There’s a talented player in there somewhere

Alex Song

I have to admit that I naively raised an eyebrow yesterday when Roberto Mancini, chasing a much-needed win at Newcastle, took off attacking midfielder Samir Nasri for defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong. In the end, this turned out to be the masterstroke that won City the game, and possibly the league title.

Having been largely invisible for most of the game, suddenly Yaya Toure was playing off the striker, causing Newcastle’s defence no end of problems before scoring two brilliant match-winning goals.

Toure was used in this kind of attacking role more often last season, and returned 10 goals, more than he’d ever scored before in his career. He was often a bit-part player at Barcelona, used to fill in in defensive midfield or even centre-back – which he is more than capable of doing – but it has to go down as a bit of a waste of talent. He hasn’t scored as much this season (his two goals yesterday bring his tally up to 7) as he has been asked to play further back. When you see his match-winning qualities, displayed at St James’ yesterday and in big games last season, one can’t help but wonder why.

Football is not just about players, it’s about combinations of players, and how players are used. Yaya Toure became a different player when Nigel De Jong was on the pitch. Perhaps it is time to look at Alex Song’s situation at Arsenal and wonder if we could get more out of him without hindering the shape of the team.

Originally a defensive-midfielder, Song has shown this season and last that his strength lies further forward. He contributed 5 goals and 4 assists last term, and has taken on the creative burden left by Cesc Fabregas this season, with an incredible 14 assists, many of which have been sublimely executed long through-balls like the ones that set up Robin van Persie against Everton, Liverpool and Norwich on Saturday.

However, he divides opinion among Arsenal fans as he can be seen as lazy and positionally unaware. He certainly should have done better on all of Norwich’s goals, much as he was found strolling back to watch QPR’s Diakite get forward to score against us last month.

With Wilshere in the team last season, and Arteta this season, Song has had players track back for him when he’s moved forward, but with those two out now, Rosicky and Ramsey aren’t defensive-minded enough to fill in for Song, and this seems to be causing problems. Some say Song should cut out the Hollywood passes and control himself a bit more by sitting back and giving the ball to the creative players.

However, these so-called creative players have not come close to providing the number of assists Song has: Rosicky has 2; Ramsey has 6; even Arteta only has 3. It seems much more likely that Song is simply not being played to his strengths. Without the burden of tracking back, he could probably reach even higher numbers in both goals and assists.

A popular choice among Gooners for a transfer target this summer is Rennes’ Yann M’Vila. Most would see him as a replacement or an upgrade on Song, but the obvious choice seems to be to bring him in to do what De Jong did for Toure yesterday – to set Song free and unleash the obviously talented player that is in there somewhere. We lack a truly defensive-midfielder at the club and there’s no doubt that M’Vila fits that Makelele/Gilberto mould perfectly. He does not have high statistics in goals or assists, but boasts a high passing percentage, which suggests he plays the simple pass and lets his more attack-minded team-mates do the rest.

With Arteta recently turning 30, and Wilshere on what might be a long road to full recovery, we will surely need more options in midfield next season; bringing in M’Vila or someone similar and freeing up Song might be the perfect solution. We certainly don’t want to over-rely on Rosicky and Ramsey as often as we have this season.

Either way, to solely lay blame on Song seems a bit ridiculous. With such an impressive assist count it makes no sense to say he should simply be got rid of. Once again, the responsibility lies with the manager to use the players properly. You wouldn’t see David Silva or Cesc Fabregas playing in defence would you?

24 Comments on "There’s a talented player in there somewhere"

  1. Song has been (while not completely faultless) our most consistent player this season. How many matches did he miss? Like 5?

    • Song more consistent than RVP and Arteta? Nowhere near. What has the number of matches he’s played got to do with it? Overrated completely and until Wenger gets a proper DM this team will be inconsistent. Song lacks the discipline, ability and mentality to be a top player. If he does buy M’Vila (and proves to be a success) and Wilshere returns from injury, then I think Song will be spending a lot more time on the bench. Wenger must now realise that he has little room for manoeuvre next year, especially if we miss out on a CL place (which is still a possibility with the way the team is playing at the moment).

