Cesc Fabregas underlined his importance to Arsenal with his remarkable 27-minute cameo against Aston Villa on 27th December. With Robin van Persie unlikely to return this season, Fabregas is now even more central to Arsenal’s plans this season. Yet his hamstring troubles have not affected them as badly as many expected them to. And that is down to the form of fellow central midfielders Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey. Both Diaby and Ramsey have performed admirably in recent weeks and though Fabregas was needed against Villa, his injury can be allowed to heal properly given the performances that his teammates are putting in.
When the Spaniard does return; Arsene Wenger may have something of a selection issue. Fabregas will off course slot back into the side, but both Ramsey and Diaby are making themselves harder to leave out of the side. A midfield trio could be constructed to accommodate them all, but it would be an extremely attacking side that would lack balance and would be vulnerable to the counter-attack. However with Song absent and no natural replacement, perhaps attack will be the best form of defence for Arsenal.
Alex Song’s departure to the African Nations Cup is a massive blow as he has come on in leaps and bounds recently. He has really got to grips with the demands of his position and is developing into a fine defensive midfielder. In his absence, Arsenal will lack protection for their back four as they do not have an obvious replacement. Diaby is not a defensive midfielder; he has the power to play the role but his instincts will always be to attack. Denilson is perhaps the most likely candidate but he is another who is more comfortable in the opposition half; he also lacks the power of Song and could struggle to match the level of performance that Song has achieved recently.
It will be interesting to see how Wenger reorganises his midfield in the coming weeks. He has a number of issues to consider; the absence of Song; the form of Diaby and Ramsey; the fitness of Fabregas and Denilson, and the question of whether he will bring in another midfielder. The move to a three-man midfield has made Arsenal a more solid unit this season, but without Song their resolve will be tested in the next few weeks and how they respond will tell us more about how realistic their title challenge is.