Dissension in the ranks is nothing unusual but the lack of sensationalist headlines is. Lassana Diarra gives a frank outlook on his situation which is reported untypically by The Times this morning. I have no doubt that there will be people slapping him down because of one sentence,
If I’m not playing by Christmas I may have to go somewhere else
Yet we should be used to this by now for one by-product of the squad system is that twenty five into sixteen leaves over a third of the squad not playing. Some of those are through injury but the majority of those omitted are not playing because the current incumbents are performing to expectations or even exceeding them. Diarra is remarkably honest and in some respects is backing himself into a corner. He will play against Sheffield United but to get a regular berth in the starting line-up he has to be ahead of at least two players, Gilberto and Flamini. I have no doubt that he feels he is as good, if not better, than the latter. Being selected for his country, he is entitled to have confidence in his abilities.
Diarra acknowledges that he has no right to a regular place, he will have to earn it,
For the moment, everything is going fine and I’m learning, but I cannot stay like this for ever. I’m not going to wait for a year because I changed clubs in order to play. I’m not stupid. If I come to Arsenal and my situation is the same as at Chelsea, then I should have stayed at Chelsea. If I come to Arsenal, it’s to play. In a few months, I’ll have to decide what I want to do
The first sentence is the key issue here. He is still learning; learning his trade and more importantly, the ‘Arsene’ way of playing, totally different and the antithesis of the ‘Chelsea’ way. And therein is the rub for him. He can show this in training but it is a match situation where it counts. At the moment he is denied this due to the form of others.
However, it makes you wonder what was said at the ‘recruitment interview’ he had with Arsene. I would be amazed if he was told he would go straight into the team. It seems an un-Wenger like statement; moreover, it raises the question as to whether Diarra took on board what was said to him then, presumably about taking time to adapt to the Club and style of play which is what I would assume Arsene told him but probably in a more ‘footballistic’ kind of way.
Ironically though, Flamini is the example he should follow; patience is rewarded. Flamini has that and went through the same process that Diarra is going through now. Last summer most of us would not have been surprised nor if we are honest, too disappointed if Flamini had left. Prior to this season, his flirtations with the first team had not been overly impressive, often played out of position, his best spell came at left back. His occasional filling in for Gilberto and co in the centre had shown him to be workmanlike but it seemed as if our weight of expectations were a burden on us, not him; quickly dismissed as a poor man’s version of the Brazilian but it has proven to be wrong. Not that Flamini is better than Gilberto, they are different types of holding midfielders, Gilberto more assured in his positional play, Flamini more direct in taking action.
Diarra is somewhere between the two by all accounts. I’ve only seen him properly in action twice and to be honest, the first time I was not interested in his performance, more concerned with how we played in Cardiff. The Newcastle Carling Cup tie was the first time he was watched in earnest and he performed well, controlling the midfield albeit against somewhat abject Geordie opposition. Sheffield United will be a different kettle of fish for him; they will be in his face, physically strong and sensing an opportunity to take the scalp of Arsenal, even if it is not the first team. The record books won’t show that Arsene fielded a ‘weakened’ team; just the full time score.
A final parallel with Flamini is that the majority of Diarra’s appearances at Chelsea came through being played out of position at right back,
I can’t say I hate playing right back, but I prefer to play in midfield. I want to touch the ball and pass to people. Playing right back is just running up and down.
If ever Diarra should take heed of Flamini then that statement is it.
Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he has more time for Avram Grant than Mourinho – ‘I know Grant well and he’s a good man who helped me when I was there’ – but the best advice he was given is some he would do well to heed now,
[Makelele] taught me to stay confident and believe that anything can happen. When you’re young, you want everything to happen very quickly, but sometimes you have to wait
This may well turn out to be true. Players in central midfield are more prone to be suspended or injured due to their involvement in each match. Diarra could play immediately after the next round of International matches if Flamini were to be suspended and Gilberto jetlagged. Anything can happen.