Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday June 15 2007
This is quite literally my first Friday night in in memory (not that I remember too much about the ones I have spent being a socialite) and with my profession reaching its own unique version of silly season, my output has been somewhat sparse lately. So with a nice bottle of Bishop's Finger cooling softly on my computer desk I thought I owed you lovely people an article.
Rumours about the future of our captain have been abound in symphony with the usual transfer rumours. One can only speculate on the aforemntioned, so whilst that cyclone whirls around me, I thought I would concentrate a little on what we do have. It is no secret that Arsenal's current playing squad lacks in experience, but I feel that fact has overshadowed the quite extraordinary pool of young talent at our disposal since our trailblazing Carling Cup campaign's ill fated conclusion. The likes of Denilson, Walcott, Diaby, Hoyte, Djourou and Traore made light work of Gerrard, Bellamy, Carsley, Berbatov and Jenas (don't laugh, actually, do). Whilst the likes of Ballack, Lampard and Bridge were bailed out by the deadliest striker in the Premiership last season. Arsenal's current PR activity seems to point supporters towards our youth policy. The title of the end of season DVD 'Young Guns', some of the publicity shots for the new white away shirt feature Denilson, Walcott, Djourou and the 20 year old veteran Fabregas. This may be a subtle submission on the club's part that the purse strings are far from loose at the moment. But I thought I would take a look at some of our starlets and consider what they might offer next year. For all the supposed crisis that the ever ravenous media seem to be enveloping us in, people seem to forget that there will be a natural progression in these players (though they could do with some experience to guide them along).
I will begin with Abou Diaby. A player who suffered an horrific injury just as his Arsenal career was getting started. I will be honest, I still had not made a judgement on Diaby prior to this season, I saw glimpses of brilliance and large slabs of anonimity, but was prepared to accept that this was a natural part of the acclimbatisation process. Following Dan Smith's sickening lunge, I doubted whether this guy could ever come back. I was wrong. Diaby came straight back into the side with a renewed desire, the injury seemingly not troubling his mind as he crunched into tackles. His rehabilitation was obviously focussed on increasing his power as we saw him dominate games in the manner of a past midfielder I won't name. Even playing on the left he looked comfortable, his natural presence overpowering the Zokora's of this world. Magnetic ball control saw him bring the ball forward from midfield, with Arsenal's play becoming more precise and ponderous in the middle of the park, his bucaneering style augmented our contemplative inertia.
His coup de grace arrived in February's Carling Cup Final. Lining up on the left, Vassiriki Abou Diaby took his so called world class counterparts Michael Ballack and Lumplard to the cleaners. Chelsea's right back Diarra could only resort to rugby tackling to get to grips with him. Using the subtle touch of Fabregas and Denilson as his own personal wall, Diaby manouvered around Chelsea's superstars with intelligence. This clearly is not a player possessed of brute strength alone. Few would argue that the turning point of that final was the loss of Abou Diaby to injury. His subtle pirouhetting became a feature of his cameos on the left wing, using his deft touch to earn him a split second on his opponent. This is where his power would then be utilised to leave his chasers trailing as he powered upfield. Arsenal began to look like a better team with Diaby in it. With Gilberto and Fabregas arguably our two most important players last season, Wenger acknowledged Diaby's talent by looking to accomodate him in any way possible. Whether it be left wing, behind the striker or by moving the indespensible Gilberto to centre half, Wenger obviously wanted to test the kid's sea legs.
As our season petered out into mediocrity, Diaby was given an extended run in the side, the thinking obviously with an eye cast to the coming campaign. How we accomodate him with Gilberto and Fabregas still as pivotal as ever is anyone's guess (might I suggest the 4-5-1 for the 359th time?), but it's certainly a nice problem to have. Next season looks to be a big one for Diaby, the manager's frequent use of him following on so swiftly from a career threatening injury appears to demonstrate that Wenger very much sees young Abou as a potential cog in this side. Next season will tell, I for one, am looking forward to finding out.LD.
Date:Friday June 15 2007
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