Here’s a funny thing that happened at the Swansea match this weekend, Diaby had what could be considered a pretty good match but only a few people really noticed it. Most people (except this guy! — find him @GeezyPeas on twitter) 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, Diaby, you useless ****”.
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 straight-forward match: kept possession well, linked up with teammates 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 civilization (Wales doesn’t have internet yet, they barely have cell phone service) 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 (2nd most on the team)
53 – Passes completed (60 attempted – 2nd most on the team)
34 – Passes forward (of 40 attempted – 2nd most on the team)
12 – Passes backward (of 12)
7 – Passes square (of 8)
15 – Passes in the attacking 1/3 (of 20)
0 – Accurate long passes (of 2)
0 – Shots created for others
Of his 7 misplaced passes, 6 of them were forward (1 was square), 5 of them in the attacking third (2 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. This is what his passing chart looks like:
As Michael Cox pointed out in his article on the official site, Diaby and Arteta looking forward were critical to the Arsenal attack: getting balls directly and efficiently in to the front players so that they could create chances. And as we know from the scoreline it worked as well. All totaled, Arsenal created 13 shots via a pass (Swansea just 8) despite being dominated by Swansea in terms of possession (57% to the Swans) and total passing numbers (545 completed for Swansea, 384 for Arsenal).
Moreover, Arsenal dominated the territory (Arsenal had 62% of the territory to Swans 38%) 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% of Arsenal’s passes were in the Swans area, while just 17% 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 3 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 – Turnover
1 – Time dispossessed (I include these as “defensive” numbers since Arsenal normally use possession as defense)
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 4/5 — only failing on that one dribble where someone told his to break his own leg. Ironic.