Thursday, January 20, 2022

Hello Interlull my old friend : thoughts on Diaby

This morning I woke from a dream in which I was living in a dystopian future where the only food available to man was caviar which came in 15kg sacks, like dog food. There were fierce battles to procure said deliciousness and when I arrived at my place of ‘work’ one bag short the man in charge put a gun to my head and made me go through sewers and tunnels to get it.

The man in charge was Andre Santos with a Burt Reynolds moustache and he wasn’t at all as cuddly as he is in real life, although I didn’t not see him do any driving in my dream. In the end I retrieved the sack of caviar but then he told me he didn’t want it as it was time for him to leave and he had a slide which went down into the centre of the earth. I don’t know why he didn’t burn to death. His cuddliness, I suppose.

Anyway, it’s that annoying time of the new season when we go into the very first Interlull. Sometimes these are not so badly timed. Last year, for example, the Interlull allowed us to regroup and sort ourselves out after a rotten start to the season and the arrival of a plethora of new players. This time it’s a bit more of an irritant because after a decent enough start we stepped it up to beat Liverpool 2-0 and according to Per Mertesacker the players are full of confidence.

Podolski and Cazorla have scored their first goals, Olivier Giroud is being backed by the manager to come good (what odds him opening his account against Southampton like others have before him?), and the team in general looks solid, well composed and more assured than we’ve seen for quite a while. The Interlull is something all teams have to cope with but they bring their own problems to teams who have a higher percentage of their players away with their countries.

I suppose though that this time last year, and during any Interlull, we were clenching tightly against the news of any Robin van Persie injury, but this time around there isn’t really any one player who is of such importance. That’s not to say I won’t be clenching re: all of our players as they circle the globe in the quest for World Cup qualification but hopefully we’re better set to cope with any knocks.

Arsene Wenger, as I mentioned yesterday, suggested Abou Diaby, after so long out of the game and three successive appearances for Arsenal for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season, might benefit more from a break than playing for his country, but in the form he’s in it’s obvious why he’d be picked. And the Frenchman is keen to continue both form and fitness to repay the faith shown in him. He says:

I have to thank the manager because I have had tremendous support and as a player it is really important to have that support. Support from your team-mates as well – I have to say that during this period, they helped a lot.

I want to enjoy myself because I love football and to pay back the club, manager and team-mates as well.

I know we can live off if-onlys, but it’s hard not to think of what Diaby might have achieved if his ankle hadn’t been smashed to pieces by Dan Smith back in 2006. The litany of injuries he’s suffered since are a direct consequence of that and it’s fair to say that retirement, while never explicitly mentioned, was something that always lurked in the shadows. Particularly last season when he played barely 90 minutes in total.

I’ve understood people who say we should have cut out losses and let him go, especially in an era when you have a restricted squad size, and I’m sure it’s crossed the manager’s mind too. At what point do you make a decision about a guy who you’ve done your best for but who seems un-fixable? Thankfully, the medical staff have done the business and got him back fit, with a full pre-season under his belt, and we’re seeing the benefits of that. Having him back for three games is great, keeping him fit for the majority of the season will be the real challenge, especially as he’s the kind of player who tends to take some knocks because of where he plays and, more importantly, how he plays. Quick feet vs slow opponents often results in kicks.

So without jumping the gun it’s a good news story thus far. There are those who say players who are always injured are a drain on resources and I’ve seen accusations leveled at Diaby that he was, essentially, robbing the club by picking up his wages and not playing. While I don’t doubt there are players who are quite willing to do that – at every club, not just Arsenal – it overlooks the fact that Diaby has been working desperately hard to come back and also the basic fact that players are entitled to their wages, over the duration of their contract, whether they’re injured or not.

Robin van Persie picked up full whack every time he spent 6 months out, and he was a player who, in his early days, often exacerbated his injuries by being less than truthful about them simply because he wanted to play. That’s something I understand 100% by the way, but spending more time out because you tried to come back too soon or playing through the pain isn’t as professional as a guy who goes through months and months of rehab to make his comeback.

I genuinely had no real belief that we’d see Abou Diaby back in an Arsenal shirt or playing this well, but he looks like a man determined to make up for all those missed games. When you love playing football, having so much of your career robbed by an act of thuggishness and stupidity must really hurt. He’s come through a lot to make it back to this point, fingers crossed he can keep it up and stay fit, but it’s never been his fault he’s been absent so much and I’ve never really understood criticism of him for being injured.

Yes, voicing concerns over the state of the squad while he misses game after game and we find ourselves short is one thing, but that particular issue has far more to do with the manager and the state of the squad in general than the player. Thankfully, both Diaby and Wenger have had some reward thus far, let’s hope he comes back from the Interlull fit and well, and continues to make up for the time he’s lost.

Till tomorrow.

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