Arsenal this past summer naturally set off the siren to load the guns and take aim at Arsene Wenger and his policy. It was, of course, a fitting response to those who may not have been used to regularly seeing what Alex Song did (or didn’t do) during his last season with the Gunners. For those who saw beyond the one hit wonder that remained a steady fixture in Alex Song’s set, it was no great loss to move on the Cameroon international.
Not many fancied looking at his obvious flaws and what could be done with better personnel taking up that deep-lying midfield role for Arsenal. He was viewed as an indispensable player for Wenger and one who grabbed a bag full of assists. He was a player who had come so far from those first few outings for Arsenal; a player deemed not good enough then was now on his way to Barcelona. It’s almost as if Barcelona and even Real Madrid have never and will never make a poor decision in the transfer window.
Alex Song was hailed a great player whose versatility and defensive awareness would be a huge plus to Barcelona. The Catalans needed a centre-back much more than they needed a midfielder who can also operate in the defence in emergencies: they had those players in their ranks already.
But Song’s worth was put to the test almost immediately following his move to Spain. The injuries to Carles Puyol—who has seen more time on the treatment table in recent months than on the pitch—and Gerard Pique meant Song would partner Javier Mascherano at centre-back. For a team looking to maintain their eight point lead at this early stage over Real Madrid in the league, Marc Bartra apparently wasn’t ready.
It didn’t take too long for many onlookers to realise just what some Arsenal fans had complained about with Song. Sid Lowe put it excellently: “Alex Song was playing centre-back but no one appeared to have told him. Every time you looked up he was standing somewhere he shouldn’t be,” while Raphael Honigstein stated that “Song was an impostor made out to be some great defensive midfielder.”
The highlights, where Song once looked imperious for Arsenal, now showcased a player who was literally all over the place. He seemed to either forget his responsibility as a defender or just fancied a wander forward, much like during his Emirates days.
Lets not get too bogged down with the negatives because Barcelona obviously saw a good player in there. Alex Song has played very well for Arsenal in the past, but those days clearly seem to be behind him. It’s still unclear whether Arsene Wenger instructed him to venture forward or if the player took it upon himself to do so. Song’s abandoning of his defensive post wasn’t only a theme of last season, he’d regularly be the most advanced player up the field even with Cesc Fabregas in the side.
Alex Song is an international, a Champions League-experienced player and someone who took a leading role in the Arsenal team for a number of years. But he didn’t fit the disciplined system that was necessary if Wenger’s Arsenal were ever to be successful. Teams like Barcelona and Dortmund can’t get away with one or two players not pulling their weight and doing their own thing.
There were also far too many suggesting that Arsenal were continuing to weaken their stance in European football by letting their best players go without a fight and seemingly for a low fee. But is Song really worth much more than the £15million Barcelona paid for him? Furthermore, was Song really the player who would allow Arsenal to crumble once he opted for the exit door? There does need to be a greater focus on the story of Arsene Wenger wanting to let go of the player, seeing Barcelona as a good opportunity to move on someone who was reportedly forgetting his place behind the scenes.
Barcelona are still looking for a centre-back as well as someone they trust enough to give Sergio Busquets a breather. Arsenal, on the other hand, are taking great steps forward with a system that has the correct personnel in place. It may not have garnered much faith following the closing of the transfer window, but Arsenal’s team as a whole look far safer and assured of themselves than they did with Song in the line up.