Not for the first time, Abou Diaby was welcomed back onto the Arsenal squad after a prolonged absence. The perennial crock came back from a cruciate ligament injury that has kept him sidelined since March 2013.
Arsene Wenger praised Diaby's mental strength to return and confirmed that he will now attempt to transform him into a defensive midfielder. It is surely one final throw of the dice; an attempt to squeeze something positive out of Diaby's career. It is a move that is doomed to fail.
The 28-year-old, who is now Arsenal's longest serving player, was quiet against Southampton and lasted only 60 minutes. He was not at fault for the 2-1 defeat but neither did he contribute to anything positive for the Gunners.
No one expected him to come roaring back to his best after spending 18 months on the sidelines. In fact, few expect him to ever hit his best form again. For Wenger, the doubts must surely be setting in.
At times, Diaby has shown an ability to run the midfield. At the start of the 2012/13 season, the Frenchman put in arguably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt against Liverpool. He eclipsed Steven Gerrard, inspiring the Gunners to a 2-0 victory.
Performances like this, coupled with a serious case of absence making the heart grow fonder, have created an illusion that the club have been right to keep a hold onto him. The hope it that he will, one day, come good. That illusion has been present in Wenger's mind for some time.
Wenger said of Diaby's performance: "It was difficult for him but he got 60 minutes and he came through uninjured.
"At some stage he has to play. He had 90 minutes [for the under-21s] at Villa last week. He played 60 minutes tonight. He was not bad, he was acceptable as a performance but he was tired after an hour."
Diaby's problems date back to a reckless challenge from Sunderland player Dan Smith in May 2006. Smith, who is no longer in professional football, lunged in with a high foot, dislocating Diaby's right ankle.
He was sidelined for eight months and a chain of events began to unfold that would restrict Diaby to just 92 Premier League starts in eight years.
The tackle incensed Wenger. It was one of the final games of the season and the result meant little to either team. Wenger even threatened to take Smith to court over the challenge.
"I am very upset and very disappointed with the tackle," he said at the time. "Having watched it again I just feel I will not leave this case there because there was bad intention in the tackle."
Diaby went on to suffer an estimated 40 injuries ranging from concussion to illness. His latest has been by far his longest layoff and has left him a shell of the player he once promised to be.
The player admitted that he considered retiring after his latest setback but found the mental strength to undergo extensive rehabilitation once again.
"Did I consider quitting? Yes, sometimes it crossed my mind but my love of football is so big that I just couldn't quit," he said in July.
"I am still young and now that I have an opportunity to play again I want to take it."
Now he is back and undoubtedly motivated to get back to his best. And it appears Wenger may have found a use for him in the squad.
Fans and pundits alike tend to poke fun at Wenger's suggestion that players returning from injuries are like new signings. The 63-year-old built himself a reputation as a chronic scrimper; a typecast he is only just beginning to break.
But the return of Diaby could mean the old saying is about to come out again. Arsenal are in need of a physical presence in defensive midfield and they don't come much more imposing than Diaby.
Despite his size, the midfielder is naturally more of an attacking midfielder, gliding past players with astounding ease at his best and driving forward with surprising pace and plenty of not-so-surprising strength.
Wenger has confirmed that he will try to salvage Diaby's career by transforming him into the defensive player that he requires.
He said last night: "I will try to transform him, yes.
"I feel because he was injured for a long time and he has the physical potential to win the challenges, to face the game will be easier for him than to play with his back to goal.
"I will try to develop him in a deeper role. It will be very interesting because he has all the attributes to do it."
Salvaging anything from Diaby's battered legs will be nothing short of a miracle for Wenger and there must be questions as to why he has stuck with him for so long.
Diaby is out of contract in the summer and Wenger would be crazy to give him anything more than a pay-as-you-play deal. Arsenal have the money available to buy an established defensive midfielder, so why delay the inevitable?
Arsenal hardly owe anything to Diaby. In fact after taking advantage of their facilities and staff for so long it is much more the other way around. Diaby should have no complaints if the Gunners decide the tear up his terms. In fact, it could help his career.
Nursing Diaby back to health–or at least attempting to–before releasing him in the summer is nothing but a pointless venture for Arsenal. Keeping him around allows the illusion that Diaby will still flourish to continue.
The best thing for Diaby would be to part ways with the club, freeing up a valuable place in the squad as well as whatever wages he may be on. No club on par with Arsenal would take a chance on him, but there are certainly top flight clubs who will.
He can attempt to rebuild his career elsewhere while Arsenal go about trying to win trophies. Football fans have seen the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso revitalise their careers by relocating the defensive midfield, but for Diaby the possibility of achieving success is slim at best.
Now Arsenal are out of the Capital One Cup, only the worst injury crisis should see Diaby return to the squad. Should a number of stars get injured, it would be more worthwhile affording a midfield berth to a youngster like Gedion Zelalem or Isaac Hayden.
There is simply no point in him hanging around. A free agency is the best option for all parties. Stay until January by all means, but once that transfer window opens, Wenger should not hesitate to finally close the door on Diaby's Arsenal career.
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