It is little things that make a profound difference. From getting out of the parking lot and going straight to the training ground rather than the medical centre, from sitting in the stands waiting for your chance and wondering when you will be fit again to represent your side to having one of the most influential performances of the season. A lot has changed for Abou Diaby since last season.
Signed in 2006 for a mere £2m, Diaby was brought in to replace Patrick Veira who had left the club to join Juventus. Handed over the #2 jersey previously worn by Lee Dixon, Diaby made his debut for the club in a 1-0 defeat against Everton. Diaby continued to get game time and made his first start for the club in a league cup win over Wigan.
All was going well for Diaby until that horrendous injury he suffered against Sunderland. Diaby was on the receiving end of a malicious tackle by Dan Smith which resulted in a severe ankle fracture. Diaby was then out of action for eight months where he underwent three surgeries to his ankle. During the course of the injury, Diaby missed the 2006 Champions League final as well. Diaby made his comeback in the 2007 League Cup final against Chelsea where he is famously remembered by Arsenal fans for kicking John Terry on the face while trying to clear the ball.
2007-08 was Diaby’s full season at the club where he managed to make 28 apps for the club, 36 the following season and 40 in 2009-10 season. The following season Diaby suffered another injury and could only make 20 apps throughout the 2010-11 season. It was 2011-12 season that was arguably Diaby’s worst season at the club so far.
Bombarded with injury Diaby managed only 4 substitute apps for Arsenal and it was then that Arsenal fans finally started to lose faith in him. Diaby’s problems have since then gone on and on. His left leg is longer than right leg which has led to constant injuries because of having one stronger side compensating for the weaker. Fans called for his exit, however Wenger kept faith in the French man and Diaby now looks better than ever.
Wenger has ostensibly placed a lot of importance on Diaby this season that even after Song was sold the club did not go in the market for a replacement. Although there were rumours of Yann M’Villa but nothing concrete was found from Arsenal’s end.
Arsenal have changed a lot, so much that the last time Diaby played with the club before his injury he played with an altogether different midfield than the one he is playing with now. A lot has changed for Arsenal since last season. New roles have been defined to players. Mikel Arteta who was arguably Arsenal’s best midfielder last season has now started to sit back and rarely pushes forward even when the club is attacking.
Diaby on the other hand has had a very interesting role in the side. He does sit back and defend something he did superbly well against Liverpool when he man marked Steven Gerrard out of the game but he has also taken over attacking duties of both Arteta and Song.
Diaby brings physicality to this side while attacking, his driving runs are something similar to what Yaya Toure has been doing at Manchester City. He not only creates space but also quickens the attack something that was evident in his man of the match performance against Liverpool.
Diaby is an athletic, elusive and an enigmatic midfielder. His touches and excellent close control makes it hard for defenders to get the ball off him. Diaby’s biggest strength lies in how he uses the ball and dribbles past his opponents. What makes Diaby a must in this Arsenal side is the fact that he is versatile enough to play in any role when needed, Viera for all his qualities could not do the same. Diaby can play on the wings, as the second striker and of course his favored central midfield role.
This season in the 5 league games he has been a part of, Diaby has attempted 275 passes with a passing accuracy percentage of 86%. Although the mid fielder has not been a part of any goal so far by providing assists or scoring, Diaby has been key in the build up of many goals by either wining the balls from the midfield or providing key passes to open the opposition defense. With the likes of Arteta, Cazorla by his side Diaby is always looking for open spaces to provide them with key passes something that has helped the French man settle in.
Diaby has not only been a missed figure in this Arsenal side but even the previous 3 French managers share the same opinion- “His versatility is a huge asset,” said Raymond Domenech; “I’m not the only one who adores Abou!” said Laurent Blanc while current boss Didier Deschamps added: “He can become a key player for us if he puts his physical problems to one side.”
There were times when Diaby himself was not sure whether he could continue playing football and admitted having thoughts of hanging up his boots. Diaby was quoted as saying ”It was getting too much,”When you do something and you don’t enjoy it, you don’t see the point of carrying on.” But Diaby looked up to his former team mate Robin Van Persie and how even after his constant injuries, he came out stronger as ever.
The recovery story of Diaby could be an inspiration to many footballers for example Jack Wilshere his Arsenal team mate who at such a young age has had his share of injuries as well and although Diaby is still not 100% which I doubt he ever will be after such horrific injuries if the Frenchman can have a season of 30 odd games it will be a big boost for Arsenal as well as Diaby.
He is out with a thigh injury at present, but is due back after the international break, during which he will be rested as he recuperates.
The reality is that no matter how much people may get frustrated with him for his constant injuries, when fit, Diaby is an outstanding player. A player who can fill in any of the 3 men midfield that Arsenal are currently playing with. Diaby is currently 26 and has three years remaining in his contract. Three years that could shape his future. If Diaby can manage to stay fit and continue his excellent form, Arsenal’s chances of finally landing a trophy could be will on course.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald