Arsene Wenger says his decision to utilise Abou Diaby in a deep-lying midfield role is to help the player develop his game after his latest injury and not a decision taken due to a failure to strengthen in the position during the transfer window.
The French international made his first start for 18 months in Tuesday’s defeat against Southampton, anchoring midfield in a role usually held by Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.
Asked whether the 28-year-old had been charged with defensive responsibilities out of necessity, the boss told his weekly press conference:
“No, not at all. He’s a natural resource we have. He’s a top quality player. If you look to find better players than Abou Diaby in the [transfer] market you’ll have big problems.
“He has not played for one and a half years and I try to find a solution that suits him and us.
“What’s happening? He’s not at his best at the moment because he needs competition and he has not that change of pace and that power in the challenges that is his strength. If we can maintain him without any injuries he’ll come back. It could be a very satisfying solution for him and us.”
Wenger had already hinted earlier in the week that Diaby’s ‘transformation’ into a defensive midfielder was partly because he wanted to save the poor bloke from having his ankles banjaxed by aggressive tackles from behind.
“I try to transform him because he was injured and has the physical potential to win the challenges, to face the game will be easier for him than to play back to goal with the injuries he had,” said Wenger.
“I try to develop him in a deeper role. I think he can do it, he can be very interesting, has all the attributes. He must love it as well because he’s more of an offensive minded player.”
Having been on the books at Arsenal since January 2006 Diaby will be out of contract this summer and likely looking for a new club.
After years operating out wide and in a more advanced midfield position it feels as though the boss, in light of his compatriot’s injury problems, is offering him an opportunity to learn a role – one that requires less dynamism – so that he can elongate his stop start career.
Should he prove himself adept Diaby may well come in useful for the rest of the season, although you suspect Wenger isn’t putting any pressure on him.