The last couple of weeks have neatly demonstrated the dilemma that Abou Diaby presents. After a man of the match performance in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Liverpool a fortnight ago, he then scored his first international goal in France’s 1-0 win in Finland. Having sustained a hip injury in the game, he missed the subsequent win over Belarus and the 6-1 demolition of Southampton on Saturday. One step forward, one step back.
Since joining Arsenal from Auxerre in January 2006, Diaby has averaged around 12 league games a season and has sustained about 25 separate injuries. He suffered a severe ankle fracture within his first few months at the club, which required three operations and sidelined him for the following eight months, but his fitness concerns can be traced back to the very start of his football career. Before attending the Clairefontaine Academy in 1999, Diaby turned out for the Red Star Paris youth academy and is remembered by youth coach Marco Lienel as: “quite
Former Auxerre manager Jacques Santini has conceded that Diaby’s sale was sanctioned due to “repetitive injuries,” with vice-president Gerard Bourgoin revealing that “Diaby did not play, so this was a strategic sale for us.” He was highly regarded at the club: “No player in his position can do what Abou can do,” stated his first coach Guy Roux. “He can take out four of five players without flinching. He has technique and great vision.” Despite this glowing endorsement, they still decided to cut their losses.
Diaby has been favoured by successive French managers, with Raymond Domenech, Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps all regularly selecting him when available. He starred at the 2010 World Cup but missed the recent European Championships after an injury ravaged campaign, making only one start for club and country. He started Arsenal’s first three league matches this season and Arsene Wenger has moved to praise his impact in recent performances. “You can see that it’s massive for us because he’s a tremendous football player with absolutely everything you want in a midfielder,” Wenger explained after their win at Anfield. With the international break approaching, Wenger ominously added: “Let’s hope he survives the break.”
With Jack Wilshere absent since a stress fracture ankle injury last summer, Arsenal have a potentially explosive midfield pairing that have only managed 12 starts in the same side thus far. Diaby’s return to the side has more than compensated for Alex Song’s departure to Barcelona, keeping things simple in a more compact Arsenal midfield alongside Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard provides a powerful, driving presence to compliment Diaby’s languid, lolloping style of play, with deft touch and excellent close control.
Diaby’s latest complaint should have subsided in time for him to make the midweek Champions League tie against reigning French champions Montpellier. With a full pre-season under his belt, Diaby also reunited with fitness coach Renaud Longuevre in the summer, having previously worked with him ahead of the 2009-10 campaign, in which he started 26 league games. With designs on a sustained period in the side, Diaby’s belated breakthrough season may have finally arrived. With Wilshere’s return also imminent, Arsenal’s engine room could be set for a much needed upgrade.
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