In January 2006, we were in a bit of a mess.
Patrick Vieira, the lynchpin of three title-winning teams, had been abruptly sold in the summer of 2005 and we had failed in our attempts to buy a replacement. Fabregas and Gilberto did their best to strike-up an effective partnership in midfield, but couldn't cover up the fact that we had a hole in the middle of the side.
After a poor start to the season, we were struggling to make the top four. Arsene decided to go out and splash some cash in the January transfer window, buying three players in the process. Though our opinions of him are, obviously, quite negative now, it's easy to forget that one of these signings, Adebayor, was actually critical to us making fourth place. Theo Walcott was a high profile signing, but didn't actually play a game until the next season. And the other other player was a lanky Frenchman from Auxerre - Abou Diaby.
Abou's impact wasn't as great as Adebayor's, but he definitely made a positive contribution to our quest for fourth place. A dozen league appearances were enough to make quite an impression on us all, and I, for one, was convinced that we had a major talent on our hand.
Maybe we did - but I don't think we'll ever know now. On May 1 2006, at the end of a game that Arsenal had completely dominated and were winning 3-0, Sunderland player Dan Smith made a ludicrous, dangerous tackle that resulted in an ankle fracture. (He's now playing non-league football, where he belongs). While the exact details aren't known, it's likely that Abou fractured both his tibia and fibia, dislocated his ankle, and suffered severe ligament damage.
While Eduardo's injury received considerably more coverage, Abou's was probably almost as bad. He had three surgeries on his ankle before returning to the first team in January 2007, and was told by one doctor that he was lucky that the injury didn't end his career.
After appearing to recover from his injury, Abou made 28 appearances in the 2007-08 season, 36 in 2008-2009, and 40 in 2009-10. Yet he only made 20 appearances last season, and he's played about an hour or so of league football in total this season. (He was ruled out of the last two games of the season after yesterday's game.)
For a brilliant overview of the injury travails that Abou has faced, read this article on the Beautiful Groan.
The article (written by a physiotherapist) basically says this - the severity of the injury suffered by Abou in 2006 was such that it affects the entire way that Abou moves his body. This means his body is almost fundamentally imbalanced, which causes new injuries to occur on a periodic basis.
Now, I think Arsenal fans have been very patient with Diaby - mainly because most of us realise what an incredible talented player he potentially is. Looking through his stats, he has a very unique skill-set - he is a brilliant dribbler, he can pass well, he can score and make goals, and he also has physical presence. He has the potential to be a monster in midfield.
But none of this matters if you can't get on the field.
I just think this season has shown that Diaby will never be a player who can consistently (and that is the key for me, consistently) play football at a top-class level. He will have patches where he is fit, but I think his awful injury has destroyed his ability to regularly stay fit. Ultimately, I think it's time we used his squad place, and the wages we are paying him, on someone else.
Some Arsenal fans have pointed to Robin van Persie as an example of why we shouldn't give up - but I think a more instructive example would be Owen Hargreaves. No one can doubt Hargreaves talent, but United ultimately cut him loose at the end of last season because he could not maintain his fitness, and they could not justify paying someone wages who did not play football regularly enough.
Similarly, others have mentioned Tomas Rosicky as a reason why we should keep Diaby - but Rosicky's injury was nowhere near as severe as Diaby's. Rosicky's was a freak injury that was essentially misdiagnosed; Diaby's problems are better known, but they are simply much harder to fix, and there is the impression that they have fundamentally weakened his ability to play regular football.
I would like nothing more than for Diaby to stay, regain his fitness, and become a dominant member of our midfield. I just don't think this will ever happen. And the longer we keep him, the longer we are denying his squad place to someone who could actually contribute to the team.
Of course, even if we wanted to sell him, there is the issue of the long-term deal he was given at the start of 2010. Quite who decided this was a good idea isn't clear, but it may mean that our ability move him on is limited, due to the inflated wages he is currently earning. But it's now come to the point where I think he needs to leave on a free, if need be. The short-term financial hit will be outweighed by the money we will ultimately save by paying a non-playing squad member for the rest of his deal.
So there you have it - a sad story of a brilliant player, but one who I don't think will ever truly shine in the way we once hoped. Still, at least we'll always have this moment. Thanks, Abou.