22 September 2014

Arsenal vs. Southampton: Diaby the Destroyer's debut

All he did on Saturday was sit on the bench, an unused sub, for ninety minutes, watching as s a team that barely resembles the one he joined in 2006. Ironically, in a squad already ravaged by injuries—Giroud, Debuchy, Monreal, Walcott, Gnabry, and Sanogo have all been ruled out—Abou
Diaby may seize his chance. The league cup, already lower on our list of priorities, may have dropped even further as those injuries have forced us to refocus on the Prem and Champions League for now, and the FA Cup in January. We'll likely see a squad full of starlets and debutants, but the 28-year old Diaby may be poised to destroy the Saints even if the league cup is for them is their best bet at silverware.

Yes, I know that the Saints are off to a bright start despite having lost Chambers, Shaw, Lallana, Lovren, Lambert, and Pochettino to other clubs, but a quick glance at their early fixtures suggests that this is about where they should be, turnover or no: a 2-1 loss to Liverpool, a 0-0 home draw over West Brom, a 1-3 win over West Ham, 4-0 over Newcastle, and a 0-1 win over Swansea. Some nice results, to be sure, but none of them jaw-dropping as each of the aformentioned will likely finish mid-table or lower—including Liverpool, unless they can right the ship in short order.

Speaking of Liverpool, it was 'round about two years ago that Diaby delivered a stunning, masterful performance, eviscerating the Liverputians at Anfield in September 2012. He played like a manic, hyperkinetic spider, seemingly able to ensnare any ball and thread any pass in an epic, man-of-the-match performance. It was the Diaby we've been led to believe we'd see, an heir of sorts to Patrick Vieira, who can boss the midfield and orchestrate the attack, and shut down the opponent. This was the "SAS" of Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling, at home, and they were, um, toothless, due in large part to Diaby's performance.

He was bold, dynamic, rugged, wise; he showed few if any signs of rust or reservation. For those looking beyond him to who he played with, well, it was a squad that we might half-expect to see in a league cup third round: Podolski, Ox, Vermaelen, Jenkinson and Mannone, with Santos subbing in, and Coquelin, and Damian Martinez on the the bench. Yes, there were also more-familiar names, like Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta, Gibbs, and Mertesacker, but it shouldn't take too much of a leap of faith to imagine that Diaby is capable of reprising his performance on that day.  While we're on the subject of squads, I imagine we'll see a lot of rotation, perhaps to the point that only two or three members of the first team start. Ospina should make his debut behind a back four of Bellerin, Chambers, Hayden, and Coquelin. Ahead of them, Flamini and Diaby, then Wilshere with Campbell and Rosicky wide, and Podolski or Akpom through the middle (assuming we can get back to a 4-2-3-1, thanks very much). Amidst that blend of youth and experience, I'm picking Diaby to shine in all of his gangly, helter-skelter glory.

After all, it's not as if Southampton come in hale and hearty. They'll be without the services of James Ward-Prowse and Maya Yoshida, each of whom subbed off against Swansea with ankle injuries this past weekend. New signing Toby Alderweireld looks like he'll also miss out, as will Sam Gallagher and Jay "no, I didn't sign with Real Madrid" Rodriguez. Still, if their squad selection in the second round against Championship side Millwall is any indication, Southampton do intend to make a deep run into this tournament, and I'm sure Koeman will do his best to name a strong squad for Tuesday.  Even if he does, I foresee Diaby leading a confident charge, reclaiming, perhaps for good this time, the kind of form we've only occasionally been lucky enough to witness—the kind of form that that raises eyebrows and drops jaws.

Do it, Abou.