There was something slightly treacherous about Gerardo Martino’s substitution in the Clasico against Real Madrid. Alex Song had entered the fray in place of Andres Iniesta – and who would have thought the former Arsenal midfielder would cause such a stir? A humorous one, it has to be said.
Barcelona don’t do going on the defensive, at least from what we’ve seen over the past five or so years. Song, of course, is not the attacking dynamo that Iniesta is; Martino himself said he wasn’t going to argue that the Cameroonian was a No.10.
The reaction, however, was quite amusing, as if Martino had indeed betrayed the playing philosophy of the club in order to preserve the then 1-0 lead. The questions from the media following the game said as much.
Song hasn’t had the most promising of times since moving to La Liga. There’s a title-winners medal in hand, but the status he once held in north London has remained quite firmly in the English capital. The Catalans at times have appeared almost incensed that Arsene Wenger would sell them a player who clearly didn’t follow on from the standards of Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas.
Mathieu Flamini’s return to the Emirates this summer may have nudged the door open that little bit further for those ex-Arsenal players still in their prime who are looking to re-join.
Maybe for Wenger it’s as easy as re-signing Flamini; Song has basically put it out there that he’d look to the opportunity to leave the Camp Nou if his playing situation doesn’t change. The thing is Arsenal are far from in need of him as a player and importantly as a character.
The misconception is that Arsenal have a holding midfielder – a position that’s in need of reinforcement – willing to make the switch. That’s not the case.
Song did well to enhance his stats in his final year at Arsenal, as well as offering up some of Robin van Persie’s most memorable goals. But that’s about it. He could be erratic and careless in possession. The idea that he was forced to push forward by Wenger because the team lacked creativity is a little off. Song, despite his assists, isn’t the type of player you build a team around. As Martino pointed out, “I’m not going to claim Song is a creative No.10.”
From an attacking perspective, the team are fully stocked. It’s not to say that Arsenal couldn’t use another attacker, but there are far better options than Song.
With defensive midfield responsibility in mind, Mikel Arteta, as he’s been for much of the past two seasons, was exceptional against Liverpool in shielding the back four. Flamini doesn’t need any more praise for the effort and lift in morale he’s offered this season. If Arsenal are going to recruit again, these are the two players who should be looked to as the benchmark.
But then there’s an issue about his character and the potential to disrupt the camaraderie at the club.
People may have questioned why Wenger was so quick to sell Song when Barcelona came in for him. There was even a ridiculous notion that Arsenal and Wenger were somehow under the thumb of the Catalans and would surrender any fight almost immediately. In hindsight, it’s that Wenger saw an opportunity to move on a player who was disruptive and petulant. In essence, it was a case of a player getting above his station.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Arsenal are on this good run of form. Yes, the playing personnel are there for a good sequence of results, but there’s a unity at the club that hasn’t always been there. Song was a part of its forging when van Persie took over the captaincy and attempted to help steer the dressing room out of the damaging storm that was the summer of 2011.
As of now, there are no players kicking up a fuss and being linked with moves away – at least not vital, long-term members of the squad. You get the sense that they’re playing for each other, not just looking to create a highlight reel of themselves to secure high-profile moves away.
Song’s failures at Barcelona are largely to do with his own inability to slot into the tactical setup that is (or was) in place. Martino is moving towards an individual-based system, but under previous management, each player had an incredibly specific role to play in order to make the machine tick over perfectly. Song was unable to play his part to the standard in which the team needed.
The same would be the case at Arsenal. On the face of it, he may appear to be the right player. But in practice and on the pitch, Song would look just as out of place as he does at Barcelona.
Should Arsenal re-sign Alex Song?
Join the debate below