In Lucas Leiva and Antonio Valencia the Premier League has two players who were once a source of some derision but now considered key elements in their respective teams. The former in particular, has shown just how vital a player he is to Liverpool – who have struggled since his injury and felt flat without his presence in the midfield. The latter, well, regular readers of this blog will know how impressive Valencia has been since his return to the United squad.
But in recent weeks I’ve been drawn to add a third name to the list of undesirables-made-desirable. Arsenal’s Cameroonian defensive-midfielder Alex Song has not always been the apple of the Gooners’ collective eye. But, then again, he hasn’t always played in the role in which he has only recently drummed up praise.
Bought from French side Bastia in 2005, Song was initially deployed in central defence and never really settled into Arsène Wenger’s side. He was dubbed a flop after a shaky debut at Fulham and was subsequently loaned out to fellow London side Charlton. Determined to make it in Wenger’s first team, Song kept plugging away for a place and perhaps the best thing that could have happened for the now 24-year-old was the departure of Cesc Fàbregas to Barcelona. It forced the Gunners to rethink, reshape and recruit a new-look midfield, which for a while seemed to be missing that creative spark.
What is significant, and has been heralded by many Arsenal-minded writers in a much more prominent position than I, is that Song has been allowed the freedom in a three-man central midfield to move up the pitch and help start attacks. Though he is best when in a defensive capacity, the Cameroonian has contributed nine assists alongside Arteta, and another player whose form has notably peaked once more, Tomáš Rosický.
Song’s contribution to the team this season, especially during the recent up-turn in form, has been quietly remarkable. Against Wolves, Arsenal’s midfield trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey completed 261 passes – Wolves’ entire team completed 235. Song’s individual stats show he controlled the midfield with a 90% pass accuracy, 107 touches, 5 long balls – with 100% accuracy – and 31% of his passes progressive, forward balls.
There was a time when he was considered purely a “Makelele type”, sitting in front of his centre-backs, cutting out danger. He began his career at Arsenal as a centre-back, where few staff members considered him first-team material. Arsène Wenger had faith and he is seeing the fruits of his outstanding judgment.
- David Pleat, speaks about Song after Arsenal’s defeat of Man City -
Now, it would be silly to suggest Song is Arsenal’s prize asset. He is, of course, nowhere near as important to the team as Robin Van Persie. But in Song Arsenal fans can be assured of a vastly improved player, one of whom the future is surely bright. He’s not the orchestrator of Arsenal’s often melodic midfield, no, rather, I see him as the baritone voice of their steady resurgence.
How does that taunting chant go again? Something about Arsenal only having one song?