Abou Diaby insists title-chasing Arsenal are ready to fight fire with fire

14 March 2010 10:33
As Arsenal delivered probably their finest display of the season onTuesday night, bewildering opponents Porto with their movement, a lean,muscular midfielder stood at the heart of it all.

Abou Diaby's decisive pass provided Samir Nasri's defining goal ofthe evening. And when Diaby attended a community event at a secondaryschool a couple of days later, every pupil wanted to know aboutArsenal's sublime 5-0 victory - and his role in it.

But there is a darker counterpoint to Arsenal's footballing harmonyand images of the recent past are all too familiar for Diaby; AaronRamsey crumpled on the ground in agony, his broken lower leg at animpossible angle, and Eduardo, his shattered bone jutting hideouslyfrom beneath his sock.

Main man: Abou Diaby at an Islington school

To those horrific injuries Diaby could add his own, the broken ankle he suffered in May 2006 against Sunderland when he was the victim of a late challenge.

'Every team we play against tries to intimidate us, kick us and play this way,' said Diaby, reflecting on those injuries.

'I know that English football is like that but I think: "How far can it go?". If you play like that and then you get broken legs, I think it's too much.'

When Diaby suffered his fracture he was a mere bit-part player at Arsenal, recently plucked as a teenager from Auxerre's reserves. His injury, with less immediate gory impact, attracted less attention.

Seeing red: Hull captain George Boateng is sent off following his tackle on Arsenal's Barcary Sagna (not pictured)

But the subsequent accumulation of broken legs - Bacary Sagna was lucky not to be added to that list last night after Hull midfielder George Boateng's X-rated challenge - appears to have made a huge impression on the Arsenal players.

It might even be that the resolution forged in the face of such adversities may provide the final ingredient to propel a precociously talented group to their first trophy.

Although all three opponents responsible for those challenges, Dan Smith, Martin Taylor and Ryan Shawcross, have said they intended no harm to their victims, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has argued that it is no coincidence that three of his most-talented young players have suffered fractures in three and a half years.

Might it suggest a regressive strain in Anglo-Saxon football culture, a throwback to the days of 'if you can't beat them, kick them?'

'That's what they seem to think,' responds Diaby. 'But we keep winning against those teams who kick us and try to make things difficult for us. We have learned from those games and all those experiences and I think now we are more aggressive. We try to respond in an aggressive way towards them as well.'

Horror tackle: Ryan Shawcross challenges Aaron Ramseyl

Diaby, the son of parents from the Ivory Coast, grew up in the same Parisian suburb, Aubervilliers, as his midfield partner Alex Song - they played for the same youth team, Red Star, although at different times - and it is to this pair that Arsenal now look when opponents begin to cut up rough. Diaby has necessarily adapted his game.

'I am a midfielder as well, so I have a lot of challenges in the game and I have to protect myself and show as well that I'm there,' he admits, although he claims that his one red card in England, for a high tackle on Bolton's Gretar Steinsson, was not a case of meeting fire with fire.

'That tackle was not a response to my injury,' insisted Diaby. 'I just wanted to challenge. The intention was to put my foot on the ball but my foot went over the top.'

Of course, Arsenal's ultimate vindication, a triumph of beauty over brutality, would be to win a major trophy, the Champions League or the Premier League title, which has been beyond their capabilities for almost six years now.

Men against boys: Arsenal's Abou Diaby play table tennis awith pupils at an Islington school

Variously labelled too young, too naive or too soft, they remain, despite significant setbacks, on the tail of Manchester United and Chelsea. But they have to contend with the unpalatable statistic that they have not won in their last nine meetings against those teams, a run that has included four heavy home defeats.

One of those led Manchester United's Patrice Evra to declare the contest 'men against boys'.

Diaby said: 'I know Patrice well and he is a nice guy but these words were a bit harsh. I'm sure that as soon as we start winning titles'

There, his words tail off, but the implication is that as soon as they do, the critics will be silenced.

'We play for ourselves, the club and the fans; we are footballers and we want to win titles,' he added later. 'There were heavy defeats, 3-1 and  3-0, at home against Chelsea and United. It was very hard for us because we have our pride as well.

'But I think this season we have showed that we have grown as a team and we have learned from the past. After those games we responded really well and now we are back in the title race and it will be a very close championship. We have the quality to beat everybody.'

hero: Arsenal's Abou Diaby shrugs off Porto's Fredy Guarin in the champions league

There is a self-assurance about Arsenal players and Diaby reflects this confidence. As a practising Muslim, he baulks at being described as an idol.

'I don't want people to see us as idols, but they do,' he said. 'Football is so powerful so we have to behave in the right way.'

Diaby is particularly attuned to the theme as he is speaking at Mary Magdalene Secondary School in Islington, where he is helping to launch an initiative backed by Arsenal, currently celebrating 25 years of community projects, and the Premier League to encourage children into sports other than football, such as judo, volleyball, table tennis, hockey and basketball.

His presence in the playground for a photo-shoot amply illustrates his point: hundreds of schoolchildren scream at his presence and everyone wants to talk about Diaby's role in the demolition of Porto.

'Winning 5-0 in the Champions League is very good for our confidence,' he said.

'We haven't won a trophy for five years but now is the right moment to be focused. 'We are good enough and we've known for a long time we have the quality. Now we have to go for it.'  Hull 1 Arsenal 2: Bendtner's injury time winner keep Gunners title tilt alive Arsenal must take 'great opportunity' to win the title, insists FabregasDoncaster 2 Derby 1: Rams fall to Jay's stunner as Rovers jinx continuesARSENAL FC

Source: Daily_Mail