Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday August 10 2009
In the days building up to the season I will be writing a feature article on a player that has something to prove in the 2009-10 season. With our transfer activity once again looking to be laid to rest until 11.56pm on August 31st, Arsene will be storing faith in some players with whom question marks are still abound. Trips to Manchester United, Everton and Celtic will likely have been consigned to the record books by the time the next Arsenal recruit walks through the revolving door and that will mean relying on some questionably placed aces up the sleeve for the manager. With Rosicky edging desperately towards the cat-flap, limply searching for a quiet place to die and Nasri resuming a career long propensity towards the treatment room himself, the boss will be playing a few wild cards for some very important and tough fixtures. Thomas Vermaelen has well and truly nailed his colours to the Arsenal mast and proved he has Gooner credentials ebbing through his veins. Because he has injured his hamstring. Trust towards the boss and the board is slowly eroding and with such a precarious start to the season fixture wise, the possibility of not having many points on the board come mid September is a very real one and a prospect that will heighten the vitriol to unprecedented levels under Wenger`s stewardship. The purpose of these articles is not to create any sense of ecumenical harmony between the infuriatingly rigidly protocoled groups Arsenal fans have become obsessed with pigeon holing themselves into- the so called Wenger knows brigade versus the naysayers. But rather to consider the individual merits of some of the articles of Le Boss`s trust. First up, the enigma that is Abou Diaby.
In my match report for the Stoke City game in May, I wrote that one of Wenger`s challenges over the summer was to discover, "What exactly is an Abou Diaby and what does it do?" Too offensive to play defensive midfield, too careless in possession to play attacking midfield, too idle to play on the left wing, too ugly to join a boy band. Diaby`s charge sheet for crimes to Wengerball is too vastly populated for comfort. He`s lazy, he gives the ball away far too easily, for a physically imposing central midfielder he doesn`t win too many tackles and when he does try to he usually breaks bones. Abou Diaby is football`s answer to the wasp, the occasional sting in the tail all too often preceded by an eternity of buzzing around aimlessly and annoying the living fuck out of you. For instance, one of Diaby`s favourite tricks appears to be receiving the ball on the edge of his own area, weaving, ducking and diving his way mesmerically around five players, stealing away from his dumbfounded opponents manoeuvring himself into an acre of space and an ocean of time......before then spooning the ball out of play under no pressure. In a neat snapshot, this proves one over riding factor where Diaby is concerned; he has exquisite football feet but a lousy football brain. When left to run on autopilot, Diaby has few peers, surround him with opposing players or put him in any position where time is precious and scarce and the toes twinkle and his play sparkles. But when left to think, Diaby is more ponderous and unnecessarily long winded than another twenty minute Jimmy Page fret wank guitar solo. (Or one of my pointlessly over analogised sentences).
His lack of football intelligence is exemplified by the fact that he has been unable to carve out a permanent position for himself in the side. His stint on the left wing in the 2007 Carling Cup Final against Chelsea convinced you he could have a home in that position, weaving balletically between heavyweights such as Lampard (snigger) and seasoned campaigners like Ballack gave us hope he could offer a thrusting force from that position and add conviction to our midfield. Yet he has barely repeated such displays from there. Diaby has never been disciplined or conscientious enough to fill the defensive midfield slot- a position the manager tells us he was earmarked for in the summer of 2007 when Gilberto was on Copa America duty. The reason of course he was never slotted into that particular square peg was due to his most onerous foe- injury. Diaby has rarely been able to string together a series of games due to the persistent affliction. Ever since Dan Smith decided to go postal on Diaby`s ankle, niggling muscle strains have been par the course for the lanky French midfielder, which has disrupted him from establishing any rhythm. If Diaby is to prove himself worthy of his manager`s trust he`s going to have to sustain an adequate fitness level (and try his hardest not to break influential team mate`s legs in training).
Likewise Diaby`s performance as a support striker against Fenerbahce briefly elevated your optimism that Vassiriki Abou could play a prominent role in that position too. But then his limp displays in both semi finals last season from a similar area of the pitch retards your opinion of Diaby once again, leaving your estimation of him sagging towards the gutter once more. Plus, with Arshavin now on the scene, he is only ever going to realistically play second fiddle for that role in the concerto. Diaby is possibly the most frustrating player I have ever encountered in my time watching Arsenal. But one does not become so disgruntled with bad players- I can`t ever recall McGoldrick or Hillier frustrating me- I knew they were limited players and expected little more than the turgid fare they could barely scrape together. Diaby is a player I expect more from. It is said in some religions that of you take one step towards God, God will take two steps towards you. In my estimation, Arsene Wenger has taken a quantum sized leap towards Abou Diaby, so he must be waiting for a sagacious midfield player to break out of there somewhere. Diaby does have a lot of the qualities it is often bemoaned Arsenal lack, size, physical presence, balls the size of watermelons. (Figuratively speaking on the last point). Diaby has the power to dominate midfields; the problem is I`m not entirely sure he knows how to utilise that power.
Season 2009-10 needs to see Diaby become mentally disciplined and focussed- Arsenal are a team that is at its most effective when they move the ball quickly, Diaby can aid that with his sloping, gazelle like runs through the heart of the midfield, but he must also learn how to lubricate the Arsenal machinery by moving the ball quickly and being economical and accurate in possession. He needs to be more dynamic, track back and help his team mates more; basically he needs to stop playing the game like he`s waiting for the 155 bus to Streatham Common and start exerting himself more- that would tie in to tapping into his impressive physical artillery. The new 4-3-3 formation could give Diaby his best opportunity yet; slotted in a midfield three alongside Fabregas as the creative pivot and Song/ Denilson as the anchor player, Diaby could be freed from constraint somewhat, expected to predominantly be neither defensive screen or arch plotter. He could potentially add a bit of muscle in the defensive third when our opponents are in possession and maraud forward with impunity. He has served enough of an apprenticeship on the left side of midfield to plug the gap left by our left sided attacker (likely to be Arshavin). Indeed, Diaby started the game in Valencia at Denilson`s expense, which suggests he is being primed for precisely that role in the midfield triumvirate on Saturday in what is likely to be a physical contest at Goodison Park. If Diaby can discipline his game a little and start lubricating the brain cells and, above all, if he can stay fit, he might just repay his manager`s immense faith. But another season of injury and mediocrity will likely see him consigned to the scrap heap whistling his "coulda, shoulda, wouldas." In the words of Lloyd Grossman, Abou, it`s over to you.LD.
Date:Monday August 10 2009
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