Date: 14th August 2014 at 12:51pm
Written by:

The flux in fortunes (and finance) over recent years has led to the installation of a revolving door at London Colney. It seems at once fitting and a touch bizarre that Abou Diaby is now our longest serving player, even if fortune (fitness) has sadly decimated a promising career. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn`t solely Dan Smith`s leaden footed assault back in May 2006 that has blighted Diaby`s injury hit career. Diaby actually appeared to recover from that initial dislocated ankle.

In 2008-09, Diaby registered 36 appearances, an improvement on the 28 he strung together in 2007-08. In 2009-10 his body withstood greater rigours, managing 40 appearances. It was at this point that Arsenal decided to reward him with an improved 5 year deal. Many have questioned the wisdom of doing so retrospectively, but at the time, it was a reasonable shout to suggest his fitness was improving and Arsene Wenger`s estimation of his quality has never been in doubt.

However, a pair of tackles early in the 2010-11 season put paid to his physical improvement. First, Bolton`s Paul Robinson launched at the vulnerable area of his ankle at Emirates Stadium in September 2010. A week later, Michael Essien, a prolific purveyor of intentionally dangerous challenges, stamped down hard on Diaby`s ankle long after the ball had disappeared. Diaby needed corrective surgery as a result of those twin assaults and from there he has never truly recovered. He managed 15 games in 2011-12, 5 in 2012-13 and 1 last season. A hip complaint is currently preventing him from joining in with full training.

The question is a rather sombre one in the circumstances. Does Abou Diaby harbour any realistic prospect of a future at Arsenal? Indeed, the Frenchman has admitted, somewhat unsurprisingly, that retirement is a thought he has been forced to grapple with over the last 3 years. This represents the last year of Diaby`s current deal and you have to think it`d take something extraordinary for him to earn another at the club, even given Wenger`s obvious regard for his ability.

Diaby`s foremost target must of course be fitness and nothing else. He has to be able to play before he can contemplate the negotiation table and at this stage, his ability to play at all must be at the vanguard of his thoughts. Such is the manager`s regard for Diaby that I think even a suggestion that he can string some games together would result in a (heavily caveated, short term) contract offer. He possesses qualities that most of the current squad do not have.

But realistically, you have to wonder if this Arsenal team has left him behind now. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere occupy his ideal position. Mikel Arteta has only a year to run on his deal and turns 33 this season. Mathieu Flamini is 30 and was clearly signed as a stopgap until Wenger could acquire a suitable long term heir to the fabled “DM” role. The other player Wenger looked at last summer once he was rebuffed in his pursuit of Lars Bender and Luiz Gustavo was Gareth Barry. This suggests the manager was prepared to wait before signing a player of the stature he really wanted for the role.

If Diaby can first get himself fit, his best shot at a long term future at the club may be to show he has the qualities for the role. Personally, I doubt whether he has the positional discipline and his injury problems mean he has never been able to accrue it. However, I guess few would have predicted last summer that Aaron Ramsey would blossom into the Gunners` biggest goal threat. Good screening midfielders tend to settle into the position later in their careers and at 28, Diaby has the time if he can withstand the physical demands.

The manager has yet to acquire the deep lying midfielder he courted last summer and reported target William Carvalho is subject to some complex third party ownership issues. Arteta`s appointment to the captaincy could suggest he is seen as first choice for next season. It`s a very remote chink of light for Diaby. Realistically, his priority ought to be ensuring he can continue his career now. It would take a mighty effort I think for Diaby to be an Arsenal player this time next year, but football always has the capacity to surprise you. LD.