Arsenal have lost yet another regular first-team member from their side last season in midfielder Alex Song, who has just completed his move to Barcelona, but will the side miss him more than has been universally accepted at the moment?
The main criticism often levelled at Song is that he lacks the positional discipline required to play the holding midfield role and far too often, he goes wandering, leaving gaps behind him for the opposition to get at and exploit – this is all very true, but at the same time, it’s hardly his fault that he’s judge more by the nature of his physique and Arsene Wenger’s ignorance to his flaws as opposed to a genuine appreciation of what he is actually good at.
Last season, Song finished the campaign with 11 assists in the league and 14 across all competitions, which isn’t;t a bad tally at all considering he’s often a lot deeper whenever he’s on the ball than the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, Gervinho etc. That’s the same amount of assists as Gareth Bale and more than Sergio Aguero and Nani. Whatever you make think about his defensive slackness, the underlying point that some appear to be missing as that they are losing a very creative force in the heart of their midfield.
At £15m, given the fact that Joe Allen cost as much after just one season’s worth of top flight experience, Barcelona appear to be getting a relatively good deal as they seek to replace Seydou Keita in their squad. Where Song will play at the Camp Nou remains to be seen, although he could even be pushed back into a centre-back role, like he played at times earlier on in his career (to little success it has to be said), with Carles Puyol entering the twilight of his career. He’s a versatile performer and a decent squad player for the Catalan giants.
For once, it seems as if this deal is being done on Arsenal’s terms, which makes a change given the fact that they’ve had Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri poached by slightly bigger clubs over the past few years as they chase the silverware seemingly beyond their reach at the Emirates. They had no real need to sell Song, but there were reported concerns about his lax attitude to training and laziness on the pitch – if they are true and not merely some form of spurious conjecture, then it is a good deal from Arsenal’s perspective too.
You also have to consider the impact that this may have on the current Arsenal set-up. Jack Wilshere is out until October at least, meaning he would have been on the sidelines for well over a year by that point, so any expectations anyone has of him returning and instantly slotting back into the side are wildly optimistic at best.
Aaron Ramsey struggled for consistency last term for similar reasons, having just returned after a long spell on the sidelines through injury, while Francis Coquelin is still very raw despite possessing huge potential. Song, for all his faults, at the age of 24, is a very experienced player, having been a regular in the side for four seasons now and boasting 30 international caps for Cameroon.
Of course, the club still have Mikel Arteta, whose metronomic stylings will go a long way to helping in his absence, and Tomas Rosicky enjoyed a superb second half to the campaign last season, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed in the 3-0 win over AC Milan in the Champions League last season that he has the ability to be a lively presence in the middle of the park.
Arsenal have conceded 170 league goals in their last four seasons, but the fact that Arsene Wenger has bought a centre-back for three successive summers prior to this one points to a systemic problem behind Song rather than him solely being responsible for their porous back-line.
It’s a truly bizarre double-edge sword where the likes of Vermaelen, Koscielny and Szczesny are lauded for their ability despite being part of a defence that has conceded more goals than the previous year in the league for the past four seasons running, while Song is roundly lambasted in front of them. It’s a convenient excuse to starve off any closer inspection into what is a individually good, but collectively flawed defence. The lack of accountability often attributed to them is astounding and Song bears a disproportionate amount of the flak.
Wenger told the club’s official website: “We are looking to bring one more midfielder in of course, and maybe one defender as well because we still feel we are short in some positions.” Reportedly, the midfielder in question is Real Madrid’s Nuri Sahin who has stated a preference to join the Gunners even though his club would rather he join Liverpool.
Great player though he may be, another ball-player isn’t exactly what the side needs and someone in the mould of Lucas Biglia, Walter Gargano or Etienne Capoue would be much better. If they can get a battler and a ball-player, even better, but replacing a flaw often so cruelly emphasised in Song needs to be the main priority.
Song has his critics, but the fact of the matter is that new Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova wouldn’t personally request that the club move for the former Arsenal man unless he was convinced that he could play a big part in their future. He is not a holding man in a conventional sense, he never was, but to judge him on that alone is a deeply flawed argument and his creative presence alone will be sorely missed.
Arsenal now not only lack the 30 goals a season of Robin van Persie, they lack a midfielder capable of creating a consistent stream of them too. Even for a side in transition such as them, that’s a big ask on the new trio of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski in their first seasons in England.
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