This article first appeared on Sabotage Times. Click or Diaby will hunt you down
The most inescapable facet of Abou Diaby’s career at Arsenal has been the comparison with Patrick Vieira. A tall, gangly French central midfielder of African descent playing at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger; the likenesses were invariably going to be addressed.
In fairness, they are quite a bit alike on the pitch. Their physical similarities mean that their playing styles have many shared components – both stride around the pitch using their long legs to retain possession, and, when on his game, Diaby uses his strength to hold off opponents in the same way as the former Arsenal captain did time and again at Highbury.
But while Vieira was a disciplined distributor, Diaby is a midfielder who likes to get forward, and often emphasises this in interviews. Having been pigeon-holed by many as a defensive midfielder due to his physical attributes, despite preferring to attack, it’s understandable that his progress has been delayed – and not just by injury – as it’s taken time to perfect his role at Arsenal.
Another player who’s suffered a similar categorization is Yaya Toure. At Barcelona he was classified as a holding midfielder due to his strength and size – it was assumed that he would follow the many midfielders of African descent in being a defensive player, but he seemed reluctant to play in a disciplined role. When he came to Manchester City, he was given freedom to drive forward from midfield into advanced positions, which suited him perfectly.
Comparisons between Diaby and Toure, like those between the current Arsenal number 2 and Vieira, may be easy to make, but there’s certainly weight behind them. Both of them are skilful midfielders who swim against the tide of stereotypes, preferring to break forward in support of attackers than stay back and protect the defence.
One of the main differences has recently been that while Toure has been on top of his game for a while, Diaby has struggled so long for any semblance of form, mainly due to injuries – not just the physical consequences but the mental aspect. His confidence seemed drained during matches, and he looked unsure of himself.
Quite what clicked against Liverpool is unclear. It may be that he just needed games under his belt, or that alongside Arteta given license to get forward everything finally came together for him, but his performance had pundits showering him with praise. The role he played was similar to that of Toure at Man City – alongside a disciplined distributor in midfield, given license to go forward.
Funnily enough, Vieira would probably be Diaby’s perfect central midfield partner. Like Arteta at Anfield, he would sit deep while Diaby probed forwards with driving runs, dancing pirouettes and penetrative passing. We finally saw Diaby produce something close to his best after seemingly laying dormant for so long, and Arsène Wenger will have been pleased to see his persistence pay off.
The comparison of Toure and Diaby isn’t exactly ground-breaking – the Arsenal midfielder made it himself after the game – but it certainly proves that Diaby can be a success after so long without a defined role. He seems to have found his calling, a role in which Toure so frequently excels for Manchester City, and one that should also help his new team-mate, Santi Cazorla. When Diaby breaks forward from midfield, Cazorla can drift into wide areas as he loves to do, with Diaby occupying his position. Indeed, we saw this for Cazorla’s goal at Anfield.
It will certainly give Arsenal unpredictability going forwards – rather than a rigid formation, the team will be free-flowing and fluid going forward. Last season it was similar, but the chaos that often broke down opposing teams also contributed to the Gunners’ own downfall; the lack of structure leading to a leaky defence.
Song was in Diaby’s box-to-box role, and Arteta’s function was slightly vague. This season it’s much clearer that he’s the disciplined holder and Diaby the one with license to get forward, and with more clarity Arsenal should benefit.
Wenger was widely derided for not buying a centre midfielder in the summer, especially after the sale of Song, but Diaby coming good against Liverpool seems to be vindicating him. Everyone knew of his talent, but the question was whether he could finally fulfil that potential. It was a risk to not strengthening centrally, but Diaby seems to have benefitted from the faith his manager put in him.
It took a while, but this may well prove to be another time where Arsène Wenger has the last laugh.
I was asked to metaphorically cut the metaphorical tape with metaphorical scissors for the not-metaphorical launch of Chapman’s Goal, so here’s the article which is the metaphor for the cutting of said metaphorical tape. You can follow them on Twitter here, and check out the original article here, if it makes any difference to you, or love it so much you want to read it again but with a slightly different setting.
