Once a liability, now indispensable at Arsenal

29th November 2006 – The day which Alex Song hit his lowest point in football. He was still a fringe player in the Arsenal squad at this time and had been selected for their trip at Fulham to come into a struggling side. Song’s performance was below par and he became the scapegoat for the team’s loss and poor start to the season. He was booed by a section of the away fans, shamefully, and was hauled off at half time by Arsene Wenger . It’s reported that the embarrassment didn’t stop there.

In the dressing room, Thierry Henry shouted at Song in front of the whole squad to the horror of the manager. It is widely thought that this is the main reason Henry was dropped for the coming games. However, it has been a near constant rise since that night for the Cameroonian. This was his only start in the Premier League for the club that season and in January, he moved to Charlton on loan for the rest of the season. It could be said this was the making of the strong defensive midfielder.

He made 12 Premier League appearances and despite Charlton’s subsequent relegation, Song starred and showed the fans of all clubs, especially Arsenal, that he was better than that performance in West London earlier in the season. Many outings were made in a central defensive position which he had much experience of in the past but was not his preferred position. He strengthened their defence and went from strength to strength with regular Premier League football the key to his progress.

Going back to Arsenal the next season proved difficult as he still found league appearances hard to come by and the midfield partnership of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini seemed impenetrable. Then came his chance and emergence as Flamini rejected a new contract at the club and left for A.C. Milan on a free, to the dismay of Arsenal fans. This gave him the chance to challenge Denilson for the central midfield spot beside Cesc Fabregas and he made 31 league appearances in a breakthrough year for the then 22 year old.

Although, the 2009-10 season was one in which Song truly made himself a first team fixture and became a key member of the Arsenal midfield. Wenger changed his tactics from the favoured 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation which gave the team more solidity and meant they could keep possession a lot better domestically, and crucially, in Europe. This was perfect for him as there was now a truly defensive midfield position in the team where he could be trusted to sit in front of the defence and give the creative players a platform to attack.

The team started strongly, scoring 10 goals on their first two games, with Song starting in midfield with Denilson and Fabregas. Despite two unlucky away losses to the Manchester clubs, their strong start continued and these were their only losses in their first 11 fixtures. He was constantly improving and doing a fantastic job of protecting the infamously fragile Arsenal defence and providing a shield against attacks and starting attacks himself.

He became one of the first names on the team sheet and was key in Arsenal’s impressive season where they were in realistic contention for the title until the last 5 or 6 games where they faltered amid a defensive injury crisis which led to the comeback to the club of Sol Campbell.

In my opinion, one of his standout performances of that and many other seasons, was the 1-0 win at home to Liverpool in February 2010. After losses to Chelsea and Manchester United in their previous two games, Arsenal ’s title challenge was on the ropes and they needed a win to revive it. In what was quite a dreary game, he did a phenomenal job of keeping the midfield solid and marking Steven Gerrard out of the game. Arsenal eventually scored the winner through an Abou Diaby header 18 minutes from time.

The 2009-10 season was a key time for Wenger’s Arsenal as their tactics and style of play changes to a much more Barcelona-like way of being patient and keeping possession. This is perfect for Song who isn’t the most pacey or dynamic of central midfielders but he is brilliant and making simple passes, keeping the football and protecting his defenders.

Last season began inconsistently for Arsenal as they lost 6 league games by Christmas but had kept themselves in a reasonably weak title race where every team was lacking quality and consistency. He continued to be a regular fixture in the side and added an attacking verve to his game which hadn’t been seen as much the previous season. This could be attributed to the emergence of Jack Wilshere and his defensive qualities which meant he could trust him to sit back and shield the defence if he ventured forward which he did very successfully. He showed he had an eye for the killer pass as well as the ability to score crucial goals.

The most crucial coming in October when he came up with an 88th minute winner at home to West Ham to finally break down the North London rivals and win the game 1-0. He scored 5 goals by the end of 2010, but this was, sadly, the end of his goalscoring form for the year. Arsenal’s unbeaten run from December to April, coinciding with Robin van Persie’s return, led to a strong title challenge but the team yet again fell away at the end of the season and slipped to 4th eventually.

However, Song had once again had a storming season and had established himself as one of the best players in his position in the Premier League.

This season started poorly for him and the rest of the team with the loss of his deep midfield partner Jack Wilshere to injury along with the sale of creative midfielders, Fabregas and Samir Nasri. But the purchase of Mikel Arteta has been fantastic for Song and the Arsenal midfield, he has the nous and ability to sit back when Song ventures forward and give him a key outlet when sparking attacks. They have formed a strong partnership in the team, starting virtually every league game together so far.

Alex Song obviously suffered from a turbulent and inconsistent start to his Arsenal career but the loan spell at Charlton along with the change of tactics at Arsenal has led to him establishing a key and strong position in the team helping them to two title challenges as well as a standout win at home to Barcelona in February. His constant rise seems unstoppable and he is sure to be a key performer for Arsenal for many years to come.

Article courtesy of Charlie Rainsford from This is Futbol

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