If I were to compare Abou Diaby to a food, it would be a Finnish crisp bread. Despite being French and not Finnish, Abou is just as delicate, fragile and ultimately precarious as a crisp bread. Just like overloading a crisp bread with toppings, if you rely on him too much in an attempt to stuff your face with his delectability, there’s a good chance Abou will shatter.
When Diaby is actually fit, he is a wonderful footballer to watch; one that combines power and grace very effectively indeed. Diaby doesn’t run, but rather glides along the pitch and his long limbs don’t prevent him from caressing the ball delicately as he turns opposition players using his very visible physical strength. His elegant aesthetic, coupled with the fact he plays very rarely, is such that Diaby almost appears an ethereal apparition that falls under the “I once saw…” category.
Although adding to his mystery, Diaby’s injuries are a serious and detrimental thing. Having been plagued by injuries for years, rather than treasuring every moment of the player, for Arsenal fans, it seems to be more a case of praying he makes it through the next five minutes. I can only guess that Arsène Wenger is probably partial to a Finnish crisp bread, but I know that he’s a huge fan of Abou Diaby (rightly so!) and places a lot of belief in the French midfielder.
However, even Arsène has admitted that Diaby’s fitness is still an issue and the manager appears to watch the player with the same muted anticipation as the fans: “you wish that [Diaby] just gets through the game”. It’s not exactly the vote of confidence you want to hear from your manager as a player.
However, as aforementioned, the fact is that Wenger still sees Diaby as potentially being “a huge asset” IF he can stay fit. This is almost undeniably true, but this positive boost for Arsenal’s squad is solely reliant on a relatively unreliable factor and they’ve got it wrong before. Injuries are ‘unlucky’ only to a certain extent and once a player has become as seemingly frangible as Diaby has, the responsibility falls upon the management and coaching staff to assess the situation and prepare or rectify accordingly.
It’s no secret that many Arsenal fans have become increasingly disgruntled with the way Diaby has been managed and ultimately over-relied upon throughout his fractured Arsenal career. The question is: will Arsenal get it right this time around?
Diaby is looking to complete a full pre-season this summer which will hopefully put him in good stead for the new campaign. Despite this, it still feels like this is the last chance for both the player and the club to show that through careful, attentive management there can be an extended period of fitness long enough for Diaby to be the asset Wenger hopes he can be.
One thing that will most likely make a difference this time around is Arsenal’s changes in the medical department, especially regarding strength and conditioning. Shad Forsythe, the German national team fitness coach is expected to be a big addition to Arsenal’s back-room staff.
With both Forsythe’s help and continued work with data analytics, Arsenal hope to be able to improve pre-emptive injury prevention. It’s currently unclear how effective these changes will be, but Arsène Wenger and Abou Diaby will be hoping that it spells the end for the latter’s injury woes.
Over-reliance was something touched on earlier and it is something that must and probably will be avoided by Wenger this time around. The manager has plenty of midfielders to choose from this season and it is thought that Arsenal will look to bring in a more defensive midfielder before the window shuts.
Diaby has never really been a defensive player, but more of a box-to-box player who can carry the ball through midfield and join attacks. With this in mind, it can be argued that Diaby is effectively second choice to Aaron Ramsey and shouldn’t be expected to be any more relied upon than good quality back-up. With players like Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky also capable of playing the role, it should be easier for the manager to pick and choose when he uses Diaby rather than being forced into using him.
In spite of this, if Diaby both stays fit and performs exceptionally, it will be very hard for Wenger to deny the player a place in the first team and he could effectively play himself into being relied upon. Another situation that could occur is other midfielders injuring themselves and thus leaving a delicate Diaby to hold the fort. Not ideal. Although entirely hypothetical, these prospects must be considered and are an example of the complexities that surround the subject of a fit Abou Diaby.
Finally, I agree with Wenger in as much that a fit Diaby is an asset and a useful one at that, but the player is one more serious injury away from possibly all but ending his career which would be incredibly tragic for someone so talented. For Arsenal this season, I feel as though Diaby is a bonus who can make a huge difference when deployed, but I’d happily see him as a less frequent contributor if it means preserving and elongating his career at the top of the game. I really do hope the 28-year-old, who is now Arsenal’s longest serving player in the current squad, stays fit and shows the world that he can still be a key contributor to a top club.