The headlines at Arsenal this summer have been the departures. Robin van Persie and, more recently, Alex Song, both packed their bags and spat in the face of/were gladly helped out of the door by (delete as applicable) the man who made them what they are. Following the precedents set by recent seasons, in which first team players have left and we’ve failed to win a trophy, the media have automatically assumed the same will happen again.
Poor media. Their blindness to the positives at Arsenal will inevitably come back to bite them in the, ahem, arse. It’s happened before when they predicted us to finish outside the top four, and those who don’t think we’ll challenge will be chewing the bland, rubbery humble pie they know so well at the end of the season. They should know better.
The reason for my confidence is what the media have overlooked – the quality of the replacements Arsenal have brought in. Van Persie’s departure has been offset not only by the signings of international strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud but also Santi Cazorla, who I’m sure I don’t need to tell you anything about. Except those that are calling him “Carzola”. Stop that.
It’s important that people realise Van Persie was so important to us because we didn’t properly replace Cesc Fabregas – Aaron Ramsey was in no way ready for ‘the Cesc role’, and because the most central (in terms of location and importance) role was being filled by someone not quite up to the task, we suffered, and Van Persie was required to win us games on his own.
Later, Tomas Rosicky began to make the role his own, and it’s no coincidence that the loss of Van Persie’s form went fairly unnoticed at the time. The vital piece of the puzzle was sufficiently placed by Rosicky, and our efficiency increased – Van Persie wasn’t the only way we could win games, as demonstrated by a 3-0 win over Aston Villa with no contribution from The Lying Dutchman.
Still, Rosicky was only an adequate stop gap, and the perceived wisdom was that Arsenal would need someone to fill the Cesc-shaped hole properly – especially with the Czech’s injury problems which have unsurprisingly crept up once more.
For once, our luck was in, and we managed to wrest Santi Cazorla from Malaga’s relenting grasp due to their financial problems which came fairly out of the blue. Cazorla is, let’s be honest, not quite as good as Cesc. Very few players are. But since Cesc’s time at Arsenal, some of the players he was surrounded by have matured, and we’ve brought in others to improve the team.
Per Mertesacker was brought in last season, and should have adapted more to the league so as to be able to better instil his calming influence and exemplary reading of the game. Laurent Koscielny became one of the best defenders in the league last season. Thomas Vermaelen, despite occasional struggles last season, should improve with the added responsibility of the armband, and for once we’ll have a captain who can lead as a general, rather than a soldier, if that analogy makes any sense whatsoever.
Moving up the pitch, Mikel Arteta was superb last season with his precise passing, retention of possession and positional discipline and will continue to use his experience to help the side. Jack Wilshere, touch wood, returns in October, and will add guile and energy to the midfield. Abou Diaby is another who is hoping to put an injury nightmare behind him, and while performances might be inconsistent to start with, he has the potential to be an important player for this team.
It’s hard to place Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in this article, as he could be in the midfield paragraph or forwards paragraph, but I imagine he’ll play as a wide player this season give that we need a less direct option who’s happy to help keep the ball and probe against deep-sitting, bus-parking opposition. After a season under his belt he’ll have improved, as will his competitors on the flanks, Theo Walcott and Gervinho, who both showed signs of that in pre-season.
Lukas Podolski will also play out wide, but will be vying also for that central spot with Olivier Giroud also in contention. Last season Van Persie was our only option, with Chamakh a stuttering, nervous wreck and Park possibly not existing. This season we’ll be able to rotate up front, as well as in other positions, meaning we’re much less predictable.
And finally a mention to our new signing, Nuri Sahin. At the time of writing he’s not been confirmed officially, but I’ve already been assured I can order my Turkey away shirt with ‘Sahin 10’ on the back without worrying the move will fall through. At Dortmund he was fantastic, and while a loan deal is always slightly disappointing, he’s sure to be a great asset this season, and will allow for even more rotation and, by extension, unpredictability.
