ARSENAL’S in-form midfielder Abou Diaby has revealed that he almost quit football after his long spell of injuries hampered his career at the Emirates Stadium.
The 22-year-old France international has scored in Arsenal’s last two matches and as he prepares to face Portsmouth in tonight’s Premier League encounter, he has targeted trophies with Arsenal and a World Cup place with Les Bleus by the end of the season.
Diaby joined Arsenal from Auxerre in January 2006 but he struggled for fitness and form in his early years in north London.
He failed to make more than 10 starts in his first three seasons at the club, and last year made 16 league starts.
This year he has already played 13 Premier League matches for the Gunners, and scored five goals.
But it could all have been very different if he had followed his heart when he was at his lowest ebb.
“I asked myself questions because they were really difficult moments that I went through,’’ he recalled.
“I started to have enough of football and of injuring myself all the time. I wanted to stop and to drop everything. But I held on, I worked hard and now I am getting the rewards for it.
“I knew my form would come good when I had sorted out all my physical problems. And above all at the moment, I am free from injury.
“Since I arrived four years ago, I’ve picked up niggling injuries. This season I am playing a lot and I have enormous confidence in myself. Then there is the tactical system we play, the 4-3-3 which suits me perfectly. I am flourishing in this link role.’’
Diaby admits it has taken him a while to come to terms with life at Arsenal and in England, but feels he is finally reaping the rewards.
“When you are young and you arrive at a great club like Arsenal, it’s not easy,’’ he said. “It was a totally different context from Arsenal, the demands were a lot higher and I needed to become a lot more professional, especially off the pitch.
“When I arrived from France four years ago from Auxerre I realised straight away how big the gap was between the French first division and the Premier League, between two clubs like Auxerre and Arsenal.
“I had to raise my game to succeed in London. It wasn’t easy. I had to gain in maturity fast and become more consistent in order to impose myself.’’
Arsenal can reduce the gap on leaders Chelsea to four points with a game in hand if they win at Fratton Park tonight and Diaby is hopeful he can end the season with the first trophy of his career.
“I want to keep on playing and improving,’’ he told French paper Le Parisien. “I want to succeed and make an impression so that I’m accepted by everyone. And like all players, I want to win titles.
“I have won two France caps but I have been part of the squad several times. My objective is the World Cup. I will do everything I can to be part of the adventure. I am working hard to get there and doing everything I can to deserve to be there.’’
Diaby’s manager Arsene Wenger has called for his Arsenal players to follow the example of centre-back Thomas Vermaelen and not “panic” should things get tough against Portsmouth tonight.
The Gunners – likely to be missing captain Cesc Fabregas because of a hamstring problem – will be out to avoid suffering the same fate as Liverpool, who were beaten 2-0 on their trip to the south coast just before Christmas.
Wenger has been full of praise for the way his young side have hauled themselves back into the title race with four wins from five league games.
However, the Arsenal manager knows it will be no easy ride at Fratton Park – one of the most intimidating stadiums in the top flight where the fans are so close to the thick of the action.
It will be a new experience for Vermaelen, who has settled quickly alongside William Gallas since his summer move from Ajax.
Wenger believes the mild-mannered Belgian has led by example.
“Thomas is a very quiet boy, but very determined,” he said. “I believe you see in every ball he plays. He is a good mixer with commitment and relaxed focus.
“That is very important when you play at the back, that you never panic – because panic is something which is contagious and he always looks to master that.”
And despite Portsmouth’s lowly position Wenger is refusing to take anything for granted. “Portsmouth is always a difficult place to go. I watched them against Liverpool and you need to turn up and to come out with a top performance.”
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