      • Brilliant article.
        Let’s hope its exactly what Wenger is thinking.

      • Are you serious, while no player is faultless I think Song Arteta and Koscielny have been most consistent. To even suggest that Song would spend some time on the bench regardless of who is brought in is utter nonsense. And he is not overrated against Liverpool and Everton we can probably agree that we owe to his vision the 6 points and off course the brilliance of RVP, you just have to see the table and realize how much we needed such assists in our quest for a top 3 finish. 

        • Rubbish – since he’s been a regular in the side our record has been mediocre. And as regards the Liverpool game, we were overrun in midfield. You think if Arteta, Wilshere and M’Vila (if we buy him) are all available, that there will be a place for Song in the starting lineup?

    • You must be watching someone else my friend. Song has been inconsistent to say the least & whilst the odd sublime pass has deflected criticism for some pretty average displays the fact remains that his positional sense , lack of pace & inability to turn quicker than milk has cost us many times this year. The fact that once again we are all over the place is not by coincidence that the reliable Arteta is injured. Without a midfield partner with the footballing brain of the likes of Arteta Song is found wanting time & time again. As for most consistent player this year… its been head & shoulders Koscielny !

  2. Song is FAR from lazy! he has been one of the major reasons that Arsenal are in the position that they are in despite the terrible start to the season. He has been Excellent! The Norwhich game made all but Rosicky look bad, but suggesting that this is a trend, or even that a significant number of other Arsenal fans feel this way is ludicrous

  3.  i like this idea a lot,would love it it were to happen next season.wenger should make m,vila our next top target,if only the rumours were true for  a change!!

  4. Why blame Song? How has Arteta fared when Song is not playing? These players are complementary. That’s what makes an efficient & effective team. Player combinations either bring out the best or the bad part in a player. I think Wenger must try the OX more in the middle

  5. Excellent article. I agree 100%

  6. Song has been our most consistent player for the last 3 or 4 years! He’s played a variety of roles and done brilliantly in ever one of them. I’m absolutely convinced that without him, we really would have slipped out of the top 4 in recent seasons. The trouble is, when he does play brilliantly well, which is most of the time, he get’s ridiculously little credit for it, and on the odd occasion when he plays badly (probably due to tiredness or carrying an injury in many cases) he get’s called lazy or poor. It’s unbelievable.
    Of course he’s not perfect but FFS he has 15 assists in 45 games this year! That’s entering Fabregas territory! Fabregas could basically do this, whilst doing relatively little for the defence (also acknowledging that he did more to set up attacks overall), and we’d all (probably rightly) be saying how great he was – why aren’t we praising Song more for his achievements this year, especially seeing as he ALSO defends well overall?!
    Another problem he faces is that no matter what his actual role is, he is seen as the defensive midfielder, probably due to the fact that he is usually the most physically imposing midfielder in the side. As a result, when we let in a goal, he is very often blamed for not doing enough to prevent it, and you hear people claiming the buck stops with him in the midfield, like it’s ONLY his job to stop goals going in. I don’t think he has truly played as a holding midfielder more than 20 times in the past 3 or 4 seasons. Denilson, Diaby and even Wilshere all played behind him when they shared the midfield, and this year Arteta has been the true DM of the side.
    Basically he’s a brilliant, all-round midfielder who can attack and defend VERY well, but people seem to have unrealistic expectations of him. If Arsenal fans can’t even appreciate a player like Song, there is no hope. I don’t want to start a campaign against another Arsenal player, but why is it that Song is being made the scapegoat for the Norwich draw, when Tommy (V) was the one who really looked poor on the day. It’s not the first time either. As I said, don’t want to start a campaign against the guy (not much chance anyway), but it leads me to question why it is that Song is the one singled out when he was far from our worst player on the day.
    The reason it went wrong is that Arteta was/is missing; he brings experience and, more importantly, balance to the midfield. Try as he might, Ramsey just didn’t look comfortable in whatever role he was asked to play and overall the midfield didn’t have the necessary balance. I really hoped Coquelin would start instead because he’s absolutely fearless and you’d imagine he would be more comfortable in an Arteta-like role.

