Returning Arsenal midfielder knows this could be his last chance to impress
Abou Diaby has had another season ruined by injury, but he is hoping to play a part in the Gunners’ run-in
Perennially injured, and still to truly make his mark in north London, Abou Diaby could yet prove a pivotal figure in the Gunners' quest for a top-four place.
The France international midfielder made his latest comeback from injury this week, playing 61 minutes of Arsenal reserves' 1-1 draw at Liverpool on Tuesday.
He was the outstanding performer of the first half, and netted the equaliser five minutes after the restart with a close range finish from Oguzhan Ozyakup's pass, to help stretch Neil Banfield's side's unbeaten sequence to six matches.
He appeared to come through that competitive run-out at Melwood unscathed.
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The last time he played on Merseyside – in Arsenal's 2-1 win at Liverpool's seniors 18 days ago – the substitute was prematurely hooked after just 28 minutes after straining a hamstring.
Prior to that truncated appearance at Anfield, Diaby had played just 18 minutes of football this season, back in November, before a serious ankle injury required treatment on three continents.
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It’s the story of his Arsenal life. Since arriving from Auxerre six years ago, he has been plagued with injuries thus earning him an unenviable 'crock' tag. It is one he refutes strongly.
But speaking earlier this month, the 25-year-old admitted he had even considered quitting football such was his despair at his catalogue of injuries.
"There have been times where I thought about stopping my career," he revealed.
"You always ask yourself a lot of questions in those moments. It's hard mentally and I had to be strong. But quickly, I went back to a very positive attitude. I know I am going to be fine. I am not a cheat. I have always worked very hard to come back.
"For me, my injuries are a task sent by God. I need to go through them to achieve the goals and the dreams that I have in my career. It's my destiny. I am privileged. Some people have worse problems than me so I can’t complain.
"I am hungry and strong mentally. All those hard times have strengthened me. I know there is a lot of expectation around me and some pressure but it's a challenge for me to come back to my best level.
"I have never been as motivated as I am now. I want to prove to everybody, and especially to myself, that I can do it. I have faith in what I am doing. I will never give up and I know that I will come out of this tunnel."
His problems began in May 2006 when he dislocated his ankle after a horror tackle by Sunderland’s Dan Smith.
It meant he missed a chance to be involved in the Champions League final later that month at Stade de France, just a stone’s throw from the tough Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, where he was born and raised.
He underwent three operations and rehabilitation before he returned, but a thigh problem in March 2008 kept him out for six months and in 2010 another thigh injury halted his momentum as he was set for a run in the team.
Upon returning, his appearances came primarily from the bench. Predictably, a calf strain knocked his progress back again as he spent another sizeable spell on the sidelines.
He returned again early in 2011 but his sending-off in the 4-4 draw at Newcastle last February proved a key moment.
Arsenal were leading 4-0 at the time and, without Diaby’s influence, fell apart to concede four unanswered second-half goals.
After serving his suspension, the form of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere kept him out of the starting XI as Arsenal limped home in fourth place, after once looking like title contenders.
But his athleticism, power and eye for goal makes him, when fully fit, an outstanding box-to-box midfielder. It is not too long ago since Diaby was compared to Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira.
Arsene Wenger clearly still sees a big future for Diaby, who signed a long-term contract extension two years ago.
Earlier this week the Arsenal manager was lamenting the loss of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Wilshere since last season, when he pointed out: "We lost Diaby as well, people forget that Diaby played a big part in many games last year."
But will he play a big part in the crucial nine matches that remain this season, starting with Aston Villa on Saturday?