Tag Archives: ACL

And Diaby goes down…again.

No joke. I wish it were. In what is becoming a ludicrously tragic or tragically ludicrous farce, a Kafka-esque nightmare, a boilerplate Bill Murray movie involving Groundhog Day, Abou Diaby has again suffered an injury. After playing 45 minutes with the U21s against Arsenal and by most accounts, doing well, it appears that the Fates have seen fit to once again strike down a man whose only crimes are being harshly tackled and trying his level-best to fight his way back. Apparently, he should have just hung up his boots and taken up crochet. Even then, I suspect the Fates, capricious and cruel as they are, would find a way to snap some heretofore unknown knuckle ligament, rendering him incapable of even knitting. Forget purling. Don’t even ask.

According to Arsenal’s twitter feed, he has suffered a little groin problem. Is that “little” a Wengerism akin to ‘niggle’ or ‘handbrake’, or is it an actual part of the diagnosis? Hard to tell. At first blush, though, our reactions probably sift out into one of two categories, the first one being something like “what do you expect? It’s Diaby. Time to cut our losses.” The second, more-rational one might sound something more like “keep calm. He’s been out for 13 months and had major reconstructive surgery. It’s a minor muscular issue. Why rush him back to full first-team action anyway?” You can decide for yourself which camp you fall into or if you’d like to pitch your tent elsewhere. Beware, though, for the tolerance of nuanced positions can at times run dangerously low. It’s with that in mind that I venture forward with caution.

My own reaction tends towards the more-optimistic, which should come as no surprise to regular readers. I’m an optimist, though I have my limits. I still see Diaby as a player with a lot to offer this club if and when he does recover. I’ve suggested that the ACL injury is perhaps the tonic he needs to let his body heal more thoroughly. One cannot rush back from tearing an ACL, after all, in the same way that one might from a strained muscle. This latest setback, however serious it may be, does dampen my optimism just a bit. It’s on more of a personal level, though, less on a footballing one. After all, what has Diaby done to deserve this? A part of me wonders if he was Buddhist in a past life and did do something to incur a karmic debt that he is now repaying in this life. Injury after injury after injury. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve reached a point with Diaby that I want to see him play without any regard to how it bolsters our roster, diversifies our strategic or tactical options, or helps us win matches. I just want to see Diaby play. Period. Just for him. Just because he deserves a chance to run and lope and gallop. If daisies and other wildflowers could be made available on the pitch, all the better to let him frolic and gallivant as well. Footloose and fancy-free. Enjoying the ecstasy. Gamboling. And so on.

Like a fair few others, I have eagerly awaited Diaby’s return. I even hoped it might happen as soon as Monday against Newcastle, if only as a cameo in the waning minutes of the second half. On his day, after all, he can devastate and eviscerate in a manner reminiscent of Vieira (so says Sagna, among others). That was perhaps a bit optimistic, it turns out, as the groin problem will certainly keep him out of Monday’s match and might very well keep him out of matches for another week or more. It’s a far cry from the heartbreak I felt after we last lost him, but I teared up all the same, not because we need him or on the pitch but because he deserves it. He’s more cursed than Tantalus. Each time fitness seems to be within his grasp, it slips away, always eluding him, always deluding him (and us) into believing he can have it. When he does come back, whether it’s next weekend against West Brom, I hope he’s free and clear and can experience a performance unfettered by the injuries, physical and pyschological, that have plagued him for all too long. For him. For his own sake. For the love of the game.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Abou impresses on debut; will he rise from the ashes?

It’s been more than a year since we last saw Abou Diaby, having last appeared on 16 March 2013 against Swansea. Ever since, the debate over his future with the club was been almost as divisive as the one over Arsène’s. With Diaby having made an impressive return with Arsenal’s U21s, is there any chance we’ll see his resurrection, even if it’s only a symbolic one? After all, he did play 45 minutes in his first appearance since tearing that ACL, no mean feat, and by all accounts was impressive if not dominant. Assuming we can sew up fourth place (something that may have been just a bit easier with Everton losing Kevin Mirallas), the return of Abou “like a new signing” Diaby might be just around the corner.

