It’s About Time, Andrey Speaks, and Theo

I wonder how many people slagged off Abou Diaby when they realized that he’d start against Portsmouth yesterday. That some Gooners are only beginning to warm up to Alex Song should be an indication that there are many non-believers out there when it comes to Arsene Wenger’s squad. Diaby has his critics, but the manager has unwavering belief in his potential. Yesterday may not convince the non-believers, but he’s done well enough to keep them quiet.

Comparisons to Patrick Vieira have always been tempting. I haven’t dared put that kind of expectation on him, but it’s understandable that he’d at least remind you of the legendary former captain. If Diaby stays fit and applies all the tools he has to work with, he may in fact come close to a Vieira-like player.

Almost instantly after coming on against Celtic on Tuesday he set up Gael Clichy’s low cross that resulted in an own goal. He has scored a brace against Portsmouth. The non-believers will be doubting themselves but we’ve seen signs of what the gangly midfielder can do before, only for him to disappoint with inconsistency or with injury after injury.

After a disappointing 2008-09, Diaby added weight training to his close season activities. I don’t imagine being in a gym instead of being on holiday is the most popular thing to do among well paid 23 year olds who have the means to travel the world. Diaby has recognized that he has to play like the special player that he’d been labeled to become. His hard work has been evident so far. Not just in his dynamic display yesterday but in the way he returned to finish the match after going off for treatment.

The most interesting thing about Diaby’s performance however was that I cannot remember seeing him lose the ball. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t think he lost it once. We all have images from the past when he’d hold the ball too long or he’d make the wrong decision, causing attack after attack to lose momentum and timing.

Diaby’s main strength is his ability to receive the ball, turn with it, and attack. He has the tools to be a Vieira-like player but as Arsene stated, he’s not as defensive as Patrick. When Abou would get in trouble was when he’d try to play himself out of positions that a defensive-minded player would have made safer, quicker decisions to relieve pressure instead of taking unnecessary risks in his own defensive third. He’s had to learn when to release and when to hold. That aspect of his game mattered far less in the U-19s where he was physically dominant.

Increased tactical awareness also needed addressing. No matter how many times a player is told to be here or to be there, or to be ready for this or for that, until he’s actually had to respond in high pressure situations he hasn’t really learned the lessons. That can be said of most of Wenger’s squad – it has been about maturing and experiencing the high pressure moments.

On current evidence, it seems that the post Invincibles generation has learned many lessons. There are more questions to answer. Not least the crucial second leg vs. Celtic on Wednesday and then the true Arsenal rival, the team I look forward to playing more than any other, Manchester United.

Slightly off topic, but I want it to put it on record that Manuel Almunia has again proven that he still does not have adequate control of his box. Younes Kaboul deserves credit for the way he attacked the ball and planted it in the net. My first thought was to try not to judge the keeper harshly, but after seeing the replay I am convinced Almunia should have done better. Kaboul was well into his leap as Almunia was just preparing to rise.

A final point I wanted to make is that Andrey Arshavin has been been quoted that he feels we need to add to the squad. I also feel that we need to add another CB and a back up for Alex Song. Arshavin has been lauded as a player who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. I will never stop reminding people that William Gallas was castigated for being the same type of player. Arshavin has also stated that it is Wenger who makes the final decision. I get the impression that forces beyond Wenger’s final decision making influenced the Gallas affair last season. The example that comes to mind is his alleged “criticism” of Theo Walcott. He didn’t point out anything that wasn’t true. Theo needed to improve those aspects of his game that Gallas spoke about and he’s become a better player for it.

More important, can Theo break into this team? It’s a good problem to have I suppose. Mind, AA23 hasn’t even got out of third gear yet, Eduardo looks good and ready, RvP isn’t scoring but providing, Nik looked good as well.

I hope Theo gets his priorities right. Wenger has an unforgiving ruthless streak. It’s an unlikely scenario but not unreasonable for Theo to continue his quest to be fit for England and keep Arsenal second priority, play well in South Africa (assuming England get there, which they probably will), and find himself sold for maximum fee.

It’s not what I want but if you stop to think about it, William Gallas is our leading scored and Theo has yet to play a minute so far this season for Arsenal Football Club.

It’s all about Arsenal Football Club.

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