When people think of Arsenal’s success this season they think of Robin van Persie, and why wouldn’t they? The only person to have scored more goals than the Dutchman in 2011 is Cristiano Ronaldo. Never has the phrase the flying Dutchman been more relevant, except perhaps as an ironic description of Dennis Bergkamp. Indeed few would doubt that Arsenal’s number ten has been there most important player so far this season, but is he?
Well that depends upon the way you lack at the stats. Arsenal’s win percentage this season with van Persie in the team is sixty three per cent whilst without him the win ratio is only fifty per cent. Not bad you might think especially considering that fifty per cent of the games where he didn’t play weren’t drawn but lost. Then consider the same statistics for Alex Song. With him in the team Arsenal have won just over seventy per cent of their games. However without him Arsenal have won just thirty-seven per cent of their games this season. In fact in the Premier League Arsenal have only won eighteen per cent of the games in which Song hasn’t started.
I’m not trying to say that as long as Arsenal have Alex Song then they don’t need van Persie, that would be ridiculous. However what you do have to realise is just how important Song is to the team. All Arsenal fans have held him in high regard for the last couple of years but rarely does anyone truly appreciate just how much he is doing for Arsenal. When Fabregas and Nasri left in the summer and Wilshere got injured we have looked to Ramsey and Arteta to supply the assists from central midfield and perhaps Walcott on the wing. So who has got the highest number of assists for Arsenal in the Premier League this season? Alex Song. Both Walcott and Song have five league assists whilst Song has also been creating goals in Europe, most notably with his brilliant quick feet and cross to van Persie to open the scoring against Dortmund.
It’s not just that Song has more assists than anyone else in the team either. It is the type and timing of his assists that is so impressive. Being an Arsenal fan you got used to seeing Fabregas neatly chipping balls over the last line of the defenders for van Persie to run on to and many, myself included, thought that Arteta would be the man who would be capable of this but week after week when I’m at The Emirates and I watch our captain make those runs behind the defence Arteta always fails to play the type of ball that the Dutchman has become used to. Song however is not afraid to try this sort of pass and you only need look at our last game to see an example of that. Without attacking full backs we had to attack through the centre and the only player who could muster a pass good enough to evade the well-organised Everton defence was Song. Obviously van Persie’s finish was sublime but the fact remains it was the only decent service he got all game, and it came from our ‘holding midfielder’.
Song isn’t getting these assists when we’re 5-0 up in the Carling Cup either, he’s getting them in important games at important times. For example in the Champions League at home against both Olympiakos and Dortmund he provided wonderful assists for the opening goals. Similarly he did this against Everton on Saturday and his assist for Santos’ goal against Chelsea was truly exquisite. His first touch took him away from the Chelsea defenders and then to play a thirty-yard through ball off your wrong foot is not to be understated. His performances have truly spectacular this year.
As well has his vastly improved attacking prowess this year his defensive performances have been better than ever. Against Everton he won back possession seven times through tackles and made four interceptions, more than any other player from either side. Nobody doubts that Robin van Persie has been the driving factor behind Arsenal’s success this season, his goals have been irreplaceable, but as Thierry Henry pointed out in his speech at the unveiling of his new statue outside The Emirates a striker, no matter how many goals they score, is nothing without their team mates and Alex Song’s performances this year have proved that he is up there with the most important of them all.
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