It was almost too good to be true. Only a year after the departure of inspirational midfielder and club legend Patrick Vieira, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger drafted in what, on first glance, seemed to be his younger stunt double. Tall and gangly with great stamina and strength, the comparison was impossible to avoid. But Abou Diaby has proved himself to be more than a subordinate reincarnation of Vieira.
Diaby returns to the international fold this weekend, more than a year since his last appearance for the French national team. He is expected to have at least some involvement in the matches against Finland and Belarus in the next week, despite having only made eight appearances for the Gunners since August 2011.
One of the great shames of Arsenal’s recent drought of success must be Diaby’s fitness concerns. Ever since being on the receiving end of a horror tackle from Sunderland defender Dan Smith in May 2006, he has suffered a string of both major and minor injuries which have stunted his development. In six and a half seasons at the Emirates Stadium, Diaby has made only 115 league appearances.
But the powerful midfielder has started all three of Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures so far this season and has performed impeccably, slotting into the midfield seamlessly alongside Mikel Arteta. His performance against Liverpool last weekend was nothing short of tremendous. It was Diaby at his best; high work-rate, intelligence in possession and dominant between the penalty boxes. Indeed, Nuri Sahin, a man who turned down Arsenal to head to Merseyside, was completely overwhelmed by the midfield battle with Diaby on his full Reds debut. He departed down the Anfield tunnel with his tail nestled firmly between his legs.
Wenger lauded the 15-times capped player after Arsenal secured a 2-0 victory over Brendan Rodgers’ side, and was quoted in the
“I was highly worried about him while he was out, but I always stood behind him because he is a fantastic guy as well as a fantastic player.
“Let’s hope he survives the international break because he is going with the French national team and he will travel a lot and play two games in four days, so let’s hope he comes back in a good shape.”
With Arsenal deciding against signing an extra midfielder on transfer deadline day, despite the loss of Alex Song to Barcelona, the maintenance of Diaby’s fitness levels is likely to prove a vital factor as to whether the Gunners enjoy a successful campaign. He may be a different type of player to Vieira but, still aged only 26, Diaby could yet establish himself as a similarly influential and prominent figure.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Moldova v England