All in all, Arsenal’s options, on paper, look promising. An opening day draw against Sunderland has drawn criticism from some quarters, but teams don’t click overnight, and this one will need time to begin firing. The team showed classic signs (I’m sounding like a shrink) of being a team in need of time to gel and in particular patience, and they deserve that before our fans start ripping their hair out and throwing it at Arsène Wenger. Who, by the way, knows more about football than pretty much everyone who has criticised him.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults, but look at our signings this summer – Olivier Giroud, top scorer in Ligue 1 in a title-winning side who came from nowhere to clinch it; Lukas Podolski, 18 goals in a relegated side and over 100 caps for Germany; Santi Cazorla, widely acclaimed as the best player outside of La Liga’s ‘big two’ and winner of 46 caps in a Spain midfield including Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Iniesta; and finally Nuri Sahin, Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2011. I could list more accolades, but I’ve written too much as it is.
So that’s four fantastic additions from Wenger, and many more reasons to be cheerful at the Emirates. It may well be a far better season than many are predicting. I for one am looking forward to it.
Hi there! Two blogs in as many days, I know, must be some sort of record for me. Nice choice of picture? What ever do you mean? Nope, sorry. No idea what you’re talking about…
So it seems as if Robin van Persie, our talisman of last season, will be sold if Manchester United meet the asking price, which they apparently have. I wrote about the situation a while ago, before he made the statement, insisting that we couldn’t afford to sell him, even if it meant he ran down his contract and went elsewhere. It’s important to mention that I assumed ‘elsewhere’ would be another league – I was sure he wouldn’t leave us for another English team.
Well, pretty much everything has changed since then. He made the statement, looks likely to go to one of the Manchester clubs with few other teams in for him, and we have signed Santi Cazorla. The situation is completely different, and for us it’s changed for the better.
Last season, we relied on van Persie for goals, and he duly supplied them, winning the Golden Boot and, let’s be honest, firing us into the Champions League. But the team was imbalanced – we relied on him far too heavily. There was a massive disproportion in our list of goal scorers – only Theo Walcott also reached double figures in all competitions.
What was clear as we entered the Robin van Persie saga was that any replacement would be under huge pressure to deliver – van Persie’s role was unique in its style and also importance. Whoever we signed to take his place, assuming we had to replace him, would be thrust into the headlights and would be required to hit the ground running. If not, we’d have another season of transition and if we fell further from our position of last season, we’d most likely miss out on the Champions League.
The statement changed things. It changed van Persie’s status at Arsenal from the king of the current crop to, in the eyes of some, a traitor. Money-grabber was a bit far, but he had let down everyone at the Emirates Stadium, from the fans all the way up to Arsene Wenger. Suddenly he became a bit more dispensable – he hadn’t become a worse player over night but his commitment could be openly questioned after the statement.
Still, on the pitch not much was different. We still had to replace him with a great player if he left, and even then his influence wouldn’t quite be replicated.
The signing of Santi Cazorla was a game-changer. All of last season we had lacked a player to define us – a playmaker. Cesc Fabregas was a massive loss, and we didn’t make up for the sale with a similar player. By all accounts, Arsene tried hard – the size of the bids it’s suggested he made for the likes of Cazorla and Juan Mata back that up – but in the end we were left to rely on Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Both good players, but not capable of running the team. Rosicky came into form in the second half of the season, but still didn’t quite do the job, while Ramsey suffered under the pressure of the role.
Cazorla, though, was a fantastic signing. Finally, we had someone to replace Fabregas in that playmaker role. The problem with van Persie being our talisman – the problem with any striker being a talisman – is that, no matter how good he is, he needs service to thrive. Van Persie often did so, with our suppliers focussing their passes and crosses in his direction, but it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes he was off form, and at those times we often struggled.
But when your key player is a central playmaker, like Cazorla, it’s a bit different. A playmaker, by definition, makes those around him play. Fabregas did exactly that, and at his best, goals came from all around the pitch. Whoever made a run would be found, and it would then be up to them to supply the finish. The goals weren’t shared around last season – all of the players knew that they just had to pass to van Persie.
