Diaby admits Vieira is 'reference point' at Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Abou Diaby has made a big impression on Arsène Wenger, but the young Arsenal midfielder maintains he has "lots of work" ahead before he can aim to fill Patrick Vieira's boots.

The 19-year-old French youth international joined the Gunners from Auxerre during the January transfer window, and has adapted quickly to English football, producing an impressive display during the 2-0 Premiership win at Birmingham City on Saturday, which left his manager full of praise.

The comparisons with Wenger's long-time enforcer are understandable, given Diaby's physique and style of play in a role similar to that of the French World Cup winner, who joined Juventus in the summer for £13.7m. For now, though, the young midfielder is focused on improving his own game rather than aiming to emulate the former Arsenal captain.

"I am very, very flattered when people say that, but to reach his level, I will need to do lots and lots of work," said Diaby. "He was and still is a reference point for me - but he is Patrick Vieira and I am Abou Diaby, and now I need to impose my own game."

Diaby continued: "I don't think we can talk of the new Patrick Vieira. He played nine years at Arsenal and is a legend here. As for me, I still have lots to prove. Patrick is the example to follow, but I have proved nothing yet."

The midfielder's adaptation to the hustle and bustle of English top-flight football had been hampered by injury, but his showing at St Andrew's gave a glimpse of his undoubted potential.

"I had a problem on my ankle and then I had a pain on my groin, so I didn't play for a month before signing," Diaby revealed. "The first week here was a bit hard physically, but I feel better and better now."

Arsenal's victory over Birmingham renewed hope that Wenger's men can overhaul their arch-rivals Tottenham and make a serious run at the last Champions' League qualification spot. The Gunners are, of course, still very much in this season's élite European club competition, and will face Real Madrid in the first leg of their last 16 clash at the Bernabeu in a fortnight's time. Before that glamour showdown, however, there is the small matter of tough Premiership battles against top-six rivals Bolton, at Highbury, and then away to Liverpool.

Arsenal will be out to avenge last month's FA Cup defeat at the Reebok when Sam Allardyce's men travel to Highbury, where it remains to be seen whether Sol Campbell will return to the side. The England centre-back has now resumed training after taking some extra time off following his under-par display against West Ham last week.

Campbell, 31, endured a torrid 45 minutes in the 3-2 defeat, and was at fault for the Hammers' opening two goals in the first half.

He was substituted during the interval and left Highbury immediately, before being granted an extended leave of absence.

Wenger put Campbell's departure down to "exceptional circumstances" and admitted the player was down, and going through a "difficult period" in his life.

However, the Arsenal manager believes there is no better way for Campbell to get back on track than to throw himself into the job at hand. Wenger said: "We will help Sol to bounce back quickly, to focus and concentrate on the game of football, which is the best cure."

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