  7. what are some of you on about? this article isn’t blaming song at all, it’s saying he could be used in a different area of the pitch to maximize his potential whilst filling his gap with m’vila, as we don’t have anyone to at the moment that could fill that gap successfully

  8. Song is a good player but he can’t be blamed when 90% of the time he is trying to do the work of 2 when he is playing with ramsey, Ramsey is just not good enough and Song is being criticised for the failings of a poor player alongside him.

    • Naive comments again. Ramsey is short on confidence. Not on talent or workrate. I guess you think he Is weak like Sagna because of his leg break….

      • I just don’t see him as a good player at all, his performances have been woeful, how short on confidence do you need to be to miss sitters like away at Everton and Home to City ? don’t rate the kid.

        • And you are entitled to your opinion. Modric was toilet for a season or 2. Look at him now. Ramsey is 21 and coming back from a horrendous injury. I am happy to give him time as he is very talented.

        • I agree.  Its not about workrate or being a nice lad but about being at that other level that is required.  a good player is Aaron but not a great player.  too many mistakes.  too many times playing a ball that turns us.  He has been most effective subbing in, in my opinion and being given space due to other teams fatigue, not creating it.

  9. John_in_Norfolk | 08/05/2012 at 10:07 |

    Song needs to better understand his role in the team, is he a defensive mid-fielder, or an attacking player?  If the former, then he should be covering the back four and not getting forward so often.  If he is supposedly the latter, then he’s not good enough.  He frequently dribbles into impossible positions and loses the ball.  He doesn’t have searing pace, more slowly smouldering in fact, and he is ever likely to unleash a rash tackle thereby giving a free-kick often in dangerous positions.  That said, some of his assists for van Persie have been sublime.

    It is surely up to the coaches to define Song’s role and to see that he adheres to it.

  10. James the special one | 08/05/2012 at 13:00 |

    Lol you idiotic fans don’t understand along with AW that we have lacked something very crucial in the team since Veria left without an that without doutb.Thats midfield dominance my friends LoL, Song is average at best ive been saying this for a very long time now. He seems to play really well against the smaller teams but struggles and goes back to his old donkey ways against the big teams cause hes obviously no big player, The reason we have won nothing in 5 years is down to AW not replacing Veira. Since he left We have always been lightweight in midfield the special one knows best, even you should know John in Northfuck old man lol how old r u now ?

    • John_in_Norfolk | 08/05/2012 at 15:59 |

      I see you still have nothing original to say, although you have managed to learn to spell your alias correctly at last, you should just crawl back under the stone where you have been hiding for most of the season. 

  11. Thank god we got someone decent. But looks like Hazard is off to city ;(

  12. Komugan Nageswaran | 08/05/2012 at 22:24 |

    song should curb his attacking instincts and work on his passing(stil doing his nice lob passes to rvp)..too many times he left the defense in the cold .arteta kept the back organised nd when he got the injured the def was left wander around
    every possesion team needs a simple defenisve anchor nd mvilla is arsenal’s answer.
    against physical teams arsenal could lineup with both song and mvilla in teh middle which will allow teh full backs to attack the wings so ateam like stoke cant bully us anymore.

  13. Wow have u guys even seen mvilla played? suddenly he is way better than song. Those of us in france we know song is better. Is the same way some arsenal fans describe gervinho. they made him look like maradona. Suddenly Song is bad and should never start while Mvilla is our saviour. LOl  Arsenal fans are really shameful, always insulting their players and booing them. Small club mentality really. Mvilla has got great potential and saying he is better than song is laughable at best. 15 assist without a taking a fxxxx set piece is a top figure in europe. This guy has been consitent and if arsenal does not want him, many clubs in europe will be willing take him. I mean top clubs way bigger than arsenal.

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