This may have meant that they didn’t take responsibility themselves. Why try and score yourself when it’s so much easier to pass to your captain and best player? Besides, at the beginning of the season especially, we lacked confidence after a poor spell, so a lot of players played within themselves (or should I say with the hand-brake on Arsene?) and van Persie ended up having to rescue us on several occasions.
And don’t let van Persie’s massive goal total fool you – creatively Arsenal were lacking a lot last season. The majority of his goals weren’t simply down to good midfield play, but superb movement from the Dutch striker. Without that we suffered, although luckily we didn’t go without it too often during the season.
Having Cazorla will change things. Our wingers won’t have to focus on feeding the striker, and will instead be able to make more runs. Alex Song won’t have to bomb forwards as much because his passes won’t be so important. We’ll become far less predictable – the theory was that if you stopped van Persie, you stop Arsenal, and while this was a lot easier said than done, it was still managed. The game against Wigan is the best example – at the Emirates they took van Persie out of the game perfectly, and we looked as if we had no idea how to score in the second half.
Finally the balance of the squad is a lot more even. The restructuring with the signings of Podolski and Giroud to shoulder the attacking burden and Cazorla to create have been excellent, especially for a reported total of £35 million (Andy Carroll yadah yadah yadah), but most importantly Cazorla fills the hole that’s been gaping since Cesc Fabregas went back home.
This vital puzzle piece being missing last season meant an increased reliance on our best player, but now, in theory at least, we won’t need to rely on a striker for all of our goals. They should be coming in from all angles now that we have a proper creator. Players don’t always have to be replaced like-for-like; simply their influence has to be replaced, and the signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and, in particular, Santi Cazorla will surely do that for the apparently imminent departure of van Persie.
With most of Arsenal’s pre-season talk centring around the Robin van Persie saga, not to mention the signing of Santi Cazorla – which should be announced in the next couple of days – the actual football displayed by the Gunners has somewhat sneaked under the radar.
While it’s never wise to read too far into friendlies, especially those against Asian minnows Kitchee among others, Gervinho has impressed enough for him to be firmly in Arsène Wenger’s thoughts for the new season. Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide sterling competition for the Ivorian winger, not to mention the (literally) left-field option of Andre Santos, but after his pre-season showing, he should be confident of his chances of a regular place.
His first season was a little tricky. After signing for Lille for roughly £10.5 million (the exact same as Thierry Henry when he joined from Juventus), hopes were high – after all, it seemed to some as if Arsène Wenger had opted for Gervinho over team-mate Eden Hazard, even though this was probably not the case.
Even so, according to experts he’d been just as impressive as Hazard in Lille’s successful title tilt, so expectations were fairly high for the new number 27. After all, he’d taken Emmanuel Eboue’s old number, so he had big shoes to fill; clown shoes to be precise.
Arsenal began the season with Gervinho as first choice left-winger, with Oxlade-Chamberlain deemed not ready, Yossi Benayoun not yet trusted, and Andrey Arshavin falling rapidly more out of favour with Arsène Wenger by the week. However, a red card on his competitive debut against Newcastle after a tussle with Joey Barton stalled Gervinho’s Arsenal career before it had even properly begun.
In and around his domestic ban, though, he began to make a good impression – he provided a vital assist for Robin van Persie in the Champions League qualifier against Udinese when the Gunners were struggling to find a way through. A goal against Blackburn after his ban ended was another high point, before he turned in arguably his best performance of the season against Stoke.
Having put the Gunners ahead early on with a smart bit of control and subsequent finish, having jinked his way into the penalty area he set up van Persie to score twice, inspiring his side to a 3-1 victory.
A woeful miss against Chelsea didn’t help his cause, but the performance surrounding it certainly did, as he helped earn his side a 5-3 win with an assist and some all-round good play. Goals against Wigan and Wolves followed, and although he didn’t score any more after that, he continued to impress intermittently with his superb dribbling skills.
