How Arsenal were robbed of their next Patrick Vieira

This week the summer’s transfer business seems to have shifted up a gear with Manchester United splashing the cash on midfield reinforcements and Liverpool finally agreeing to allow Raheem Sterling to leave for Manchester City.

Big deals like these, either by their success or failure, continue to shape the fortunes of clubs at the top end of the table.

By contrast though, Abou Diaby was released by Arsenal this week. Had things worked out differently for the big Frenchman, the landscape of the Premier League might have been startlingly different over the last decade.

The most successful Arsenal team of Arsene Wenger’s tenure had club legend Patrick Vieira at it’s heart but it is now ten years since he moved on. Some would say that the Gunners have been one Vieira short of being title winners ever since. Diaby should have been that man.

The club finally drew a line under the gangly midfielder’s time in North London this week, with injuries having wrecked his career.

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Diaby arrived at Arsenal back in January of 2006 when the club was in the midst of it’s last season at Highbury. It was a modest fee of £2million, which was a sign of the times given the vast expenditure on the Emirates Stadium.

It was testament to his potential though, that he was able to choose between the Gunners and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the time.

Diaby came oozing with youthful athleticism. He was a natural powerhouse, an effortless mover, a sharp passer and ultimately a Vieira in waiting.

He was just 20 when he left former club Auxerre for the Premier League brimming with potential.

Now though, nine years on, Wenger has finally been forced to let him go and will feel huge regret that he was only ever able to field the giant Frenchman 125 times during all those years.

The coach was quoted this week as saying it was one of his “saddest moments” being denied the opportunity to get the best out of Diaby. Wenger praised not only his natural ability but his attitude towards training and recovery stating “he didn’t deserve what he got”.

What he got was horrendous luck with injuries. He suffered an ankle break within four months of arriving at his new club causing him to miss the Champions League final in 2006.

Much of the following season was spent attempting to recover from three separate operations. A thigh injury then caused him to miss a large part of the 2007-08 campaign.

The pattern continued throughout his career in North London. Every time he returned to fitness and began to show his potential a fresh problem sidelined him again, including a nine-month layoff with anterior cruciate ligament damage in 2013.

Diaby, with 16 France caps to his name, has now finally seen his Arsenal dream end at the age of 29.

There is reported interest from MLS sides but it remains unclear where he will go to attempt to salvage a few years at the end of what should have been a glittering career. He has been robbed of the success that his talent should have brought him.

Arsenal too, have been denied their next Vieira. Could Diaby have been the box-to-box phenomenon that would have converted so many top four finishes into genuine title challenges?

How different would the list of Premier League winners over the last decade have looked had fate not dealt him such a cruel hand?

Even Vieira himself no doubt wonders. The World cup winner said: “He could have reached an exceptional level. He is better than me, better on a technical level, a better dribbler and a better scorer too”.

Sadly Diaby was only ever able to show us glimpses of this. Maybe he can do it elsewhere in the next few years, but for Wenger, the search for another Vieira goes on.