On forums and blogs I have constantly read fans criticising Diaby’s performances this season as inconsistent, lazy and lightweight. However, in my eyes, people have taken Diaby’s role in the side for granted and on Saturday I believe we actually missed his presence in midfield.
Diaby has made 16 appearances this season and only William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen have made more. For Diaby this is quite an achievement and for those fans who demanded that he get a run of games under his belt and that seems to have gone unnoticed. Over the summer break it was reported that while others were away sunning themselves, Diaby went to France to undertake physical training to prepare himself for this season. Injuries are mostly through no fault of the player and it annoys me when fans condemn players for this. Diaby decided he had enough and made that extra effort to try and put a halt to these injuries. Many players would never give up their summer holiday to do this, so hats off to Abou.
Not many have benefited more from Wenger’s new 4-3-3 formation than Diaby. With Fabregas a certain pick, it was always going to be tough for Diaby to force his way into the side in a 4-4-2. He is not the defensive player needed to protect the defence and he does not carry the potency of Cesc to oust him from the side. However, Diaby is currently proving that he can provide something different to the side alongside both Fabregas and Song. Diaby has settled into the central position well and despite some weak performances, has scored 4 goals from midfield and added a lot to the side; things that seemingly were not obvious until Saturday.
In the Premier League it is crucial to dominate central midfield. Although Song is doing an awesome job in front of the centre backs, Diaby is able to cover ground quickly and hassle opponents higher up the pitch, thereby allowing Cesc to do his thing in more dangerous positions. He is also able to carry the ball forward at a good pace and with directness only a few of our players have. For a big guy his control is fantastic and he is often able to glide past players with ease. Sometimes it takes someone to take the risk of trying to force the play high up the pitch. On Saturday, most people will have noticed Song and Vermaelen trying to drive out of the back with the ball. Diaby has often done this from midfield and we missed this side to our game.
There is no doubt that Fabregas is the biggest threat in our side when he has the ball. Often though, teams are able to close him down quickly in numbers and stifle some of his threat. When Diaby is playing, his ability to cause problems in the final third often causes teams to be more cautious in their pressing. Cesc only needs half a yard to make the crucial pass but on Saturday he was not granted one iota. This was mainly due to the fact that there was no one alongside him who was prepared to try and force the issue.
Ramsey was on top of our skipper on too many occasions and this was probably the reason why Ramsey was withdrawn very early compared to Wenger’s normal policy on subs. Diaby provides Fabregas with an option that he does not get from any other of the midfield options. He is able to hold the ball and draw defenders and midfielders to him. Sometimes it is easy to just praise Fabregas for his assists but Diaby has played a part. Too often on Saturday, Cana and Henderson were able to double up on Fabregas because they believed there was no threat running from midfield. However good Cesc might be, if teams know that if he can get the ball to a team mate who has the ability to run at pace at the defence, they will not all make attempts to stifle Cesc.
Another aspect of Diaby’s game that I reckon is more obvious to the fans is his influence on counter attacks. This season two of his goals have come from blistering counter attacks. Often Diaby breaks from deeper than the other players involved and he breaks with great pace. He is able to take one stride to most people’s two and this enables him to explode away from chasing defenders. We did not take the few opportunities we had on Saturday to counter quickly and I fear this was because too few players showed the desire to take advantage in the same way Diaby has.
Much of the criticism directed towards Diaby has been his inability to perform consistently week in week out. We must remember that he had not had a run of games in the first team for the last couple of years and suddenly producing on a regular basis can take time to get used to. Diaby has a real presence in this side and in the English game that is now so important. Having athletes that can provide a physical strength is crucial and as the current Arsenal squad is quite lightweight and small, Wenger acknowledges the role Diaby has to play. This season I have seen Diaby show the ability to bully opposition midfielders which we have not seen for a long time.
Many fans were not expecting Diaby to be the man to play alongside Cesc and Song this season. Some thought Nasri would be the choice, or even Denilson but Diaby has come in after their injuries and offered something the others do not. If he can continue where he left off once he returns from his brief injury, I think he can continue to add the things that many will not have seen this season.