They say that it’s unfair to judge the league until the new season is at least 10 games old, well with this weekend’s fixtures signalling it’s 13th fixture, I think it’s fair to say some patterns have emerged over the last couple of months, but the one that has caught my eye has been Arsenal’s Alex Song transformation from destructive anchor man into a liberated creative force.
Song started his Arsenal career in that most inevitable of places for an aspiring Arsenal youngster – the Carling Cup. He has switched between holding man and centre half, a versatility which while to his undoubted benefit to get noticed early on in his career, may have come at an overall cost to his development up until now.
The feeling has always persisted with Song, that Wenger one day harbours ambitions to play him at centre half. But, much has been the case with Jack Rodwell at Everton, another player earmarked to be the ball playing centre half in the Rio Ferdinand mould, while he’s fully capable of playing to a reasonably high standard given time to develop at the back, the energy you lose from him in the middle of the park is simply too big an asset to ignore and that is where both Song and in my opinion, Rodwell’s future career lies.
Thankfully, after emerging as a player of real promise and potential last season playing for Arsenal in the midfield anchor role, Song’s performances in midfield appear to have put any plans to shift him backwards very much on the back burner for the foreseeable future and he’s now sure to be one of the first names pencilled in on the team sheet come Saturday morning.
What has been different this season to last though with Song’s play, has been his willingness to get forward more and join his team-mates in instigating and creating attacks further up the pitch. This can be best evidenced by his run of three goals in three games earlier one in the campaign against Shaktar Donestk, Man City and West Ham and his sumptuous cross for Marouane Chamkh’s first in the vital win against Wolves.
But has this shift in position come at a cost? With the deployment of Jack Wilshere as a ball-playing shield in front of the back four a la Xabi Alonso, we have seen, dare I say it, a more creative Arsenal than we have for some time, but a more fragile one when put on the back foot.
A lot of people place too much stock on the supposed mental fragility of this Arsenal side, but to me, their resilience is without question, and while I would add a word of caution against Song permanently taking up space a full 10-15 yards further up the pitch as it could leave the backline exposed, to my knowledge at least, we are seeing the next stage in development in Song, from midfield hatchet man to all-round bustling brute more in the Michael Essien mould.
People often, rather incorrectly in my opinion, label Michael Essien’s best position as a holding midfielder, but in the absence of Frank Lampard, Essien has been afforded a freedom and space he’s not often accustomed to and at times to devastating results. He has offered a consistent and potent attacking outlet for Chelsea this season while chipping in with a few goals himself too.
Much like Song, both Essien’s gift and his curse throughout his career to date has been his versatility. Essien’s technical gifts are often overlooked in favour of his at times, simply overwhelming physicality. But make no mistake about it, when given the opportunity to display the full array of his talents, you’d be hard pressed midfielder, if not player, in the entire Premiership.
It may be some way off yet, but I see Essien as the example with which Song should look to follow. The basis of a potentially great holding man was very much in evidence last season with Song, his positional discipline and tenacity a joy to behold for the purists among us.
If all else fails with this new experiment, and the freedom that Song has been granted starts to come to the detriment to the whole team, then he at least has that to revert back to, which is no small thing in itself it has to be said, but there’s a feeling that Song simply has a lot more to offer than just breaking up play and playing a square five-yard pass to a team-mate.
For the time being at least, Song appears to be revelling in his new found freedom. With the space on the pitch between attack and defence squeezed year on year, the fact that Song is playing 15 yards further forward make a huge difference to his role in the team. This season is a pivotal one in terms of the evolution of Alex Song’s career, if he takes the chance he’s been offered and continues to exude the authority and power going forward, something which resembles a young Michael Essien, Arsenal could be getting a whole lot more than just a hatchet man.
Written By James McManus