Here’s a funny thing that happened at the Swansea match last weekend: Abou Diaby had what could be considered a pretty good match but only a few people really noticed it.
Most people didn’t notice because they were too busy hurling invective, audibly, from the stands and on Twitter.
For me, the moment that stands out came in about the 50th minute when Diaby received a pass in the box, turned, and dribbled straight at us away fans. The ball got away from him and skipped across the end line. At that moment, a man in front of me yelled “I wish you’d break your leg...”.
"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?"
From where I sat, it seemed an outrageous remark. Diaby hadn’t done anything spectacularly good, nor spectacularly poor and certainly nothing that warranted our own fans wishing him ill. For me, Diaby seemed to have a straightforward match: kept possession well, linked up with team-mates ahead of him, played deeper to shield the back four, won an important header (clearance), and didn’t make any rash challenges.
The one thing I did notice is his 'languid' style, which is what I think gets on people’s pecs. He’s not a Flamini type of player, the 'all-action' midfielder whose legs never seem to stop moving. He does sort of look like he’s not doing anything at times. So, when I got back to civilisation the first thing I did was look at the numbers. I was prepared to see a disastrous match from him, but I didn’t. Here’s what the numbers said:
71 Minutes played
77 Touches (second most on the team)
53 Passes completed (60 attempted - second most on the team)
34 Passes forward (of 40 attempted - second most on the team)
12 Passes backward (of 12)
7 Passes square (of eight)
15 Passes in the attacking third (of 20)
0 Accurate long passes (of two)
0 Shots created for others
Of his seven misplaced passes, six of them were forward (one was square), five of them in the attacking third (two long balls in, and the square ball), and only one was short, that one happened to be in a dangerous area, just at about the time Wenger took him off.
As Michael Cox pointed out in his article on Arsenal.com, Diaby and Arteta looking forward were critical to the Arsenal attack: getting balls directly and efficiently into the front players so that they could create chances.
And as we know from the scoreline it worked as well. All totalled, Arsenal created 13 shots via a pass (Swansea just eight) despite being dominated by Swansea in terms of possession (57 per cent to the Swans) and total passing numbers (545 completed for Swansea, 384 for Arsenal).
Moreover, Arsenal dominated the territory (Arsenal had 62 per cent of the territory to Swansea's 38 per cent) and passes in the final third. So much so that Arsenal had 132 passes in the final third compared to Swans' 90 which means that 34 per cent of Arsenal’s passes were in the Swans area, while just 17 per cent of Swans’ passes were in ours. This shows that Arsenal were content sitting back and letting Swans dominate possession but when they did win the ball back, Arsenal were relentlessly efficient at getting into their area and getting shots from passes.
Sitting back as Arsenal did it put more onus on Diaby and Arteta to shield the back four and, I have to say, despite my feeling that he should have tackled more, defensively, Diaby did the job as well.
3 Tackles (of three attempted, led the team)
3 Interceptions (led the team, next to Walcott of all people)
1 Aerial duel (it was his only attempt, it was also a clearance, and it was a headed clearance. It was also an important clearance)
1 Foul committed
1 Time dispossessed (I include these as 'defensive' numbers since Arsenal normally use possession as defence)
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.
Oh and dribbles? He was four out of five - only failing on that one dribble where someone told him to break his own leg. Ironic.
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