Arsenal is a team who will always have to defend counter-attacks, and aim to halt other offensive teams in their tracks, especially with the recently adopted 4-1-4-1 formation. But they would hardly achieve that with a stagnant anchor or a clumsy screener in the middle of the park.
A different route might have to be taken to solve this need in 2014/2015, and the benefits would be reciprocal if Abou Diaby is handed the responsibility to become Arsenal’s new defensive shield.
Yes, the injury prone Frenchman is a box to box midfielder and prefers to be given the freedom to burst forward but the man has hardly had the chance to maintain a steady career ride with this driving style.
Perhaps a new role to curb the need to make those surging runs would be useful in managing his fitness. Perhaps not, but considering the options we have, the 28-year-old has the most eye-catching qualities for this single pivot role.
Diaby’s most salient attribute is his physique. He’s got the height to deal with aerial challenges and the stamina to deal with the robust demands of the role. Considering how vulnerable we’ve been in set-pieces and crosses into the box this year, we could do much worse than planting Abou in front of the back four.
The ‘Ballon d’or hopeful’ may be fragile, but you can’t question his tenacity. Rather than using those long legs to make lengthy attacking strides, he could use his mobility to cover ground around Arsenal’s defensive third.
Arsene seems to favour technique over natural ability and that’s a huge reason why he has used Arteta as the team’s deepest midfielder in the last couple of years. However, there’s a technique Diaby’s got which would also suit the same purpose – skill.
Watching Barcelona, its clear why they persist with Busquets as the team’s anchorman despite having a proper defensive midfielder like Mascherano. The Spaniard is excellent under pressure, uses his subtle skills to evade markers and keeps the ball moving excellently.
In like manner, Diaby also has a calm head on his skinny shoulders and possesses some of Busquets skills. His elegance on the ball would aid Arsenal in dealing with the aggressive pressing that has seen them lose games before they really get started.
The single pivot role in a 4-1-4-1 formation doesn’t place much emphasis on playmaking and dictating the pace of games but requires protection, intelligence, flexibility, and more protection. While Arteta offers technical security, he doesn’t have the grace to match his technique and Borussia Dortmund were the latest team to exploit that weakness.
Meanwhile, in the game against Manchester City, Mathieu Flamini showcased his strengths and weaknesses for the role. While almost running and sliding simultaneously, he didn’t exhibit the composure to win, shield or intercept shield the ball in dangerous areas.
This was quite evident in Manchester City’s opener when he did well to cover ground to win the ball, but lacked the composure to shield it and retain possession. The ball bounced off Aguero instead and found its way to Navas.
Half the damage had been done but it didn’t end there as Flamini still did well in an attempt to recover the lost ball by dashing back into the box and although he had an eye on Aguero, he lost him in a split second and the rest they say, is history.
In essence, this shows how mobility without composure and awareness solves little or better still, adds to the damage.
Now, Diaby is not the perfect solution to this significant problem but he has the mixture of qualities that makes him the ideal candidate among our current options. His calmness and tenacity are essential attributes that we need to make use of, especially in the big games, where a little error could have dire consequences.
In a team which gives so much offensive freedom to its creative midfielders, it is highly imperative to deploy an assuring shield behind them. Arsene recently acknowledged how his team lacks a physical presence with ‘prodigious’ ability like Vieira or Petit.
They didn’t get that man in the summer and are already paying for it in the big games. But perhaps they have a stop gap option available in the squad and need to use him while he’s still fit. It could be a fitting farewell for Diaby, who’s supposedly in the final year of his contract, and he might just earn another one if he proves to be that feisty long wall that still eludes the team.
Perhaps we will get a chance to see Diaby in this role against Southampton in the Cup this week?
We at Gunners Town hope so!