record deadline say signing Ozil, who contributed greatly to another league win, but Smith insists Flamini, who returned to the Emirates after being released by AC Milan, is proving as important to Arsene Wenger.

"He did not cost £42 million, he cannot change a game with an ingenious flick of the boot and there will never be crowds gathered outside the Emirates Stadium to pose in their Arsenal shirts with his name on the back but nevertheless, Mathieu Flamini is just as valuable to his team right now as Mesut Özil," Smith wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

"Yes, Özil had a hand in all three goals against Stoke City with his accurate corner and free-kick deliveries but football is about balance and contrasts, about doing the dirty work as well as taking the glory.

"You could see it from his body language - the Frenchman is loving the specific role assigned to him just now, the one that requires him to sit stoically in front of the back four, to put in a foot or two, to block off a runner, to generally act as a human shield."

"Arsenal's defence, in turn, looked all the healthier for it," Smith added. "With Flamini in the side, they did not face the ugly scenario whereby a huge gap opened up in front of the defence to allow an opponent or two to run at them unchecked.

"That happened far too regularly in the past when a midfield combination of, say, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey would all get caught ahead of the ball at the same time.

"Flamini, it must be said, is not in the same league as those aforementioned players in terms of talent.

"But the balance was different there. Perhaps the midfielder felt he had to do more than solely put out fires 30 yards from goal."

Wenger says Ozil's move to Arsenal makes the club a more realistic contender for the title and the 63-year-old was full of praise for Flamini who made his first home league start since his return to the club against Stoke.

"[He did] pretty well," Wenger said. "The two [of them] together [Flamini and Ozil] cost £21 million!

"Look, it's not only him [Ozil]. He gave a lift to everybody at the Club and, for the rest, it will be the quality of our teamwork and our teamplay that will decide that.

"The only thing of our position at the moment is that we are in a position where we can focus on improvement in a stable environment, so that's a good basis. For the the rest, [in] the table everyone is mathematically together."