Diaby. Not Quite As Shit As You Thought.
When I last blogged about Swansea, I had a basketball analogy. We had played Swansea 3 times already this season and I made the comparison to a 5 or 7 game basketball series where you get to know your opposition and learn from it, make adjustments and modify your tactics. And where results swing back and forward from game to game, until one team finally masters the other. Having now played Swansea for the 4th time, it feels even more apt as an analogy.
The first time we played them, we got ambushed. Then we drew 2-2. Then we played them again and beat them 1-0 and outplayed them. This time we out-foxed them and won 2-0. Viewed as a series of games, it was an intriguing chess match. So the sequence was: 0-2 2-2 1-0 2-0.
Remember how depressed we were when the media rubbed in the “Arsenal Out-Arsenalled by Swansea” headlines after they beat us at the Ems. My other memory was the wailing about how Swansea got Michu for a couple of million, and how they out-Arsened Arsene.
Well, Michu is still a top player, bought for a bargain price. But Arsenal have got their Arsenal back. Or at least some of it.
Then add in Bayern into our basketball analogy. Similarly, we got mugged in the 1st leg, only playing well for about 30 of the 90 minutes, and leaving our left wing open to the ravages of Philip Lahm. In the 2nd leg, we mugged them, played to our strengths, and brilliantly played a left back at left back, frustrating Lahm to the point of pissy-ness. Bayern are still one of the 3 best teams in Europe. We are not. But…we could have done so much better against them in that 1st leg if…Oh, let’s not go there.
This Swansea game was exactly the kind of tie we have been losing all season, the one after the midweek emotional CL tie, or the interlull, where we get mugged by a team who has been prepping for it all week. And the Swans fancied their chances. Here is what Michu said before the game: “I think it’s good for us that they played in Munich in midweek. We have had time to rest this week, so we will feel fresh while they have had to travel back from Germany and not had too much time to prepare for us. We need three points because we lost last time at West Brom.”
So, this was always going to be a tough game against a team that had only lost twice at home all season against all-comers.
Arsene DOES tactics.
They made us a better team, a more effective team. And we may discover this 2 game experiment against Bayern and Swansea saved our season, after the “Come To Jesus” moment of losing to Spurs through defensive chaos, forcing us to come up with a “go to” formula when we absolutely, positively need a result.
I am guessing Arsene has pulled the rip chord for the season, and pragmatism will rule for the last 9 games in the attempt to achieve a safe landing. Next season he will start again, sky-diving, courageously taking on any team by setting out to out-play them, in an attempt to forge a template that can win the league. But I digress.
For the 2nd time in 2 games, we played solid at the back, hit the opposition on the break, conceded passing/possession to the opposition, restricted the opposition to long-range chances, won 2-0, and brought on 2 subs on 70 minutes (72 mins vs BM.) We did tactics. They rarely breeched our 2 lines of 4.
Against Swansea we played Theo and Ox on the wings, so we were looking for the quick counter, which is why Diaby and even Arteta, hit a lot of forward passes quickly after turnovers. Ox in particular enjoyed himself, benefiting from finding space on a number of occasions.
But, this blog is about Diaby…
Perhaps you think I am very late to the Diaby topic, after all, it’s a week after the Swansea game. And there have been many blogs on the topic. But, I’m not really. It was pretty much all I twittered about from the time the match was over. At least, for several days. I calmed down when various articles came out in support of Diaby, and the Twitter opinion shifted in his favour finally.
But this same criticism has been leveled at Diaby after each of his last few, all too infrequent, appearances. Let me summarize the knee-jerk criticism: Diaby is: slow, lazy, disinterested, and he slows play down. And his Liverpool performance was an anomaly.
Diaby Gone In The Summer? No.
The other theme is that many think he won’t be with us after this summer. They point out that he is always injured and he has high wages. I’m not so sure he will be going, for the same reasons ie he is always injured and he’s on high wages. That doesn’t equate to being marketable. His contract lasts till summer 2015. And lastly, he fits in at Arsenal. If anyone knows how to use him when available, it’s Arsenal and Arsene. So he is worth more to us than another team, in any case.
