I was going to start this blog with a paragraph along the lines of “If one player owes his career to Arsene Wenger, it’s Alex Song…”
But that would be a disservice to the Cameroon midfielder. When he arrived at Arsenal from Bastia in 2005, none of us could have hoped he’d come close to the player he is today. His early ‘style’ of play, similar to that of a newborn foal trying to kick a ball, didn’t become him to many Arsenal fans. Mistakes and a lack of concentration reached its nadir against Fulham when he was booed off the pitch by his own supporters.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the awful 2008/09 season that Alex really started to hit his straps. Some might remember his performance against Wigan at the JJB, where he managed to cover every inch of grass and even smack in a cherry-on-top goal late on. From that moment, the light bulb flickered on for many of us as we suddenly figured out what Song was all about.
Arsene Wenger obviously had an enormous influence on his career, simply by sticking by a player who copped so much criticism early on. But part of development must surely come from somewhere within the player himself, and you can bet that his agent will be reminding him of that as often as possible.
Two years remain on Song’s contract, and that little time buffer is the new ‘one year remains’ before the Bosman ruling starts to threaten. That sick rule which has resulted in stratospheric wages for players and an equal rise in player power seems to have no restrictions in the way it interferes with the club game. It is ridiculous that the equation is now “he’s one year away from being one year away from leaving on a free”, but them’s the breaks, and there are already rumours linking him with Barcelona.
Take Song out of this Arsenal team, and I would back Francis Coquelin to be his direct replacement. The young Frenchman has the most obvious potential to be an amazing defensive midfielder. But I think there’s another two or three years to go yet before he will be truly ready.
For this reason, an addition to the midfield is essential. We can only assume one of two things: either Song will leave Arsenal for a bigger pay packet, or we can weasel our way in by making sure he cannot hold the club to ransom.
For the latter, you have to buy a player equal to Song. Someone who can either play the defensive playmaker role about as well as he can (not many of them), or someone who can play the anchor position better than him (a fair few of them).
Here are three of those players who could do a better job than Song strictly in defensive terms:
M’Vila brings plenty of notoriety and is at the very least a textbook ‘signing of intent’ from Arsenal. But I’ve never put much credence in that label, which has been used on players like Michael Owen for Newcastle, David Bentley for Spurs, Marouane Chamakh for Arsenal and Michael Owen for Man United.
From everything I have seen of M’Vila, he does remind me of one Arsenal player who made over 100 appearances in the red and white. Unfortuately, that player is Denilson, he of the crabtastic footballing variety who enjoyed nothing more than a sideways pass.
His personal life is a bit of a mess off the pitch, but on it he’s a decent midfielder who’s job is first and foremost the shoring up of defence. He is not the saviour of Arsenal’s midfield and has his flaws, but his strengths lie in his defensive specialities, and that alone would improve Arsenal.
A very strong anchor midfielder with a slick ground pass and heavy tackle. Extremely strong in aerial contests and does not miss many passes (credit: Arse2Mouse). Linked with Arsenal, Barcelona and Lyon, some Anderlecht fans have complained he concedes a few too many fouls just outside the box. In that regard, he’s not too dissimilar from Song.
But where Song prefers to venture forward, Etienne is more than happy to screen attackers and sit in front of his defence. Of the three options, Capoue adds the most steel to Arsenal’s midfield.
Has only played one season for Celtic but already made a huge name for himself. Manchester United and Arsenal are reported to be the frontrunners for his signature. A beefier version of Matthieu Flamini, Wanyama likes to cover every inch of the pitch and put his body on the line. The barrel-chested Kenyan is as enthusiastic as they come, but would surely fetch more than the £9 million pound price tag being reported. Much will depend on Celtic getting through to the Champions League via the playoffs.
Clearly I’m a bit of a fan of Capoue, but I don’t want that to distract from the fact that with Capoue and M’Vila, it would be a sign to Song that he isn’t indispensable. I’m not on a mission to hurt Song’s feelings , but I am of the belief that if he has equal back-up to his position, then he cannot hold the club to some extortionate demand for money.
On the pitch, it forces Song to remember where his priorities lie and allows for greater specialisation across the midfield. Song and (insert signing here) can concentrate on the anchor role, while Arteta, Ramsey and possibly Cazorla (Sahin as well? Getting greedy?), as well as the returning Jack Wilshere can push on with the creative duties.
Wanyama looks a player of real promise, but is far from the finished article, meaning while Song will get adequate back-up on the pitch, I’m not sure it will have the same impact in restricting his agent’s efforts to get that fabled ‘better deal’.
In the meantime, let me know your choice, if any, of defensive midfielders you’d like Arsenal to sign. Cheers for reading, it’s been real.