Abou Diaby: Arsenal Midfielder Can Still Be a Vital Player for the Gunners

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 09: Abou Diaby of Arsenal  beats Kagisho Dikgacoi of Fulham during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Fulham at The Emirates Stadium on May 9, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Despite a litany of injuries, Abou Diaby can still be a star for Arsenal. He made his return from his latest setback against Liverpool reserves yesterday and netted Arsenal's only goal in a 1-1 draw.

Talent has never been the question with Diaby. He has all the attributes to be a dominant midfield force. The Frenchman has strength, drive and skill in abundance. Only injuries have checked his progress.

Signed from Auxerre in January, 2006, Diaby quickly adapted to the first-team setup and overcame the burden of comparisons with the recently departed Patrick Vieira. He began to feature in Premier League matches and did not look out of place.

Diaby netted a goal in a 5-0 thumping of Aston Villa at Highbury and was playing himself into contention for a place in Arsenal's starting 11 in the upcoming UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona.

Disaster struck for Diaby and Arsenal in an away fixture at Sunderland. With Arsenal seeing out a comfortable 3-0 scoreline, Black Cats youngster Dan Smith shattered Diaby's ankle with a viciously inappropriate tackle.

Diaby missed nine months, and it's fair to say that he has never truly recovered from both the physical and psychological effects. There have been signs of a revival from time to time.

In Arsenal's 2-1 Carling Cup final defeat to Chelsea in 2007, Diaby was easily the Gunners' best player. Commanding throughout, his pace and power belied his years and ran an experienced Chelsea team ragged in the first half.

Then there was a stunning performance against Aston Villa in December, 2008. No Gunners fan should forget the astonishing goal Diaby scored to open the second half at Villa Park.

However, a series of nagging fitness problems have made moments like these too rare and have held Diaby back. He was primed to take on a key role at the start of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Each time, fresh injuries prevented his ascension, bringing first Denilson, Alex Song and finally Jack Wilshere into the team ahead of him. Yet the ability remains, and Diaby can still become the player Arsene Wenger has always believed he can be.

Often wrongly labelled and used as a defensive midfielder, Diaby is much more effective as an attacking threat, having begun his career in a traditional no.10, supporting striker role.

His technique, close control and ball skills in close spaces are phenomenal. His long-striding quickness and natural strength enable Diaby to be a dangerous and direct weapon when running at a defense.

If he can stay healthy, Diaby is a natural fit for the most advanced position in Arsenal's midfield trio. His experience deployed on the left in his early days with the Gunners also makes him a worthy candidate for a place in the front three.

Diaby possesses a thunderous shot and has scored 19 goals in his Arsenal career, many of them of the highest quality.

He needs to refine the quality of his final pass, but the ideas are always bright and incisive. Creativity is the most underrated aspect of Diaby's game.

Speed of decision-making and being more decisive on the ball are the areas he needs to improve the most. However, that improvement can come if the 25-year-old is able to achieve more game time.

Diaby has the physical attributes and flair to add a real spark to Arsenal's play. While the injuries are frustrating for the player and the fans, Diaby's talent justifies a little more faith and patience. The rewards could be great.


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