Time will tell, but in my opinion, he’s here to stay. Thank God, as I rate him highly and I wish you would too. Mostly, I wish you would get over the “he looks lazy and slow” criticism. He is neither. But you are right: he looks slow and lazy.
He’s Not Perfect
It is fair to criticize him of course. I just think there has been a “group think” problem lately. Someone is always in the cross-hairs. It just depends on which player is the current whipping boy. Ramsey has been “rehabilitated.” Theo too. So now it’s Diaby, (and Vermaelen.)
A couple of criticisms that do stand up on Diaby are that he sometimes loses the ball in dangerous positions, leaving the defense exposed; and he sometimes does slow down play and look unsure what his options are. And against Swansea, his final ball was sloppy on a number of occasions, presumably due to rustiness. Diaby was indisputably rusty, and wasteful on a number of occasions after he pried open the opposition defense. But, baby, meet bath-water.
My own “pet theory” is that it is partly the result of him looking for the more ambitious ball. And he is the man most likely to play the Song-esque lob over the top, as he has done several times this year. But occasionally, it means he overlooks the simpler ball, while looking indecisive. A small price to pay.
For every time he slows us down, there are multiple times he accelerates us by playing a vertical pass, or beating his man and galloping into open space, or he forces a turnover to reverse the flow and catch the opposition with their pants down, and out of position.
And with Arteta and Cazorla and Diaby as the midfield, we often look our most balanced.
The Post-Swansea “Shitfest”
Here is a representative tweet from after the game:
“The scoreline was 0-0 when Diaby was taken off in the 70th minute and we’d been pretty poor all game. Boggles the mind when people say he had a good game, he had a shocker.”
Ramsey has done more in 5 minutes than Diaby did for 70 minutes.
Here are the stats for the 2 Teams ie AFC vs SCFC for the first 70 MINUTES, which of course Diaby played all of:
Here are a few more tweets from just after the game:
“Diaby continues to prove that his reputation while out injured is more mythology than reality.”
“did u mean start AD as in Abou Diaby?After the epileptic performances & strolling on pitch?”
“should imagine Diaby has had a nuclear missile up the jacksy as well for his appalling perambulating in 1st half on sat”
“Diaby‘s time is truly up. Its just getting ridiculous now. Just not the same player.”
“Ramsey has done more in 5 minutes than Diaby did for 70 minutes.”
“Since Ramsey got in, we played with a faster pace. Diaby seemed to slow everything down.”
(Note: At least Ramsey is the new golden boy. We’re a funny bunch, we Gooners.)
And from Tim aka @7amkickoff’s Match Review blog on the day, here were Tim’s Diaby-related comments. Keep in mind that Tim was among the away supporters so was feeling the crowd vibe:
“We seemed sluggish in midfield and Diaby, in particular, looked like he could use a swift kick up the ass. He was jogging back in defense and not putting in challenges where I thought he needed to.
“I couldn’t help but feel we are witnessing the last few games of a broken man.”
“Arsene deserves credit for removing the two villains of the day, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby”
Harsh. Probably because Tim was at the match and surrounded by Gooners who were bitching about Diaby being the problem. Upon mature reflection, and with the stats at hand, Tim wrote a very favourable review of Diaby a couple of days later. Read it here if you missed it. It’s excellent. My favorite piece of it is: “So, there you have it. Diaby didn’t create any chances, didn’t have any spectacular moves, only took one shot himself, was an important defensive shield, and drove Arsenal’s attacking play from deep in midfield. Isn’t that exactly what people claim they want? The big guy who hardly puts a foot wrong, sits deep, shields the back four, looks forward (no “footballing crab”), doesn’t cough up possession needlessly, and makes an important clearance, in an important away game, against some top midfielders? It’s what I’ve always wanted.”
