Arsenal are staring down the barrel of an eighth consecutive season without a trophy.
The Gunners had looked favourites to get past Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round. Instead, a pedestrian performance and one catastrophic defensive error saw them eliminated. The Champions League tie with Bayern Munich now represents their only chance of attaining silverware in this campaign, and even that would have to be described as a long-shot at best.
On a miserable afternoon for Arsenal fans, much of their ire will be directed at French midfielder Abou Diaby.
Diaby’s storming start to the season feels a long time ago now. After a full preseason, he began this campaign in terrific form. His performance against Manchester City in September was particularly memorable, as he went toe-to-toe with Yaya Toure and emerged with his reputation enhanced.
However, shortly afterwards Diaby succumbed to a thigh injury that put him on the sidelines for three months. Judging by his performance against Blackburn, he is struggling to return to the the performance level he achieved in the Autumn.
Against Blackburn he typified the Gunners’ ponderous performance. Arsenal’s prime fault was moving the ball too slowly, and Diaby was more guilty than most.
He possesses fantastic technical ability and can dribble out of the tightest spaces. However, he tends to fall back on this option all too often. Rather than play the simple ball, he’ll carry it in to blind allies, halting the attack and allowing the opposition to get men behind the ball.
That played into Blackburn’s hands. They were happy to sit deep and let Arsenal try to play through them. The Gunners simply didn’t have enough in the armoury to get through the massed ranks of Rovers defenders. Diaby was started in place of Jack Wilshere but patently lacked the younger player’s creativity and incisive passing.
Diaby was also at fault on Blackburn’s breakaway goal. As Wojciech Szczesny palmed the ball out, Colin Kazim-Richards was entirely alone as he side-footed home the rebound. Kazim-Richards had broken from midfield entirely untracked; Diaby was ambling back some thirty yards behind.
It’s that trait that infuriates Arsenal fans most. There is no questioning Diaby’s ability. His application, however, remains questionable. In that respect Diaby is a microcosm of the wider problems that exist at Arsenal.
His defenders will point to his injury record and insist that he’s merely lacking sharpness. It’s an argument that has plenty of merit. However, a player as prone to niggles as Diaby is always going to struggle to get into any kind of form. How long can Arsenal persist with a player for whom consistency has always been an issue?
In the broader context of his Arsenal career, that brilliant spell at the start of the season is beginning to look increasingly anomalous.
Abou Diaby arrived in the first year of Arsene Wenger’s barren period. His time at the club has coincided with an achingly long spell without a trophy. If he is to help amend that stat, then Diaby’s performances will need to improve dramatically.
If they don’t, then it may finally be time for Arsene Wenger to cut his losses with his injury-prone midfielder.