The first in an ongoing series of regular columns by Spanish Fry.
When Vassiriki Abou Diaby signed for Arsenal Football Club on January 12, 2006, few had any idea of who he was or indeed, what he would bring to the club. A first sighting of the ex-Auxerre midfielder off the field drew immediate comparisons with the then recently departed captain Patrick Vieira – giving hints that manager Arsene Wenger had signed him as a replacement for a man who was once the most complete midfielder to play in the English Premier League.
However, apart from a physical resemblance to the ex-Arsenal skipper, little was known of his ability on the football field. He showed early indications of his talents, making his debut as a substitute no less than nine days after joining the club – whilst another substitute performance against Aston Villa saw him net his first goal for Arsenal. Things were going well for Diaby until he suffered a broken ankle in early May of 2006 courtesy of an awful tackle by Sunderland’s Daniel Smith. Diaby was forced out of the game for eight months, returning to competitive action no earlier than January 2007 to replace Theo Walcott in Arsenal’s Carling Cup quarter-final against Liverpool.
Since that time, what have we learned from Diaby? And does he possess the talent to eventually replace the great man Vieira? Recent indications are good. Diaby’s form, when he’s given the chance, has been excellent. Diaby’s gangly playing style, silky skills and intimidating frame give him a unique opportunity to become a dominant force in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield, especially as Gilberto fades with age.
Unlike any other central midfielder currently playing in the Premiership, Diaby seems to possess both the ability to play as a defensive midfielder, in the “hardman” role as well as pushing forward into more creative positions – a mix of styles that Vieira has made famous. Diaby’s talent has already been recognised by Raymond Domenech with a recent call-up to the French national team.
What can be assured is that the performances of Diaby this season have been a real positive in a disappointing year. If he remains patient in the knowledge that his time will come, an exciting partnership with the already outstanding Cesc Fabregas beckons. And this is something that Arsenal fans should be looking forward to with great optimism.
For more columns by Spanish Fry, see Spanish Fry’s Column.