LONDON • Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini has stoked the fires ahead of the Gunners' Community Shield meeting with Chelsea on Sunday by saying the champions have done them a "good favour" by selling Petr Cech.
The build-up to the season-opening showpiece has been dominated by sniping between Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger over their respective transfer spending.
And Flamini's contribution yesterday will increase tensions between the clubs.
"I was surprised by Mourinho because he really doesn't do that," Flamini told British media of the £10 million (S$21 million) sale of Czech goalkeeper Cech to Arsenal last month.
"(Mourinho) is a competitor and usually doesn't like to sell any players to his rivals but it's a good favour for us and now we have to take advantage.
"Petr is very important, not only for his quality but also for his character. When you play at the top level, the leaders on the pitch make the difference. Not only when things go well but especially when things go bad."
Cech was allowed to move from west to north London despite Mourinho's reluctance to let him go - after losing his place in the Chelsea side to Belgian international Thibaut Courtois.
Cech made nearly 500 appearances over an 11-year period for Chelsea. And he will face the surreal task of playing against them for the first time in his career when his new club meet his old one at Wembley on Sunday.
Arsenal, who finished third in the Premier League last season, 12 points behind champions Chelsea, face an early test of their title credentials for the upcoming season.
But Flamini is convinced that the Gunners are equipped to win the league again - 11 years after they most recently lifted the trophy.
"We have attracted a lot of quality to the team with some very big signings," said the Frenchman whose second spell at Arsenal began in 2013.
"We have kept the same group. If you remember, there were always a few players leaving and now he (Wenger) is keeping the players together. I can feel Arsenal now is different to the club I left in 2008.
"I don't think any of the key players have left in the last two years.
"And, each year, we have added quality players like Mesut Oezil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech."
Cech is Arsenal's only major signing so far this summer.
With the 33-year-old arriving, the Gunners have allowed Wojciech Szczesny to join Roma on a season-long loan.
But Wenger is not ruling out the 25-year-old goalkeeper returning to the Emirates Stadium.
"I believe he will have a future at Arsenal," the manager said of the Polish international. He has played 180 times for the team since joining their youth system in 2006 from Legia Warsaw.
"I rate him highly. I put him in the first team at the age of 20 and he already has huge experience.
"Roma is a big club, they play in the Champions League, play in a very different championship and that is a big experience for him." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON