Most Hamburger SV fans anticipated another relegation play-off at the start of this season – in fact, the whole Bundesliga expected it.
In two consecutive seasons the side have flirted with the 2.Bundesliga yet escaped by the skin of their teeth.
Last year, Rene Adler saved Karlsruhe’s extra time spot-kick to preserve their Bundesliga status – not before Marcelo Diaz’s stoppage time free-kick sent the game to extra time and Nicolai Muller netted a 116th-minute winner.
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Twelve months earlier they held on against the odds for an away goals win against Greuther Furth.
Yet after clearing out the dead wood during the summer Bruno Labbadia's team now lie 7th in Germany’s top flight, having despatched Borussia Dortmund and near neighbours Werder Bremen by the same 3-1 scoreline in recent weeks.
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And one of the main protagonists driving HSV up the division is none other than ex-Arsenal cast-off and current captain, Johan Djourou.
Written off and despatched by Arsene Wenger
Gunners fans will not be in the least bit surprised that Djourou was part of both those near-relegation seasons, such was his ill-fated time in North London.
The Swiss international was a big miss during his time at the club, known as an error-prone defender during his eight-year spell.
Djourou notably started in the infamous 8-2 defeat to Manchester United in August 2011 and never became a regular under Arsene Wenger despite being given ample opportunity. The 28-year-old played just 16 more Premier League games after the United crushing before Wenger sought out Per Mertesacker, spelling the end of his career in England.
Loan moves to Hannover and HSV gave Djourou a chance to prove himself before the latter paid the release clause in his contract and offered a fresh start in Germany.
HSV defy odds - and pundits - as Djourou drives improvement
Battling relegation twice in as many seasons was almost certainly not part of Djourou’s script but he and HSV have grown immeasurably this season.
Their position may be assisted somewhat as those below the top two, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, have somewhat flattered to deceive in a very open Bundesliga. It also looked to be going downhill once Bayern flexed their Douglas Costa-inspired strength during a 5-0 pummelling to open the new campaign.
But a metronomic improvement, spearheaded by the Swiss defender, has left a host of pundits red-faced and wondering how HSV’s fortunes turned around so quickly.
Even more impressively Djourou has marshalled a notoriously error-prone defensive partner, Emir Spahic, and managed to bag a first League goal since February 2011 – what a goal it was, securing three points against Stuttgart with a courageous forward run and finish he later admitted learning off Thierry Henry.
HSV’s rise is not solely down to Djourou. A reliable attacking threat always helps while the decision to re-instate Rene Adler between the posts has worked a treat.
But Djourou is leading by example and proving that an indifferent spell in England is not career defining.
With his current injury crisis deepening by the week, what Arsene Wenger would do for a back up defender such as the in-form Djourou?
Who is the best former Arsenal player out there still playing the game?
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