But let me leave Tim’s Match report with this gem which should make any Gooner proud: ”it got so bad that more than once, I heard a fellow fan say they wished he would break his own leg in a challenge and end his Arsenal career. It’s a horrible sentiment but it’s there and gleefully shouted from the terraces which, with the distance we are from him and the way that the stadium is designed to amplify sounds from the fans, I’m sure he could clearly hear.”
Perhaps you understand my motivation, now. Diaby could be with us for a long time yet. So we need to straighten out a few things…
Cazorla was MOTM
Cazorla was clearly MOTM on the day. Arteta was tidy and effective. So, surely Diaby’s laziness and lack of work and all that slovenliness will show up in his stats compared to his 2 fellow mids, (one of whom was deservedly MOTM.)
** The table includes Diaby’s 70 mins stats and also his 90 mins stats ie what the stats would have scaled up to had he played 90 mins at the same pace as did Arteta and Cazorla.
My point is NOT that these stats show Diaby played better than Arteta or Cazorla. Only, that the common opinion that he is lazy, or slow, or doesn’t contribute, which I have seen stated and but too often left unchallenged, is erroneous. He wasn’t our best midfielder on the day. Cazorla was. He might not even have been our 2nd best. But the balance of our midfield was the key to our success, and to making sure we avoided our tendency to go a goal down before we have even fired up the jet engines. Too often this year the jet fighter has been destroyed while still sitting on the aircraft carrier deck.
Did Wenger Yank Diaby Off?
I said “Yank off,” Goddamit. And no, he didn’t yank him off. Here is what Wenger said about his substitutions:
“They were fresh and the players who were on had given a lot,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“We had a good defensive stability. From then on, you can take advantage of any mistake they make. You don’t expose yourself too much [defensively] and that increases the confidence of the team, and the belief as well.”
Despite Swansea’s dominance of the ball, Arsenal recorded a 2-0 win. Swansea didn’t manage to record a single shot on target, despite their 619 passes. Indeed, Opta have been unable to find a more extreme example of possession without penetration, going back through seven years of Premier League matches.
Arsenal had less of the ball, but managed 16 attempts in the game – partly because of inventive forward passing from midfield.
Rather than knocking the ball sideways, they looked to play in attackers, and even when passes were misdirected, the intention was always promising. “I prefer the one who loses the ball a bit more, but tries to play it forward,” Wenger once said.
Fig 1: Diaby passes v Swansea. Fig 2: Arteta passes v Swansea.
Diaby had the higher work rate and the more aggressive passing. Not a knock against Mikel, more a reflection on Diaby’s busy-ness and his speeding up of play through counter attacking.
Adrian Clark on The Breakdown:
Cazorla and Diaby were particularly bold when it came to travelling with the ball at their feet. There were a lot of successful dribbles in this match…And to have 7 succesful dribbles in and around the opposition penalty area is absolutely fantastic and that tells me that the Gunners are playing with more freedom and more confidence.
Diaby and Chamberlain played a key role in wearing down the opposition, but their jobs were done. It was then down to Gervinho and Ramsey to kick on and provide fresh impetus.”
Draw your own conclusions from the following:
Swansea had more possession, but we had more possession in the dangerous areas. (Both images from http://www.squawka.com)
The Main Event
And now, for the main event. Let’s watch a few minutes of Diaby lazily hiding against Swansea. Actually, these aren’t even highlights. They are taken from only the 1st 20 mins of the Swansea game, that part of the game we were supposed to have played the poorest. It even has one of his wasted passes at the very end, showing his ability to win the ball but also his rustiness.
And for good measure I have thrown in a few clips from the Blackburn and Brighton games where I also saw him getting stick.
Some of the clips simply show Diaby scrambling back, or covering/pointing/communicating. When Diaby jogs, he is moving faster than his opponents sprint.
Diaby was not MOTM. He wasn’t “great.” This is NOT a highlights reel. It is simply his contributions to the first 20 mins of the Swansea game, good and bad.