How will Diaby injury affect Arsenal's top four chase?

Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby was ruled out for nine months with a cruciate ligament injury this week.

The 26-year-old Frenchman has suffered a torrid time with injuries since falling victim to a horror tackle back inflicted by Sunderland’s Dan Smith back in May 2006, shattering his ankle and sidelining him for Arsenal’s Champions League Final against Barcelona.

That was the first in a long line of important fixtures Diaby would subsequently miss and was the catalyst for a string of recurrent injuries, niggles and setbacks that have rendered him perpetually unavailable.

Diaby was 19 years of age back then and was hailed as ‘the next Patrick Vieira’ – something I went into greater depth earlier this season when he made his ‘comeback’.

He returned to Arsenal’s first-team this season but has made just 15 appearances – he injured his thigh taking a rare shot on goal against Chelsea back in September and didn’t return for three months.

He then managed just a handful of appearances for the Gunners and will now sit out the rest of this season and likely a large part of the next. He will return at the very earliest around next Christmas.

How will Diaby’s injury affect Arsenal’s top four chase then? Well, manager Arsene Wenger was perhaps a little too optimistic (some would say foolish) to expect the Frenchman to play a big part in Gunners’ season.

Wenger sold Alex Song and hoped that the return of Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere from long-term injuries would plug the holes in his midfield, along with the arrival of Santi Cazorla.

For the most part, those players, especially Wilshere, have achieved that along with the conversion of Mikel Arteta into a ‘defensive’ or holding midfielder in their central trio.

Rosicky has made just 9 appearances, 5 from the bench whilst Wilshere has made 26 appearances before being ruled out for two weeks earlier this month with an ankle injury.

Diaby, along with Rosicky, has played a very small role in Arsenal’s season but his absence has played a big part in Arsenal’s underachievement over several seasons.

It’s no co-incidence that Arsenal got to the Champions League Final with a fit Abou Diaby and haven’t won a trophy since 2005. Perhaps if they’d have had ‘the next Patrick Vieira’ fit for that period things may have been very different.

His unavailability is unlikely to make a great difference to the Gunners’ top four ambitions now – he has been an insignificant fringe player this season for the most part, as sad as that is.

Arsenal won’t miss what they’ve not really had – the reality is it was naive of the manager to rely in any capacity on the fitness and form of a player whose career has been on hold since 2006 and looks likely to remain that way until 2014 at the earliest.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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