Why Alex Song’s departure is more than just a changing of personnel

Alex Song, Arsenal midfielder

If it wasn’t enough that Arsenal started the season with a 0-0 loss (yes, you read that correctly) then the departure of another big name at the club in Alex Song should definitely send the team spiralling out of control.

What has been significant about this short Alex Song transfer episode is the club’s relaxed nature about letting him go. Arsene Wenger was quick to stop the building of a saga similar to what we’ve seen in the recent past, and it was more to do with a need to rid the dressing room of a disruptive character.

A lot of Arsenal fans have greatly warmed to Alex Song over the past couple of seasons, with the player demonstrating remarkable progress in his development and cementing his place as a regular in the starting XI. However, many fans were almost turning a blind eye on his disappointing defensive game due to the number of assists he had. But really, Alex Song’s departure from Arsenal is no great loss. It’s certainly not on a level with the losses of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.

One criticism of Arsene Wenger, and a deserved one at that, is his desire to create a utopian atmosphere with regards to contracts at the club. He doesn’t want there to be incredible gulfs between the earnings of the top players and those who only have peripheral roles, rather insisting on creating equals throughout the dressing room. A little Marxist perhaps, but it’s certainly no way to run a big club with big names who are also running a tight ship financially.

Darren Dein’s mission to demolish the Arsenal squad continued when he decided to encourage Alex Song to seek greater wages. Due to Song’s importance at the club, I can fully understand his motivation for a new contract. However, implying that £55,000-a week is not suitable for a footballer is completely laughable. Please Alex, cry me a river. And while you’re in that river, please swim back to your post just in front of the back four.

But Alex Song reportedly became more of a nuisance beyond just demanding a new contract. His attitude has apparently been a poison in the dressing room, while his 14 assist last season have clearly helped in allowing him to feel he’s bigger than he really is.

However, with Song in the side, how close were Arsenal really to landing some silverware? This isn’t the hardworking, defensively responsible Alex Song that broke through a number of years ago. Instead, this is a player who believes himself to be a player and a figure that he really isn’t.

This idea that Wenger would encourage Song to advance forward because the club lacked any other creative spark is laughable. Is the manager really reckless enough to sacrifice the defensive game in favour of a player who hits 10 bad forward passes before landing a good one? And even so, Alex Song’s decision to wander off away from his post began well before last season. Cesc Fabregas was instructed to be Arsenal’s most advanced creative midfielder, while Song would at times be the team’s most advanced player – even well ahead of the strikers. Sometimes it really did seem like Arsenal were attacking with 11 players on the field but defending with 10 – that was the extent of Song’s laid back attitude to the defensive side of the game. Conceding 49 goals in the league starts with the opposition’s ability to get through the midfield and advance on goal.

If Song wasn’t such a problem and was not easily replaceable – which he is – why didn’t Wenger put up a greater fight for a player who still had three-years left on his contract? The reasoning is clear: It’s not about giving in to demands from players or clubs, but instead it’s acting quickly to move on players who evidently don’t want to be at Arsenal. Santi Cazorla expressed a desire as early as last summer to play for Arsenal. As did Lukas Podolski, Olivier Girioud and two other targets in Nuri Sahin and Yann M’Vila. But Song’s decision to use Barcelona as a device to raise his wages suggest that there is something else beyond just a better contract.

The signings at Arsenal this summer have allowed the club to move into a new phase with newer figures as the most central and important. By moving on van Persie and Alex Song, the club may have lost a good number of goals from last year, but they’ve also rid themselves of disruptive influences and potentially on-going sagas in the dressing room.

The club needed van Persie a lot more than they needed Song, while the transfer market will allow Wenger to replace the Cameroon international with a player who is far more disciplined at his craft – should he decided to. But the fact is, Alex Song wasn’t sending in assists for Marouane Chamakh, he was delivering passes to the most in-form striker in the Premier League. Imagine the numbers if Santi Cazorla was given a season to partner van Persie.

Song won’t be a vital figure for Barcelona, but the others around him are so good at winning the ball back that he can afford to be a little cavalier with his approach. At Arsenal, that attitude simply won’t work. But the view is almost as if the club can’t replace what Song brought to the team – that is how high he is regarded by many fans.

Alex Song has chipped his way into the hearts of many Arsenal fans. And while that combination with van Persie looked spectacular at times, there was little desire from the player to follow a far more basic game when it was needed. He’s certainly not the rampaging powerhouse in the midfield, and he’s absolutely not the “new Yaya Toure,” as the Catalan press have labelled him.

But regardless of any void Song leaves behind at Arsenal, it was important to move on a player who could only bring negativity on a new and interesting group of players.