Abou Diaby: Why Arsenal Midfielder Could Be Set for His Best Season Ever
It was in the summer of 2005 that Arsenal's illustrious midfielder and captain Patrick Vieira left the club, after a successful career there, including the famous 2003-04 invincible season.
For curiosity's sake and for its figurative import, Vieira left just before Arsenal's last season at Highbury, the season in which the team donned the well-tempered redcurrant color to mark its years at that stadium, the team's home since 1913.
The club's website explains the significant of this color.
This kit, it says, was "designed to honour the colour of the Club’s set of shirts for the first season at Highbury, they were adorned with gold lettering and accompanied by white shorts and redcurrant socks."
I say "well-tempered" because this is one of the club's best colors, and as an aside, I wish the team would make it its permanent away color.
Erstwhile Gunner, Henry, wearing the epoch-marking redcurrant colors. Getty Images.
As to what is symbolic about this, I refer to the fact that this not only marked the end of the Highbury years, it also closed the years of the club's on-the-field successes under Arsene Wenger (to the present date, that is) in terms of trophies.
From Old to New
After this year, a new chapter in the club's history would open up—the Building or the Stadium Years, during which the club would seek to position itself among the top clubs in Europe, and in doing this, preclude or reject the tempting and temporary option of remaining financially among the middling clubs, though doing so might have guaranteed more chances at winning silverware.
That summer, a flurry of signings would be made by Wenger and would continue in the coming January transfer window.
These signings included Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Armand Traore, Alexander Hleb, Vito Mannone, Mart Poom and Abou Diaby, the object of our interest, who joined the club in January.
Before both turned sky blue or black, as the case may be, Vieira and Adebayor were first Gunners. Getty Images.
It appears—judging from the similarity of their physique and their specialty—that Diaby had been signed from Auxerre as replacement for the departing Vieira, even if he would not exactly replace Vieira or replicate the latter's form immediately.
What was evident (or not so evident at the time) was that Wenger was building for the future.
A new team of young blood would replace the famous Invincibles. Diaby (less acclaimed at his signing than Theo Walcott and Adebayor—himself to be a replacement for Thierry Henry) would be part of this team.
Presumably, Diaby would play the same important role in the heart of Arsenal's midfield as Vieira's.
But, whatever promise that was in the lad's early appearances for the club (16 in all), which included a goal and an assist, whatever flashes of excellent manifested, all came crumbling down on May 1, when Dan Smith, a Sunderland FC defender, tackled the Arsenal burgeoning midfielder and left the young lad horribly injured.
BBC Sport carried this report about the injury and its import, both for Arsenal and the injured player:
Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a fractured dislocated ankle.
Diaby was on the receiving end of a heavy tackle from Sunderland's Dan Smith during Arsenal's 3-0 win.
The injury means Diaby will miss Arsenal's last two Premiership games and the Champions League final match against Barcelona on 17 May in Paris.
It was a serious enough injury as to be declared career-threatening.
But after three surgeries and eight months of rehabilitation, Diaby returned from injury to make 18 appearances for the club the following season before being injured again (thigh), the residual effect of the original injury.
Most observers agree that Diaby's subsequent injury-marked career has been the result of this original injury.
After the thigh injury, Diaby has struggled with one niggling injury after another, being severely restricted in his appearances for the team as a result.
The following table of stats from footballdatabase.eu gives an overview of Diaby's career at Arsenal.
Although Diaby did have better seasons than the last couple after his return from injury, it is safe to say that injury hasn't allowed him to blossom into the promise his potential as a player signalled.
Working to Overcome
As a matter of fact, Diaby has struggled mightily, a struggle that has challenged his mental strength.
He stated the following while speaking to Arsenal.com ahead of the current season.
There have been times where I thought about stopping my career. You always ask yourself a lot of questions in those moments. It’s hard mentally and I had to be strong. But quickly, I went back to a very positive attitude. I know I am going to be fine. I am not a cheat. I have always worked very hard to come back.
I have never had any apprehension playing football but I have to say that last season I feared a bit to play. It was so important for me to come back to my best level and to avoid getting injured again that I had this little apprehension.
Speaking recently to Le Parisien (per Goal.com), Diaby admitted that "Last season, before the Fulham game, I was shaking on the bench because I was scared of getting injured again. It was incredible."
But, he continued, that passion and his natural strong temper saw him through his injury ordeal.
All I wanted was to play again. I am born with a strong temper. I never give up. Maybe some people would have given up in my position, but it was out of the question for me.
I had some very difficult moments, some days when I was depressed when it was tough, but even then, I always kept faith. I always told myself that some people were in a worse position than me.
He also credits his manager for the support he received while out for the extended period this has been for him and the club.
But his own willingness to work hard and to remain optimistic about the possibility of a return—and of a yet successful career—cannot be underplayed. He has had to seek help from physiotherapists around the world just to get back to playing.
If his latest attempt at a return becomes successful, he has to receive a great chunk of the credit for it, if for nothing, but for not giving up.
Abou Diaby, being challenged here by Cristian Ledesma of Olympiakos, has suffered from injuries stemming from a bad tackle. Getty Images.
Spirit and Drive
In terms of why we can say that he might be poised for his best season yet, the hard work through the pain and the discouragement of many setbacks can't be a negative indicator of the player's spirit and drive.
It was this sort of mental strength that set the Invincibles apart.
That set's breakthrough came after a team meeting in which members addressed their disappointments and expectation. From thence, they started winning because they began working and compensating for each other on the pitch.
What's more, the spirit and drive of this team was such that, even when they were losing, they always believed they'd come back into the match, and they always did. It was what led to their 49-match unbeaten run in the league.
Diaby's class as a player has never been in doubt. Only injury has hampered his progress. Getty Images.
Breakthrough usually Comes
If we might somehow appeal to the ephemeral, we'd have to say that majority of great personalities became so not in lieu of difficulties, but in spite of them. It appears to be a principle that persistence almost always yields fruit.
On that ground alone, though ephemeral and admittedly unscientific, we'd be apt to say that Diaby's breakthrough must eventually come, and it might be this season.
The First Fruit of the Season is Promise Enough
From what we've seen of Diaby in this early four games (for club and country), the signs seem to indicate that he is finally coming into his own.
If he can keep fit, there's no reason to suppose that this wouldn't be his breakthrough season.
His partnership with Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla would seem to indicate that this will be a formidable trio, and that's not to mention the impressive supporting cast waiting in the wings.
The prayer, then—the hope—must be that Diaby shakes off his latest injury and that he stays fit for the rest of the reason.
Fortune and goodness knows that he is due a break. So, why not let's all cross our hearts for him, whether in earnest or merely as a symbolic gesture.
Diaby, brought in as part of a new generation may finally be poised for a breakthrough. Getty Images.
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