Profile: Vassiriki Abou DiabyBy
In the next instalment of the player profile series on Stone Cold Arsenal, the spotlight falls on one of Arsenal’s most promising superstars – our midfield powerhouse.
Vassiriki Abou Diaby
11 May 1986
In the last 4 years, no Arsenal player has divided opinion amongst Arsenal supporters and football commentators alike as much as this young man. The Frenchman, who is of Ivorian descent, landed in North London in January 2006, and even then, many had started making comparisons between him and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, who had only just left Arsenal for the ’Old Lady’ of Turin.
Saying goodbye to a legend is always a painful task and it was unsurprising that many Arsenal followers and media commentators assumed that Wenger would swiftly look for a ’replacement’ for Vieira. I suppose it was extremely naive to assume that a total footballer like Vieira could be replaced. Players like him don’t grow on trees. Diaby’s billing as the potential replacement for the former Arsenal captain was somewhat nostalgic and perhaps unfair to the young Frenchman.
Before his arrival at Arsenal, Diaby had a patchy career making 12 appearances for AJ Auxerre where he only scored 1 career goal. In addition, he had made promising appearances for a very successful France Under 19 national team, captaining his country at this level during a successful European campaign. By then, Wenger and his scouts had seen enough to convince them that Arsenal was the place for Diaby’s talents.
Diaby had probably the worst start when his ankle was broken 4 months into his Arsenal career in a nothing game against Sunderland who were already relegated from the Premier league. The culprit Dan Smith took Diaby’s ankle out in a needless and reckless challenge that could have ended the career of such a promising footballer. Poetic justice would have it that 4 years down the road, Dan Smith is now a carpenter having exhausted most if not all the footballing opportunities that he had. Nevertheless, his dangerous tackle ensured that Diaby was out of football for at least a year, a period which undoubtedly affected his progress and development.
His next 3 years were characterised by periods of stops and starts as he became a frequent flyer into the medical room at London Colney. Conventional wisdom suggests that players coming back from long term injury usually get niggles as they try to get some consistency. Some would argue that Diaby’s injury prone spell went way past niggles and little knocks and became a habit.
The young Frenchman recently confessed that his state of mind was affected during the last period blighted by injury. At one point he actually thought of quitting football altogether and looking for another career. I guess as supporters, we don’t think enough of what impact injuries have on the mental state of a player who really just wants to play football. It is testament to Diaby’s perseverance though that he kept at it and worked hard to keep himself in the frame.
The one aspect that has been frustrating for any cross section of fans around is that during the last 2 years, Diaby hasn’t shown his true potential either because of the injuries or because of inconsistent form. It’s a catch 22 anyway because without being fit and getting a lengthy run of games, it’s hard to build consistency and form. There have been glimpses of the brilliance and talent that Arsene Wenger has always seen in the young man, but there were also moments where confidence was an issue that affected his overall play. It was a common refrain from fans to hear “If only Diaby can remain fit and show us what he’s made of…”.
As with a handful of players that Wenger has kept faith with in the last few years, there were many fans who were vocal about the fact that Diaby may not be good enough to play for Arsenal. Sometimes though, it’s a good idea to acknowledge why Wenger is the manager and we’re not. The perseverance and hard work seem to be paying off and this season, Diaby has put together a run of games that is giving him the confidence to dominate the midfield and provide a presence and strength that Arsenal needs in the middle of the park. He has slowly but surely silenced his critics and many now accept that he has cemented a place in the preferred Arsenal starting line-up.
Some of his ‘man of the match’ performances have been imperious this season and have illustrated how valuable Diaby is to the Arsenal style of play. His individual shows of brilliance have led to some of Arsenal’s memorable goals of the season, and alongside Alex Song, Diaby is proving to be a dependable and inspiring midfield general.
This season, he is on track to score more goals than he has scored in his entire career, and that statistic alone tells its own story. Diaby for some reason seems to be fond of scoring spectacular goals against Aston Villa. In fact, one of my top 5 goals for Arsenal was a box to box move between Diaby and Eboue on boxing day 2008 when he and Eboue cruised past the Villa team like they didn’t exist before Diaby slammed the ball into the roof of the net.
Video: Watch Abou Diaby’s Goals’s and Assists for Arsenal in the last 3 and a half years.
Breath-taking doesn’t begin to describe that goal at Villa Park – considering how innocuous the move that started that goal was. Diaby emerged from a tussle outside our box with the ball before he and Eboue drove forward at pace in a series of 1-2s that bamboozled the Villa players and left Diaby with no choice but to slam the roof of the net.
I think that with Arsenal’s 4-3-3 style of play, the Frenchman is seeing his best form as the transition player of the 3 midfielders. By transition player, I’m thinking more of a player who effectively moves us from defence to attack and can competently do this in a number of ways depending on the situation. Whether it’s using pace and power, whether it’s using his talent to dribble with the ball stuck to his feet, or whether he emerges from tussles in our defensive third with his long telescopic legs driving him forward, Diaby’s influence in our transitions at pace from defence to attack is very tangible. Think of it as the bridge that weaves us between Song’s defensive influence and Fabregas’s magnificence in creativity.
In recent games, it’s become obvious to see the impact that Diaby has in the middle of the park and how his presence and power help drive the team forward in tight games. They are without a doubt, point saving performances as with the recent game against Everton – where Diaby pierced through the Everton bus parked in front of goal to set up the space for Rosicky our Little Mozart to fire in a last minute equalizer.
Considering Diaby is only 23, this young man is on his way to becoming one of the most influential attacking midfielders in the world. He isn’t the next Vieira, he simply is Abou Diaby. A good 2009-2010 season will for sure nail him a position in the Les Bleus squad for the 2010 World Cup.