You can’t imagine how happy I am firstly to have him in the squad, because he is an exceptional player.
Whoa, we signed Lionel Messi? Ronaldo? van Persie issued a mea culpa, begged forgiveness and has shown so much contrition that he has signed a new contract for £15 per week on the basis that if it was good enough for Joe Mercer, it’s good enough for him?
The player in question is Abou Diaby.
I am sure that the manager is delighted to have him back, we probably all are if you consider his ability on its own. But you can’t because his injury record is second to none in length and frequency of his absences. He will always come with a massive BUT.
Arsène is right to be cautious about the midfielder’s fitness and absolutely right to determine the player’s future based on this tour. One bad tackle and a career has been tortured out of the Frenchman, seasons begun and ended before their natural conclusion. Just when you feel the player has turned the corner, injury strikes once more. The Gods who govern such fates have turned with malevolence on Diaby.
It highlights the risks that waiting for him to be fit hold. The praise of club and country managers is welcomed but surely overly optimistic. With Jack Wilshere absent for at least the first six weeks of the season, is Arsène right to wait and see before venturing into the transfer market for the defensive or box-to-box midfielder?
It is not the number of midfielders which is the concern, it is that two are recovering from serious injury and there is no guarantee that they will not break down again. You could counter that by arguing that injury might strike at with someone who is currently fit and we would not buy just in case that happens. In the circumstances, caution is well-applied with signings.
As ever there is a But. In these circumstances, is Arsène taking too much of a risk? What happens if two of the remaining quartet named as being part of the “well stocked” midfield are injured? That leaves two plus Rosicky to play as a triumverate for an unspecified length of time. The greater danger is the temptation for the manager to rush a return from injury as a result of short-term necessity, over-playing a recently injured player on their return is as much of a problem as the over-playing which caused the injury in the first place. Or at least set the environment for the injury to occur.
The balancing act is delicate. In the days before named squads, such issues could be glossed over with a signing. Before the transfer window became a domestic hurdle, the end of March was the only time-barrier. Problems before then could be resolved with a loan or permanent deal. Now the manager(s) have to take a punt, drop to their knees before the Injury Gods and pray.
Crucially, there is no necessity for Arsenal to buy right now. The tour will give them time to assess Diaby and his reaction to matches, even though the intensity of competitive games is not recreated. This is a secondary issue, hence the manager’s caution. If he breaks down now, action will be required quickly and decisively.
For Diaby, I wonder how this is impacting on him? It would be natural for him to be hesitant initially, to not throw himself fully into a game for fear of aggravating his condition(s). Yet he has to, to prove to himself that he is not going to crumble under pressure, to prove that he is going to resurrect his career. At 26, there is a danger of being cast adrift although playing in a less physical league might be a better option for his long-term career.
I hope it does not come to this. He is a talented player and I don’t think the manager would have kept faith in him under other circumstances. I hope that he comes through the tour and decides too much time has already been lost to the medical rooms and operating theatres, tearing through Premier and Champions League midfields is the answer, the best therapy. A fit Diaby has the potential to be as comparably influential to Arsenal as Yaya Toure was to Manchester City last season. At 26, we are still talking about unfulfilled potential. Hope, the eternal sustenance of a footballer for the coming season.
And yes, I am well aware that the manager may have been publicly closing the door on M’vila to turn down the flames of speculation to allow discreet talks to take place. I am sure of one thing; Plan B has already been identified in case of setbacks.