As is customary with most African players though, the African Cup of Nations didn’t help his season though. Not only did it interfere with his progress with his club, missing the crucial penalty in the final clearly had a sizeable effect on the winger mentally.
Because of this, and perhaps because he still hadn’t adapted to the league fully, he struggled on occasion – at times his play was slightly timid, and the lack of final product he had at times displayed in Ligue Un was as prominent as ever.
If inconsistency was a problem in his first season though, it wasn’t in pre-season. The mazy runs were more common than ever, with several dribbles leading to chances in their numerous pre-season friendlies. A similar bit of play led to a goal for himself too, as he danced past a few Southampton defenders to fire home at St Mary’s late in a 45 minute match.
This season, Gervinho should have adapted properly to the Premier League – it often takes Premier League players to settle in 100% to English football, as Laurent Koscielny and Didier Drogba would probably attest to. With a year surrounded by the likes of Robin van Persie and coached by Arsène Wenger under his belt, there’s no doubt that he’ll have improved as a player as well.
The fundamental problems with Gervinho’s game are mostly things that can be ironed out – poor decision making, for example, will fade away the more he trains with his side and the more that he learns from those around him. His finishing still seems to need work, but practice makes perfect, and Wenger will be sure that his Ivorian wide-man is working tirelessly on his shooting.
People may mock him for the size of his forehead – sadly it doesn’t seem to help with his heading – and also focus on the errors in his game, but after a season of quiet improvement and a pre-season of showing it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck Gervinho into your fantasy team.
This article first appeared on Sabotage Times
Abou Diaby is an interesting player. And by interesting, I mean incredibly frustrating.
All Arsenal fans must realise he’s immensely talented. Arsène Wenger agrees, and has persisted with the midfielder through-out his injury problems.
He has his fair share of detractors, and I’ve been amongst them. While his injury problems are frustrating, what’s also frustrating is how his attitude comes across when he does get on the pitch. Often he’s seemed vaguely disinterested, and his lackadaisical style leads to a lot of misplaced passes.
As I said, few people doubt Diaby’s talent. When he’s fit – and when he applies himself – he can be brilliant. I’d compare him to Manchester City’s Yaya Toure; a midfielder who, due to his appearance, physique and background, was pigeon-holed as a defensive midfielder, but is far more comfortable as a more offensive midfielder.
But the main difference for me, on top of the injuries Diaby has suffered, is application. When Yaya Toure plays, he seizes the game by the scruff of the neck, and imposes himself. Diaby, on the other hand, has often shied away from responsibility on the pitch and actually been fairly detrimental to Arsenal at times.
As mentioned earlier, his passing is often sloppy, and he’s sometimes very ponderous on the ball. In the past he has slowed down counter attacks and is regularly robbed of the ball while assessing his options.
There are some things he could do to improve this infuriating aspect of his game. He could make better use of his strength when shielding the ball, rather than timidly surrendering, but also improve his awareness – he needs to be aware of opposition players trying to win the ball, as well as being aware of passes to make, releasing the ball earlier rather than dwelling on it.
So far in pre-season, Diaby has looked good. He’s been able to play at the top of Arsenal’s three man midfield, and has looked purposeful and powerful, making use of his repertoire of attributes. His confidence seems back, and most importantly he’s swerved clear of injuries so far.
That confidence might be something I’ve over-looked in the past when criticising him. When you don’t get a run of games because of injuries, and simply can’t string one together, it must be difficult to build up any confidence, inhibiting your performances.
With the state that Arsenal’s midfield is in, Abou Diaby has a great chance to nail down a regular place in the side. Of course, that will depend on his luck with injuries, as few players have had such bad luck as he has (fellow Arsenal players Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky will contest that, though). But it will also depend on his attitude when given a chance.
He won’t be able to wander through games as a passenger, which he’s done far too often in the past. Arsenal’s number two (what a ridiculous number for a midfielder) will need to stamp his mark on games, and if he does he may yet revive his career in London.