Arsenal’s lack of a commanding central midfielder since the glory days of Patrick Vieira is one reason that Gunners fans feel the club are unable to compete with Premier League’s current frontrunners.Although Francis Coquelin is the latest to fill the defensive midfield void, and has been doing very well since being recalled from a loan spell at Charlton, the North London club also possess another dominant enforcer in their squad.
He resembles Vieira in his style of play and physical attributes, but has become something of a forgotten man.
His name is Abou Diaby.
The French midfielder has been the victim of prolonged and repeated injury concerns, limiting him to infrequent outings in the Emirates Stadium in recent years. Having not featured at all this season for Arsene Wenger’s men and only managing a measly 16 minutes in the Premier League last term, it is not a surprise that many of the Gunners fans have given up on the midfielder.
In fact, over the course of the last four seasons, Diaby has only been fit enough to start ten Premier League games. Despite this abysmal fitness record, reports in The Express suggest Wenger may be about to conduct contract talks with his compatriot this month, and throw something of a spanner in the works of conventional wisdom.
This came as a major shock to most, with the consensus assuming that the crocked star would leave the club this summer when his current deal expires. If Diaby is handed a new deal – which would surely be a short, pay-as-you-play contract – it has the potential to have both positive and negative connotations for the North London club.
On the one hand, Wenger’s loyalty and willingness to stand by a player with ability but rotten luck is admirable, and a testament to the French coach’s belief in those he has brought to the club. On the other, it seems like Arsenal could well be flogging a dead horse, with the resources used to prolong a perennially injured Diaby’s contract surely better deployed elsewhere.
If Diaby could get back to full fitness and function anywhere never the level that he did in the 2009-10 campaign, Arsenal would be blessed with another comprehensive midfield option, and the Frenchman would be as good as a new signing. His physicality, power and work-rate would all be extremely desirable attributes in a midfield overloaded with technically-focussed players and would increase competition for places in an area where the Gunners are lacking.
However, with Diaby turning 29 before the start of next season and showing no sign that his injuries are behind him, it seems like a considerable gamble by Wenger if a new contract is in the offing. Wenger could rightly be accused of living in the past if Diaby’s stay at the club is prolonged, with plenty of younger, fitter and probably better defensive midfielders out there well within Arsenal’s reach this summer.