Amidst what amounted to no more than a free for all by journalists worldwide against Arsene Wenger on the Robin Van Persie saga, Arsenal’s opening press conference of their tour of the Far East contained a significant bit of transfer news. Yann M’Villa, the young French defensive midfielder from Rennes who throughout May and June the Gunners were supposedly on the brink of signing, was officially no longer on Wenger’s radar. The 20 year old, who so impressed at the base of France’s midfield at Wembley in Les Bleu’s victory over England in November 2011, was now being dismissed. Apart from his suspect attitude, brought to light by his role as a perceived trouble maker and dissenter as France’s Euro 2012 campaign descended into anarchy, Wenger highlighted that Arsenal still had one Abou Diaby to return, offering that “when fit, Diaby is number one on the France teamsheet”. Yes, Abou Diaby, he of only four appearances in the whole of last season, three of which he entered as a substitute only to not even last the duration of the 90 mins.
Sound familiar? At a press conference in the beginning of January, Arsene Wenger when questioned on the possibility of signing the prodigiously talented frenchman Yoann Gourcuff, replied ‘We have choices in midfield. We have Abou Diaby coming back from injury”. Fast forward a month, when mulling over Jack Wilshere’s latest injury setback, Wenger spoke of Diaby “needing three more weeks of training. Late February at the earliest”. Let’s go back further: January 2008, with Arsenal top of the league; following Tomas Rosicky’s injury, Wenger asserted a replacement from the transfer market was inconceivable; “I believe that we have the needed quality because Diaby develops very well”. Diaby then predictably picked up an injury “making a simple pass” and missed the rest of the season as the Gunners finished 3rd.
This is not an attack on the 25 year old Frenchman, who for all the world clearly has the talent to become the authoritative midfield figure Arsenal and France have lacked since the talismanic Patrick Vieira. Indeed, on the rare occasions Diaby does take the field for the Gunners he appears to offer a directness with the ball, as well as unpredictable trickery capable of unlocking the mass defences Arsenal encounter week after week. His most injury free season, 2009/10, highlighted Diaby’s qualities as he notched 7 goals from midfield before going on to become France’s standout failure in their disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa. However, Diaby is clearly suffering the effects of a horror tackle from Sunderland’s Dan Smith during the dying moments of a game in 2006. The undoubted trauma of that tackle, which left Diaby’s leg and ankle in tatters, has marked his career and injuries to the extent that the Arsenal website often does not even mention him in articles noting returning injured players. Indeed, last season when Diaby would be substituted injured only a matter of minutes after he had made his return to the team via the bench, the sorry sight was greeted with laughter from Arsenal fans, rather than sorrow. It has become evident to them that Diaby is a symbol at the crux of what has gone wrong at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger since 2005.
Diaby, as talented though he may be, simply cannot be relied upon. Wenger appears to be blind to his inability to string a stretch of games together and thus the dominant midfield presence Arsenal so clearly need is left vacant due to the continual wait for Diaby to “come back”. Diaby is not an isolated example. Of course, Robin Van Persie’s form has been sensational since the beginning of 2011, but it must not be forgotten how his previous lengthy lay offs, rather than spurring purchases of top quality attackers, have left Wenger shopping for bargain basement back ups – the likes of Chamakh (2 goals in the last 12 months) and Park (5 minutes of Premiership football to date), spring to mind, as Wenger continually spoke of the Dutchman’s eventual return. Kieran Gibbs provides another example whilst sadly, Jack Wilshere is the latest Arsenal crock who’s return Wenger continues to speak of, rather than go out and buy a replacement. These injury-prone players, such as Diaby bloat Arsenal’s wage budget to the extent that Wenger speaks of “Nobody (coming in) above the highest level we have here”. Herein lies the hypocrisy of what Wenger has done at Arsenal. Yes, Diaby’s potential is vast and must be nurtured but the old adage is that no player is bigger than the club. If the reliance on him is due to the fact that Wenger’s hands are tied financially, then more transparency is needed at board level. Otherwise, Wenger’s already diminishing reputation will only continue to dwindle under this apparent confusion.
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