Monday, November 14, 2011

Song's Departure Can be a Positive Move by Wenger

Reports have suggested that Alex Song has turned down the opportunity to sign an extension to his contract, giving rise to speculation of a move away from North London. While the speculation will anger many fans, the situation can be a positive move by manager Arsene Wenger.

Song started his career off as a centre back but his early performances for the Gunners were a cause for concern. In comparison to defenders in his age group, the Cameroon international struggled to read the game and his decision making was often speculative. This prompted the club to loan the player to Charlton for a season as Arsenal looked to boost his development.

In the mean time, the Gunners suffered defensive frailties following former midfielder Mathieu Flamini’s exit to AC Milan. Flamini’s final season at the Emirates was very impressive. The young midfielder operated well with Fabregas during the 2007-2008 season as Arsenal lost out on the league title by only 2 points.

Flamini’s stamina, speed and combative nature were key to Arsenal’s impressive season and the Frenchman would consistently cover approximately 13 to 14 km per game - almost 3km higher than the average for footballers during a 90 minute game.

Losing Flamini along with Diarra and Gilberto was a big blow for Arsenal. Denilson and Diaby’s poor performances eventually prompted Wenger to transform Alex Song into a defensive midfielder.

So how much responsibility was the young Song about to take on? It is widely believed that the benchmark for any defensive midfielder is former Chelsea midfielder Claude Makalele. The Frenchman excelled so well in the holding midfield role that many experts have since referred to the position as “The Makalele Role”.

Makalele was disciplined in his positional play and provided excellent cover for the back four as Mourinho deployed the former Real Madrid in his favoured 4-3-3 formation.

There is however a significant difference in the way Makalele and Song operate in that role. The analysis below from, Guardian Football Chalkboards, show the passes played by the two players during their respective games and provide an indication as to how the players carry out their duties.

While many of Makalele’s passes appear inside the Chelsea half, Song has a more adventurous role. Statistically, in the midfield along with Ramsey and Arteta, Alex Song was the most advanced of the trio against Bolton earlier this season.

When Flamini left for AC Milan, Wenger changed his formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with Song and Wilshere taking up a deep role. The Arsenal manager claimed the new formation would allow Cesc Fabregas a more advanced attacking role while the midfield was marshalled by Wilshere and Song.

The two deep players however are not limited to a rigid formation. Wenger likes to allow his players freedom of movement but there have been several occasions in recent seasons when the management from the touchline had to instruct Song to maintain discipline and limit his attacking runs to avoid forcing the more creative players like Arteta and Wilshere to cover.

Maintaining discipline and efficiency is key in the holding role and an excellent example of this is Darren Fletcher. While the Scottish midfielder is not the most gifted on the ball he is efficient in shielding the back four and in breaking the opposition attacks. With Fletcher’s hard working nature in the Manchester United ranks, Ferguson has the luxury of varying the system between playing Rooney and Hernandez or Berbatov up front or switching to playing one striker and three in midfield with Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher.

Song does not posses the consistent hard working nature of Fletcher and over time, Wenger perhaps identified the former Bastia player’s lack of agility and speed as one of the reasons to play with two deeper midfielders. However, with Fabregas now plying his trade in Barcelona, perhaps Wenger may consider reverting back to playing with two strikers.

If Arsenal can replace the Cameroonian with a more agile defensive midfielder, there may be an opportunity for Wenger to get the best out of many of his attackers.

The Gunners have gifted finishers in van Persie, Park and Walcott while Chamakh alongside a strike partner. If Wenger invests in buying a midfielder in the stature of Yann M’Vila or Gokhan Inler, the Gunners boss can certainly have the luxury of variation in the way the team plays.

Van Persie with Chamakh or Park, as central strikers combined with Gervinho and Walcott on the wings would provide plenty of attacking power for the North London side, while Wilshere or Ramsey can operate as a Centre Midfielder alongside a holding player in the middle. Wenger may also have the option to vary his frontline by playing Walcott up front in his natural position along with van Persie and simultaneously utilise the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the wide role.

Naturally, against more tough opposition, there is a greater need for greater numbers in midfield and a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation will be welcome options for the manager.
The key is to have a side that can play in a variation of systems to beat the particular opponent. Until there is a more versatile defensive midfielder who can operate in multiple formations, Arsenal must persist with the current system of playing with an additional midfielder alongside Alex Song.


  1. i think you are mistaken and blind to song;s role. this guy stops opposition attacks, is good on one on ones and gets more creative by the day on top of being physically strong.if song leaves then maybe coquelin or frimpong can fill those boots with wilshere and ramsey as back up. however, if i were you i would not be angling for song's departure.

  2. hey man,think b4 righting song is a devoted player that gives all his best when is on pitch.
    Have u say anything RVP? i guese not,so leave song alone everybody is entiltle to thier decision

  3. You both missed the point completely. I did not say Song is shit. I said he can only operate in defensive midfield when he has a supporting player. On his own he does not have the agility that Flamini did.

    I'm not saying sell him and leave it to that. I'm saying REPLACE him. There are many defensive midfielders who are better and can certainly operate in a 4-4-2 formation giving us the option to switch our system when we need to!

    And what on EARTH does RvP have to do with this?!

  4. Song has been afc s best player this season(rvp exception), he is probably the best dm in the league , if not , you tell me who is , please dont tell me you are saying darren fletcher , really poor article. How much ball do you actually watch????

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  6. Epic Comment that last one, very detailed indeed.

    Song has NOT been Arsenal's best player, far from it in fact. Are you saying that the huge number of goals Arsenal conceded has nothing to do with Song. Give it a break!

    Arsenal's best players this season are RvP, Gervinho and Ramsey by a country mile. The analysis doesn't lie. Song plays too far forward for a defensive midfielder and the diagram shows it so please save the rubbish.

    Best defensive midfielder in the league currently is Lucas - check his Opta stats and tell me thats a lie? Most successful interceptions in the league, most successful tackles by any midfielder. Second best would be Yaya Toure

    And how much ball do I watch? I'm an Arsenal Season Ticket holder, away scheme member and a share holder.

    1. lol @ iceman's last comment not a bad article,true d faults pointed out about song,(like him very much) AFC fan frm nigeria

  7. you are one of those that will make a manager to make a costly mistake by selling song and looking for who to replace him. why is Real Madrid looking for him if he is so bad as you present. other clubs has 3 good players for that position alone. How many do we have? We have players to sell but not song please.

  8. Excellent article by you comparing song's stats with that of makelele.People must remember that song's role is primarily a defensive midfielder.It's funny how arsenal players have one good season and then they want a huge pay rise or stall their contracts in the process!!

  9. Saying Song is responsible for most of the goals Arsenal conceded past season is being too simplistic. The statistics that says Arsenal won more matches (54%) than with him not playing? The goals we conceded when he did not play must be his fault too. When its convenient pple say we conceded such high number of goals cos of not playing with recognised full backs for much of the season. But when it comes to analysing Song alone, then its his fault we conceded such number of goals.

  10. Gervinho and Ramsey are good but were terrible last season. Song is decent but Mvila would be a welcome addition