Many Arsenal fans had to look again on a few occasions at Anfield last Sunday, for two reasons.
One was because of the continued defensive stability Arsene Wenger’s side is showing, a stark contrast to last season, and the other was due to the glimpses of former captain Patrick Vieira.
Of course, the Frenchman that led the club in their ‘Invincibles’ season was not there, he was carrying out whatever duties his role as Manchester City’s Football Development Executive requires. It was Abou Diaby that Gunners fans thinking back to their days of dominance nearly a decade ago.
It was a heart-warming return to form for a midfielder who has had to endure such injury issues that many may not have returned from, but he now looks ready to make up for lost time.
Fans of the Emirates Stadium club groan when they hear Wenger speak of a player returning from injury as ‘being like a new signing’ taking it as a hint that the reinforcements they so desperately crave will not be coming from outside the club.
Diaby is not the only one to be labelled as such; Tomas Rosicky was dubbed so nearing the end of his personal injury woes and making a vital contribution to Arsenal sealing third place last term.
Jack Wilshere, out for over a year now, was given the same accolade by Wenger recently when rationalising his decision to stay out of the transfer market on deadline day – the young midfielder is set to return to action in about a month.
Wenger’s oft-repeated words were justified to some extent as he watched his side, spurred on by the magnificent Diaby, cruise to victory over a troubled Liverpool, because the 26-year-old in the middle of the field looked like he has probably never done so before.
This was the new Diaby; one that had had an injury-free summer and participated full in pre-season, one that looked confident in his ability and one that strode around the middle of the famous pitch, exerting his will onto the game.
While there has always been something familiar about Diaby’s style, it was not until late in the first half, when he twisted and turned past two opponents midway in his own half and charged towards the Reds defence, opening up his stride and leaving people in his wake.
That surge was capped by a fine through ball to an actual new signing, Olivier Giroud, but the big striker could not convert the chance handed to him by his compatriot.
Finesse added to strength and physical presence was what Vieira was all about and, while he may not be quite as solid, Diaby gave an exhibition of box-to-box midfield play that the former captain was famous for.
Caution should always be advised when Diaby is tipped to realise his huge potential, as we have been in this situation a number of times in the past and breaking down after appearing to make some real progress is not unusual for him.
However, it is difficult not be positive about a young man who looks to be coming out of years of injury hell to, at last, show why he has been tipped for big things in the game and vindicate Wenger’s trust.
If Diaby does go on to be a force in the Premier League this season, then Anfield was a fitting setting for his reintroduction.
The corresponding fixture at the back end of last season saw him introduced as a second half substitute, but he only managed to last half an hour before his hamstring failed him and he had to be removed.
The litany of fitness issues came about, according to a number of Arsenal employees, due to the horror tackle from then Sunderland youngster Dan Smith in 2006 at the Stadium of Light.
It was a challenge that broke his ankle and caused him to suffer countless repercussions in his leg muscles due to the changes had to make to his running style.
You hope Diaby can now enjoy his football without the worry of further niggling injuries, as the club need him more than ever.
Alex Song’s transfer to Barcelona has left the Gunners midfield lacking in physical presence, which is something Diaby would be able to provide – his time is now.
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