There was a time when it looked like Patrick Viera had reappeared in Arsenal colours after leaving in 2005. There were times when you thought, as a Gooner that we had the League’s most powerful midfielder. There were moments in a season when you wished you could curse all the days when Abou Diaby was ever injured.
Those times were filled with much promise, but unfortunately have never really materialized to reality.
It’s been at least eight years since Diaby arrived at Highbury as a 20 year-old from French side Auxerre. He was the archetypal Arsene Wenger signing – young, full of potential and cheap. He did not arrive with a reputation as big as Adebayor’s or even 16 year-old Theo Walcott at the time, but a few games in the side saw him eclipse both as the next big thing. Viera’s departure had come only a few months earlier but Diaby’s performances that season ensured we wouldn’t have to wait to replace him. Unfortunately, we still are waiting. The first in a litany of injuries saw his season come to a pre-mature end, costing him a place in the Champions League Final against Barcelona in Paris.
That was the first of many injuries which has seen Diaby come off and off like the flame of a dim candle by the ocean. He has never quite recovered. He has already gone in for some treatment this season despite being ‘ready’ at the start. But having recovered from what is now injury Number 40 and certain to play a role in the League Cup game against Southampton this evening, we are biting our nails and wondering if this could just be the beginning of a new chapter in the France International’s side.
At 28, he is in the peak year of a footballer’s career. The setbacks of these past years may just have been his own way of growing up. By his admission, he had pondered calling it quits and taking up another shot in a different endeavour, but was motivated to keep pushing. Who would have blamed him if he did? it must be frustrating to be out for 7 months, come back for 2 games and be out for a year. But for him to have mustered the will to overcome the inclination to throw in the towel, it only goes to show that he still possesses the character of a top professional, one who still has the fire and hunger to etch his name in history.
Diaby’s midfield qualities are those you can liken to many players of his size and stature, yet quite unique and special in his own way. He may not be one to trust with the burden of guarding the back four, but his presence in the middle of the park acts as a giant screen before advancing opposition. Like in that League game against Liverpool at Anfield, he showed what a bulldozer he is, marshalling through pillars and posts, Gerrads and all.
His change of pace is outstanding while his ability to curl a delightful shot is not unknown to many. His dribbles and passing has never faded – that wonderful pass to Van Persie in the last minute of the game at Goodison in the 2010 will always live in my memory. As good as our midfield is at the moment, the option Diaby provides is one that is sure to be of great delight to Arsene Wenger. Like his fellow injury-striken mate Rosicky, Diaby may not always feature frequently as care will be taken not to inflame their fragile angles, yet both can always come on to offer a little extra special which Ramsey and Wilshere may struggle to produce at times.
He has had to endure a whole lot in his career, but all hopes is certainly not lost. Van Persie’s first full season with injury came at just about when he was 28, and we know how it turned out. For all our regret about not signing Yaya Toure, his imperious form for City really turned on in 2010 and now his 31.
This too might be the right time to come of age, and if he does, it is Wenger and the Gooners who stand to be repaid for all the faith we’ve put in him.
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