It seems it never rains but it pours for Arsene Wenger.
Barely days after learning that he will have to do without William Gallas, Gael Clichy, and Manuel Almunia for all or the majority of the remainder of this season, the Frenchman will now have to face some uncomfortable questions from the media about Lassana Diarra’s truncated stay at the club.
Diarra—who was at Arsenal for less than five months—said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais today that his time at the Emirates was a wasted period in his career.
When asked what he had learned from Wenger, Diarra said, “Me? Nothing. I did not learn anything from Wenger. He just taught me to doubt everything. The relationship I had with him was not good.”
The French international, who now plys his trade in Spain with Real Madrid, moved from Chelsea to the Gunners in 2007, but doesn't believe the switch was a positive one.
“I learned more with [former Chelsea manager Jose] Mourinho. Mourinho taught me to fight. I spoke looking into his eyes,” the 24-year-old said. "If you had a problem, it would be discussed. Wenger never addressed me until I told him I was going. He talked to others, but not me. I feel like I never played for Arsenal.”
Diarra’s statements will inevitably invite questions. Leaving Chelsea because he believed he warranted first-team football (his infrequent appearances for the Blues were often at right-back), he arrived at Arsenal for an undisclosed fee in August 2007, but found his way to the starting lineup blocked by the outstanding form of Mathieu Flamini.
Disgruntled, the 5’8” dynamo engineered a January move to Portsmouth—a £5.5m deal that earned Arsenal a tidy profit, and Diarra first-team football and an FA Cup winner’s medal.
Diarra always stated his desire to play in the Champions League (famously announcing upon his arrival on the South Coast that his new employers would have to allow him to leave if a big club came in), and within a year Real Madrid came calling with a £19m cheque.
In Diarra, the Spanish side believed they had found the immediate successor to an injured Mahmadou Diarra, and perhaps the belated successor to the man who kept him out of the team at Chelsea, Claude Makelele.
The question, however, is why Diarra couldn’t fulfil this potential with Wenger—traditionally a fine cultivator of talent—and Arsenal.
Was Diarra too impatient to fulfil his potential, wary that throughout his career he has had to be proactive to keep his dream alive (as a youngster he was released by both Nantes and Le Mans for being too small)?
Did he thus leave at the first sign of trouble, rather than wait for the opportunity that would have inevitably come his way?
Or did Wenger not appreciate his countryman’s abilities, and then make a tactical error when an out-of-contract Flamini followed Diarra out of the door in the summer?
Throughout much of this season, pundits and fans alike have been bemoaning the lack of an accomplished defensive midfielder to drive the Arsenal team forward.
Flamini was that player.
Could Diarra have been that player?
He has all the attributes required to be one of the game’s greats. Tenacious in the tackle and confident on the ball, he always has a big impact on the games he plays in. And as Flamini struggles in Milan, "Lass" is thriving in Spain.
Although the likes of Abou Diaby and Alex Song have infrequently stepped up to the plate at the Emirates this season, it is difficult not to wonder how much of an improvement Diarra would have been on those two youngsters.
For Diarra, however, it is not something worth pondering. He is now where he always wanted to be, and thus that chapter of his life is now closed.
“If people do not remind me of them [Arsenal], I forget about them. It's erased from my memory,” he said.
Unlike their former player, Arsenal are not yet quite where they want to be. Until they are, you wonder if Wenger will still have to face questions about why Diarra was allowed to leave so easily.