First, the match itself. In many ways, it was an important match for the U21s. The loss means that they can’t finish in the top of half of the table and will play in next season’s second division. This means that our younger players will miss out on competing against the likes of the U21s at Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man U and instead will square off against others who finish in the bottom half, such as Reading, Stoke, Middlesbrough, and others. Whether this dampens enthusiasm or hampers development is an open question.

In the first half, with Diaby playing as a defensive midfielder, we took a 1-0 lead into halftime. It was after Diaby came off at the half that Chelsea went ahead, although I’m not suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship. Diaby, while not domineering, saw a lot of action and did look impressive. Keep in mind the contrasting factors: one, this was his first competitive action in over 13 months, and two, he was playing against boys. Those who might have expected him to simply have his way on the pitch are forgetting the first factor; those who demand his return to top-flight action ignore the second. For him to come back from ACL surgery is a massive task, but the early returns from this match suggest that he’s made quite a bit of progress. He looked rusty, and he faded towards the end of the first half, but he also showed flashes, even stretches, of the kind of player he was, is, and might still be. With little more than four weeks left in our season, it might seem impossible or pointless to bring him back. Then again, if we can render a match or two inconsequential, let’s see what he can do.

Speaking before the U21 match, Arsène was confident about Diaby’s fitness and availability:

Yes, of course [he could play for the first team this season]; it depends how well he comes out of the game. He hasn’t played for a year, but physically he is ready to play, completely. It is now just decision-making, getting used to challenges again. He needs a game.

Well, he had half of a game at the U21 level, and it was one that the squad knew it needed to win in order to stay in the top half and Chelsea wanted to win in order to enter the playoffs as league champs. The stakes might not have been at the same level of helping us finish fourth in the Prem, of course, but it was hardly a Sunday league game either.

In the past, I’ve suggested that the ACL injury might, ironically, be just the tonic that Diaby has needed ever since he first went down with the injury that first seemed to derail his career (the one from Sunderland’s Dan Smith). Ever since then, Diaby has been plagued by so many injuries that it’s easy to lose count. After he tore the ACL, I suggested that the severity of the injury and the length of the layoff might allow the rest of his body to heal all of the other sprains, strains, pulls, he’s suffered and perhaps rushed back from. He’s taken his first, tentative steps towards living up to that prediction, and even if there isn’t quite enough time for him to make a full return, the early signs are that, when he does come back, he’ll remind us of the player he’s been, albeit all too rarely.

We’ve long-looked for Vieira’s Heir, a big, dominant, swash-buckling box-to-box type who can lord it over the opposition. If Diaby can rejoin the first team and play as he was playing before again succumbing to injury, his wearing of the number four on Tuesday may look as symbolic as it gets.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Post-Theo, the goals haven't changed—the spirit remains!

At the risk of sounding callous, Theo’s injury doesn’t change the calculus surrounding our title-aspirations. For as bright as he was during his all-too-brief return from his previous injury, we managed to climb to the top of the table without him, for the most part. As much as he impressed during his five-game cameo, we simply don’t need another winger to replace him. I’m as gutted as anyone; I had pegged Theo to have a break-out, 20 Prem goals season even after he missed seven matches from September to November and worked his way back to match-fitness.

He was so blithe and care-free while being stretchered off, I suspect that many of us assumed he had suffered an innocuous knock, a minor strain of the sort that would see him miss a few matches. To then learn that he would miss the rest of the campaign—and the World Cup to boot—is a bitter pill, indeed. However, the spirit of this squad, one that we’ve extolled before, one that has helped it overcome other injuries and setbacks, should see it through yet again.

In fact, I think it will have a galvanizing effect. Players will rally, taking up the banner on Theo’s behalf. I don’t refer solely to Serge or Ox, the players to whom the burden of replacing him most directly falls. They’re young, feckless, perhaps enough so not to fully grasp the enormity of the challenge, and more power to them. No, others will have to seize the moment as well, players a bit more wizened if not grizzled, to the ways of the world.

