Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday August 13 2012
We`ve been here before of course http://www.arsenal.vitalfootball.co.uk/article.asp?a=515564. Three years ago, I wrote that 2009-10 would be a make or break season for Abou Diaby. Results were mixed that year in his only season in an Arsenal shirt in which he stayed fit http://www.arsenal.vitalfootball.co.uk/article.asp?a=518886 for a prolonged period. His fitness was talked about then as being make or break and, in the intervening two years, he has been broken more often than not.
I`ll be honest, I think I gave up on the prospect of Diaby staying fit when he limped off at Stoke in April. I really thought that would be the last I would see of him in an Arsenal shirt, but the manager`s faith lingers. It has to be said, I wrote off Tomas Rosicky`s chances of ever representing the club as well. Laurent Blanc said this summer that a fit Diaby is the first name on his teamsheet. Arsene Wenger obviously has faith enough in his abilities to stick by him through his countless spells on the sidelines.
That said, I`m not sure there has ever been a player so generously reappraised in absence as Abou Diaby. I remember him as a hugely talented, yet infuriating player. Fantastic feet but little sign of a brain. In part, this is precipitated by his inability to get a run of games together. His understanding of his defensive duties and his accuracy in possession would surely improve after having played 6-7 games on the trot. Therein lies Diaby`s biggest challenge this season. Before we judge him as a player, he has to show himself as an athlete. Abou`s biggest challenge is against his own body.
On the upside, he has made it through preseason unscathed. He has a good programme of fitness work behind him and some game time too. In an interview on Arsenal Player a fortnight ago, Diaby asserted that he was looking forward to playing with Mikel Arteta. It`s then it strikes you that, due to injury, Diaby has barely any experience of having played with any of our midfield bar Song. Ramsey`s reintroduction to the team as the most attacking of the midfield three has passed Diaby by- as has Mikel Arteta`s unfussy pivot play. Arsenal also have Santi Cazorla on board who can play in the midfield three. With the amount of adjustment Diaby will require, even if his body permits the workload, well, it`s almost like he`s a, he`s a …..No I can`t say it.
With Ramsey not having spent any time with the team during pre season, Cazorla playing for Spain in Puerto Rica on Wednesday, Rosicky and Wilshere injured, Chamberlain having picked up an ankle knock training with England, there is every chance Abou Diaby will start on Saturday against Sunderland as the most attacking of the midfield trio. It will be his first big test. Firstly, can he make it through without injury? Secondly, has he ironed out those flaws? Quicker movement of the ball. Improved defensive appreciation- particularly in his positioning. Not spooning the ball randomly out of play (usually after he`s just beaten five defenders with one turn).
In fitness terms, one senses that even Wenger`s extraordinary patience with Diaby will expire if he hobbles off the pitch with aches and strains more times than is reasonable this season. But he still has much to prove as a player too. He is 26 now and should be reaching an age of maturity in his decision making that he has all too often lacked. Demonstrating that will be reliant on him getting the games, but getting the games will be dependent on his ability to sow he is worthy of a place. The absences of Wilshere and Rosicky give him a window in which to impress. He needs to make sure he doesn`t join them in the treatment room, then he can think about perhaps making sure they stay on the bench. It`s obvious Arsene thinks he is capable. He wouldn`t have shown this level of faith with somebody he believes will be merely a squad player. Arsene must believe that Diaby can be first choice, or close as possible to it. Most supporters have written him off already. But there`s only one man whose opinion on the matter counts and Diaby must now show that investment has been well placed. LD.
Date:Monday August 13 2012
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