By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)
At this point, Abou Diaby is a little bit like the waterlogged $20 bill you find in the pocket of your jeans right after you’ve washed them.
The sort of thing that can make your day. If it doesn’t fall to pieces first.
The Arsenal midfielder is back fit after playing 65 minutes in a U-21 game this week, marking his return from an agonizing recovery from a thigh injury that lasted more than three months – the latest in a series of injury setbacks for the 26-year-old French international.
His return couldn’t have come at a better time, with Arsenal about to face hell week: A home match against Manchester City on Sunday, a home FA Cup match against Swansea on Wednesday, and an away match with Chelsea the following Sunday.
Given Arsenal’s maddening inconsistency this season, it’d be pointless to predict what might happen in this critical three-match stretch. But if Diaby is healthy and ready to contribute again, the outlook suddenly gets a little brighter.
When healthy – again, something about as common as seeing a leprechaun ride a unicorn during a Chicago Cubs World Series victory celebration — Diaby is the kind of player Arsenal sorely have missed this season: A box-to-box midfielder with good size and a level head, a player who can keep possession without panicking under pressure and provide cover for the back four.
Remember when Arsenal wasn’t giving up goals at the start of the season? Diaby’s presence was a part of that.
The problem is, he only has played in only 11 matches in the past two seasons. If he can help the Gunners pull a few surprises in the upcoming week, great. If he can stay healthy and play a critical role in the second half of the season, even better.
A healthy Diaby would be a huge boost to Arsenal’s hopes of hanging on to a top-four place in the Premier League, advancing toward an elusive trophy in the FA Cup and maybe even making some noise in the final 16 of the Champions League.
Arsene Wenger must know that getting that level of return from Diaby would be a bonus and not something he can bank on. But he just might have to, given that the club has so many more areas of need beyond midfield.
Right now, it looks like the only move Arsenal is on the verge of making in the January transfer window is a contract extension for Theo Walcott – a wise move that appears likely to be completed and announced by the time you read this.
Beyond that, adding another striker is top priority; with Olivier Giroud recovering from a knee injury, it’s not clear who exactly might be backing up Walcott on Sunday. And while everybody was excited by the (seemingly unlikely) David Villa rumors and a move for Atletico Madrid’s Adrian Lopez seeming more realistic, now would be a good time to humbly note that Bilbao hasn’t sold Fernando Llorente to anybody yet.
Defensive reinforcements come second on the priority list, especially with Bacary Sagna turning in a string of disappointing performances and Carl Jenkinson the only viable backup fullback. An experienced keeper to put some pressure on Wojciech Szczęsny wouldn’t be the worst idea, either.
That’s a long list of pressing needs, one that wouldn’t seem to leave a lot of resources for a new midfielder — even with the drool-inducing possibility of Everton’s Marouane Fellaini on the market, perhaps destined for (gag!) Chelsea.
Presuming that Fellaini and his magnificently poofy hair aren’t walking through the door at the Emirates anytime soon, here’s hoping Diaby can stay healthy.