Lassana Diarra was with Arsenal so briefly from August 2007 to January 2008, a sum total of 13 games in all. He was signed from Chelsea on August 31st 2007 for the sum of just £2,000,000. I remember when we signed him, I was fairly excited as Mourinho was really annoyed that he’d lost him at the time. Obviously cash rich Chelsea had signed him in 2005 from Le Havre as cover for Claude Makélélé (who, whatever you say about Chelsea, was a pretty awesome player) and Michael Essien. Although small, like Makelele, he was able to bust up the midfield. His time at Chelsea was fairly limited, but he did win a League Cup 2007 against us in which the only good part from an Arsenal perspective was when JT got kicked in the face by Abou Diaby.
His signing, along with Sagna and Eduardo, gave the 2007-2008 squad the feeling of a good side. Lets remember what our midfield looked like: Rosicky, Hleb, Song, Flamini, Diaby, Denilson, Cesc, Gilberto, Theo, and Diarra. Just for the combative midfielders we had Flamini, Gilberto, Song and Diarra. Tim’s been banging on about our need for a combative midfielder for some time and we had 4 just five years ago. All full internationals. Now, we have Coquelin.
When Diarra joined, Wenger said:
Lassana is a multi-functional player, making him a great addition to our squad. Not only is he hard working, he has a creative edge and is comfortable playing in the middle of the pitch or at right-back.
With just the statement ‘multi-functional’ and ‘right back’, Diarra must have felt he’d jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, as at Chelsea he never got that many opportunities to play in his favoured midfield role. Especially since he was also a full international who was trying to get in the 2008 euro championship side. Fred Atkins said of his time at Chelsea :
A mere 29 appearances [at Le Havre] convinced Chelsea he could understudy Claude Makelele, who took him under his wing, taught him something everyday, and kept him out the side for two years.
Despite a frustrating career of being sidelined, Diarra came to Arsenal saying on all the right things:
I have great respect for the manager Arsene Wenger and am attracted by the style of football that the team plays. Of course I am excited by what the future holds and keen to play my part in helping Arsenal fight for trophies.
The season was five games old when the deal went through and in that time Flamini had made himself indispensable, leaving Diarra in exactly the same place as he’d left behind at Chelsea.
The most galling part for Diarra, one would think, was that Makelele was a French international, whilst Flamini wasn’t even capped at that time (unlike Diarra).
I actually saw Diarra play in the 2-0 win against Newcastle in the league cup. I had paid a whole £5.00 for the delight of Diarra pissing all over Alan Smith in the Newcastle midfield. Diarra was just busting the midfield. I’d actually gone to see him play, and he was like a Paddy Vieira (minus 8 inches). He looked a real steal from the Chavs.
What a performance! Diarra was ruling the show and demonstrating why Arsenal lashed out a whopping £2million for him. He was fast, skillful and all over the place. He looked like a PV04 ‘nano’ that was super charged.
That was his penultimate game, unfortunately for us. He was subbed on ignominiously in the 81st minute of the 4-1 victory at Everton on December 29th and then he was gone. Prior to his leaving for Portsmouth for £5,000,000 in January 2008, Diarra was dropped from the Arsenal team to face Spurs in the League Cup semi-final as he was itching to move. It was reported that:
The France international voiced his frustration at his lack of regular football on the eve of last month’s Premier League match against Chelsea, whom he left for Arsenal in August. He said he was determined to leave the club, alleging promises made to him had been broken. “I signed for Arsenal because I was led to believe I was going to be playing,” he said. This drew an angry response from Wenger, who suggested that he should simply knuckle down. “If he continues to fight, he will play,” he said.
Diarra’s move to Portsmouth culminated in his winning an F.A Cup medal (e.d. I remember that move well, he scored in his first FA Cup game for Pompey), whilst Arsenal’s season fizzled out from being 5 points ahead in January to 4 points behind by May. In December 2008 the ever restless Diarra would move on to Real Madrid for nearly £19,000,000.
I think i’m far from being the only one who felt losing Diarra was a travesty. What annoyed most fans was that Flamini was in the last year of his contract, and that in selling Diarra in January, we then lost Flamini for nothing in June. We had lost our starter and our replacement player.
Its also not as if we didn’t know Flamini’s penchant for leaving his club on a free, as when we signed him for nothing in 2004 from Marsielle the Marsielle chairman called his transfer to Arsenal ‘belle trahison’ – a beautiful betrayal.
Though he was the club’s most improved player [Flamini] by a country mile that season, what was worse had been the prior disposal of Lassana Diarra in the January transfer window to Harry Redknapp’s FA Cup winning Portsmouth, who would have been an able replacement.
Steve Jones in the Gooner fanzine wrote an Article called ‘ Slipping through the cracks’. The article discussed players we should have retained. Of Diarra he said:
Diarra could have changed all that if he had stuck things out a bit longer though, as a midfield that saw Denilson make 23 appearances could have used the strength and versatility of ‘Lass’ in the middle of the park.
Diarra’s demands for first team football was clearly misguided, 13 appearances in five months was not a bad tally for a new signing in Wenger’s teams. I can’t help but think, that with a little TLC, 2008 could have seen an open top bus parade, instead of open season on Arsenal’s stars.
Therefore, looking back over January to August 2008 Arsenal lost Diarra, Flamini and Gilberto in central midfield. For £5,000,000. Diarra did act like a sulky kid at Arsenal, but it was a dreadful loss, to a position we seem not to have filled since Flamini left (I’m sure Tim will say Song was a good replacement, but not for me he wasn’t).
The itinerant midfielder never spent more than a few years at any one club until settling for Real Madrid for four years. He was finally pushed out of Madrid this summer with The Guardian’s Paul Doyle quipping:
Lass “Lassana Diarra” has left Real Madrid to fulfill his childhood dream of playing for Anzhi Makhachkala.