Unlucky Gunners midfielder has had 29 injuries in less than six years
“Abou Diaby is injured again,” admitted Arsene Wenger on Friday, with a weary look which acknowledged the fact that it is not the first time he has uttered those words.
Ever since breaking his ankle just four months after joining the Gunners, Diaby’s Arsenal career has been inextricably linked with the treatment room.
Wenger admitted recently that the 25-year-old French midfielder has now had 28 different injuries in the past five years, and that all of them, mostly muscular, relate to the first one, suffered in a crunching tackle by Sunderland’s Dan Smith in the closing moments of a game at the Stadium of Light.
Arsenal were winning 3-0 in the closing moments in May 2006, and yet Diaby was the victim of a needless, reckless tackle which initially sidelined him for eight months.
Since then he has flitted in and out of the first team and in and out of the physios’ room with depressing regularity.
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There have been brief moments where he has looked like becoming the player whose talents had persuaded Wenger to sign him from Auxerre in January 2006 for �2.5m.
Having ended the 2009-10 season strongly, Diaby also forced his way into the France World Cup squad, and was one of the few to come out of their disastrous campaign in South Africa with credit, finally living up to the expectation that he has been unfairly labelled with for both club and country; being the new Patrick Vieira.
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But there have been far, far more disappointments. Arguably the second biggest one of those came in September last season when he was caught by another late, needless tackle, this time by Paul Robinson of Bolton at the Emirates, again late on in a game that Arsenal were winning comfortably.
That led to another three months out, and while he returned to play a part in the second half of the season, 13 Premier League starts is a low but familiar overall total for a season for Diaby.
The ankle problem did not go away, and having returned for pre-season training in July, Diaby was struggling and Arsenal’s medical team decided it required an operation.
Why this happened at the end of July rather than in May at the end of the season is a little mystifying, but the end result was another 10 weeks out for Diaby.
He returned to make two brief substitute appearances against Borussia Dortmund and Fulham last month, but has now broken down again.
“The players are always impatient to come back,” said Wenger, ruefully. “When they come back and they get injured, you think you have done it too early.
“We felt with the fitness coaches that he was ready to play, but he got injured again – it’s a minor injury but at the moment I must say he is very low because he has put a lot of effort in to come back.
“He has not played one [full] game since the start of the season. He is going through a very difficult moment just now because he has put so much dedication into his rehab and to be injured straight away again is very difficult to take for him. He has been out many times like that.”
A player who is averaging less than 20 starts a season in all competitions after almost six years at the club is now running out of time.
Although he is under contract until the summer of 2015, how much longer Wenger will be prepared to wait for him to fulfil his potential is under debate.
Younger, fitter players are coming through, such as Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, although neither has the attacking potential that Diaby, at his rarely seen best, can provide.
Despite the constant setbacks, however, Wenger himself remains upbeat over the player’s future.
“What you always say to a player in moments like this is for them to try and stay strong and continue because it is only a small injury.
“I had the fear he would never get back to his best before his last surgery because he didn’t look comfortable with his ankle. Now I am convinced he will come back to his full potential.”
Arsenal fans will hope that is sooner rather than later. But they won’t be holding their breath.