Vassiriki Abou Diaby, The Past and The Future

When Diaby was first signed by Arsene, people took a look at his frame and thought we had signed the new Patrick Vieira. People couldn’t help making the comparison. They were nearly the same height, the same build, French, and operated in central midfield.

Everybody immediately believed that Wenger had discovered another gem when he delivered powerful, thrusting performances from the midfield. Jacques Santini, then manager of Auxerre, quickly tried to play down these claims. “Believe me, I’ve seen Diaby train and he is no Patrick Vieira.”

At the time, there were even some suggestions that with Diaby’s strengths, perhaps there would be a rotation where Cesc played in central midfield at home and Diaby would be played in the tough road matches. With a simple slot in goal against Aston Villa, in a 5-0 beating, Diaby was flying. In his first few games, it was clear he was not necessarily the second coming of Vieira, but he was a very promising player indeed.

Then, the horrible happened. A cunt from Sunderland destroyed Diaby’s tackle during a match. I remember watching this game at my pub. I remembering literally being able to hear Diaby’s screams from the television audio feed. Everybody knew it was a bad injury, and indeed it was.

After a lengthy rehabilitation, he returned in a sporadic capacity. By then, Cesc had fully integrated himself into the team as an undisputed first choice XI player. Gilberto had planted himself as a default captain of sorts and scored all kinds of important goals for us. Diaby was often fielded in the left midfield position, no doubt in order to improve his overwhelming propensity towards using his right foot. He was often effective, but everybody thought he was being groomed to play in the center, perhaps alongside Cesc.

During the Emirates Cup, it was widely anticipated that Cesc and Diaby would be partnered in the center and given a run to succeed. Many had predicted that Diaby would be the revelation of the season. Little did we know that Mathieu Flamini would graft his way to making that position his own. Diaby again suffered because he was a brittle player. Injuries were the only reason why Flamini had a chance to prove himself, and who knows what would have happened had Diaby not been injured.

When we have seen Diaby deployed there, he seemed tactically inept. Even Arsene acknowledged this much in some comments. Wenger took pains to point out that they’re trying to instruct him, but he never seemed to be in the right place. Looking at him closely under the microscope, he was not strong in the tackle, he didn’t play like a defensive midfielder, and it seemed as though he was far more interested in attacking then defending. In some games, he was actually deployed as a secondary striker.

Diaby does possess a wide range of offensive skills. He possesses a good first touch (which most every Arsenal player has anyway), he can dribble his way out of tight spaces, he’s extremely powerful when he runs forward, and he has a very good right foot. In the past few weeks, he’s shown his ability to loft aerial through passes with extreme precision. We also cannot discount his ability to finish. He scored the first goal in the Liverpool CL second leg, and he’s also scored a wonder goal against Derby.

When most people were complaining about our lack of goals and the poor central midfield of Song and Denilson, I thought it was largely due to injuries that this was even happening. To my mind, the player that could have done a job for us there was Diaby. When I saw him appear in the lineup for Roma, I was convinced that finally we’d be able to produce a far slicker performance. That is what he delivered. His ability to retain the ball and powerfully burst through in key situations helps to break down defenses. Whether that’ll happen against a team fully committed to defending, we’ll see soon.

Luckily, he has been passed fit for the Fulham match tomorrow. I fully expect him to play in the center alongside Denilson. His contribution may be key while we’re waiting for Cesc to recover. I finally feel as though he knows his role. He is far more comfortable in the center of the park. And he is far more useful as a blunt attacking instrument. His presence in the center will help keep Arshavin and Nasri wider and pass around a defense, rather than through it.

It’s time to start winning games that we deserve to win. I believe we did enough to win against Sunderland, we just didn’t convert chances. Now, let’s see if we can bang in an early goal to rebuild our confidence in the Premier League.

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