31 March 2013

Do it For Diaby

Sorry, John. Well, no, but it's polite to say so.
Now  that the dust has settled on our destruction of Reading and Gervinho has had some time to bask in the glow of MOTM-worthy performance, we can take a more-somber look at the cruel injury to Abou Diaby, who was just learning how to more artfully manage his body until a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season, effectively closed the door on his 2013-14 season, and has convinced a fair number of people that his time with Arsenal is now up, ruing that we've kept him a few months too long and perhaps should have unloaded him in January, if not before.  Obviously, just a week after the actual injury, it's too early to make any kind of prognosis for his recovery or return, but I also believe it's premature to write him off as a lost cause. When fit, he's one of the more dynamic, aggressive, and versatile players we have, and, regardless of his many injuries, I still feel like he will be a valuable asset to this team. "Do it for Diaby" seems like a fitting tribute for the closing weeks of the season. Rather than worrying incessantly about points and table position, why not just fight like dogs to win for Diaby, a man how has quite literally put his body on the line for the team?

It's well-worth remembering that Diaby, unlike quite a few other men who wear or have worn the Arsenal jersey, has always put forth his best effort. When he's fallen short, it can be marked up to lingering mental and physical obstacles. Can the same be said of Squillaci, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner, Denilson, Vela, or others we've signed only to see them fail to perform, shirk their duties, or otherwise sponge off the team? Some of those players simply suffer from a lack of quality; others, a lack of passion, whether it be for Arsenal or for the sport itself. We'd be better off unloading players such as these, dead wood that draw a salary but undermine the team's purpose and progress. With Diaby, however, the man seems to want desperately to play and seems genuinely disappointed in himself when he can't. It's that kind of passion and desire that we should uphold and admire, even if he so often falls short of delivering on his potential and his flashes of brilliance end up as tantalizing morsels of what could have been.

This notion of "what could have been" overlooks the fact that, at 26, Diaby still has a future as a footballer. Sure, all of those injures take a toll and undermine his speed, his power, his pace. All of that missed time surely has blunted some of his development. On the other hand, it's also reduced the daily wear and tear he might have ordinarily faced playing every week. By comparison, think of a basketballer like Grant Hill who, like Diaby, has dealt with injury after injury, but who has returned each time, somewhat diminished, but still possessing class and skill enough to make meaningful contributions. Hill is still playing at the ripe old age of 40, a time at which most athletes are lucky to still be able to walk without a cane.

All of the time that Diaby has missed, then, might similarly prolong his career. He now has a year in which to focus on rehabilitation of the knee, not to mention various other ailments. Let him come back as did the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who suffered a similar injury, tearing his lateral cruciate ligament in his rookie season but has since emerged as one of American football's best running backs. I look forward to Diaby making a similar return 'round about February 2014, at which point he can make a triumphant return against whoever we might be playing in the UCL. Or Sunderland. Whichever.

The larger point here, however, is that, in his absence, Diaby can still serve as a rallying point for the whole team. Much like us, he's been maligned, battered, and written off but keeps coming back again and again.  Like the club itself, it's been suggested that his best days are behind him and that it would be best to move on. On the contrary, I can think of no better tribute to the man than to win out on his behalf, running the table on our remaining matches, just because. Sure, he's been more promise than performance, but he's earned it. Eight games. Eight wins. 24 points. Do it for Diaby.