The felling of Theo may force the likes of Ramsey or Özil or Wilshere or Podolski, among others, to play out of their preferred positions, and I say, as I hope they will, too—so be it. At other, free-spending clubs, some other dilettante can simply slot in, looking askance at the man he’s displaced. Here, though, actual teammates, brothers who will go to war for each other, can pick up the banner and soldier on. Let it be so.

In the meantime, our previous priorities remain the same: find support for Giroud. Find someone who, like him, has slogged and humped and trudged so that others could float, flit, and fly around the pitch. Maybe, the urgency around Costa or Mandžukić has grown a bit; maybe, the utility of Berbatov or Klose has shrunk. Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust suggests that we could safely spend £50m during the January transfer-window. What that means—it’s January, it’s a World Cup year, etc.—is anyone’s guess.

One thing, however, is clear—players will have to rally ’round the flag, whether it be for Theo or Giroud or Diaby or any of the others who have put the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into this and into previous campaigns. In previous campaigns, similar injuries were viewed through a prism of impending catastrophe. This time through, though, the sentiment differs quite a bit. Instead of lamenting what might have been or could have been had the cookie not crumbled, I suspect that our lads will circle the wagons, as the saying goes, and defy those who dare-say that we’ve been knee-capped.

With apologies to Aston Villa (who incurred our wrath on opening day), Fulham, Southampton, and other upcoming fixtures, yippie ki-yay!

Theo ruptured his ACL—out for six months

Here is a devastating announcement posted at the team-site. In brief, Theo has ruptured his ACL, an injury that will require surgery and keep him out of action for six months. He won’t be back in Arsenal red for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign and will also miss the World Cup in Brazil.

This is the same kind of injury that derailed Abou Diaby’s comeback and used to be the kind of injury that ended careers. For what it’s worth, it ended mine, not that I was ever any good. I tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus playing football back in April 2013 and may never play football again. Then again, I’m a bush-leaguer about to enter my fourth decade on this planet.

For a player like Theo, young, quite good, and making a career of the game, the generic prognosis is much better than it ever was. I remember when the American basketballer blew out his knee in 1985. He had surgery and came back for a few years of decent basketball, but it was clear that he had lost his speed and leaping abilities. He was never quite the player he was, and he retired in 1991. Fast-forward almost thirty years, and the progress made in repairing and rehabilitating such injuries has grown, if you’ll pardon the pun, by leaps and bounds. Instead of a torn ACL symbolizing the impending close to a once-promising career, there are plenty of success-stories to suggest that Theo will be back, just as good as he was before the injury. In fact, some players claim, with evidence, that they are faster, stronger, better than before.

For example, American football’s Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL in 2011 but came back for the 2012-13 to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award. He improved his yards-per-carry average from 4.8 over the previous five seasons to 6.5 while rushing for more than 2,000 yards for the first time in his career. Other examples abound. The point is that, as devastating as this injury is for Walcott in the short term, it need not spell the end of his career.

And this is where my experience having torn my ACL comes into play, not that I’m any kind of expert. The ACL cannot heal itself and, once torn, must be replaced entirely. High-profile athletes frequently get a patellar graft, meaning that surgeons borrow a bit of the patellar tendon from the other knee. It’s more-aggressive than other options but leads to greater strength and resilience in the long run. Schlubs like yours truly usually get a graft from their own hamstring ligament or—gasp—a cadaver, methods that promise a quicker recovery by somewhat diminished performance. The surgeon who worked on my knee said that, in the early 1980s, they didn’t even know what the ACL was or how to detect a rupture, much less treat it. Treatment back then consisted, in his words, of a bottle of aspirin, a pair of crutches, and stern advice to rest it until the pain stopped. They’ve made a lot of progress since then. It’s sad to see Theo go down after such a promising return from the earlier injuries, but it’s likely we’ll see him come back for the 2014-15 campaign fresh, vigorous, free of the various other niggling injuries that accumulate, and perhaps even a step or two quicker than he already is.

In the meantime, I now regret my tongue-in-cheek piece from yesterday in which I suggested that Theo, Giroud, and Bendtner feign injury in order to convince Arsene to bring in a new player or two. That suggestion, now shorn of its humor, takes on added significance, if not urgency. In the meantime, let’s wish Theo a speedy recovery!