The Song Enigma

Firstly this article is not a criticism of Alex Song who for me was one of our most consistent performers last season. The actual point I am going to make is how imperative it is the Arsenal sign a genuine holding defensive-minded midfielder.

Song has had his critics which I feel is very unfair, as in my opinion he has played for two season now completely out of position.

Song for me is a typical box-to-box midfielder.

Firstly no one can question his ability to win the ball and turn it into attack. His eye for a pass is exceptional and in fact his assist stats from last year speak for themselves. Most importantly he has a great engine. All the attributes needed to be a top box to box player.

If we are going to continue to play with a staggered central midfield three, Song will be best used as the most central of the trio, not as the deepest of the three as per the last two campaigns.

The most important aspect of a holding midfielder is ‘positional awareness’. People misunderstand this attribute a lot its not just awareness of the players own position but of the position of players around him.

This is Songs major flaw.

A player in this position must know at all times the position of both full-backs this is imperative at all times. Too many times last season both Song and one or even both full-backs were caught up field in the same move. This is suicide. If the left-back gets caught out of position the holding midfielder must cover, same on the right if both do (which probably should not happen in it self) then the holding midfielder has to effectively split the centre-backs.

This was just not happening last season. Anyone who wants to see this in action should watch a replay of Liverpool away last season (I know we won, not the point). The Reds dominated us for long periods, and at various points in the game you could stop it and pinpoint how far out of position Song was, and the reason he was completely unable to recycle possession. He certainly did not have any idea at anytime where the full-backs were.

Another important job of a holding midfielder is what I like to call the Gilberto Silva foul.

What Gilberto was great at and I am sure most of you will remember is when play broke down, Gilberto would high up the pitch or in the centre give away a completely non-cynical foul and relieve pressure.

Song I admit does this fairly well but time and time again it’s cynical and get the yellow meaning he can no longer use that tactic.

Now for the bread and butter for any holding midfield player is to sit in front of the centre-backs what this allows is the holding midfielder to put pressure on the ball allowing the centre-backs to stay tight together reducing the space in behind the back line. Last season Song was so often caught up field or his positioning was so off that the two centre-backs were being pulled all over the place leaving huge gaps in behind and we were punished for this far too often.

What I don’t want is us to go down the route of playing a ball playing holding midfielder ala Andrea Pirlo. We did this effectively last season with Mikel Arteta at times playing deeper than Song and this is great for games where we are going to dominate possession.

I will admit I was completely surprised by Arteta’s defensive qualities but to be honest this is not the Italian league, our game is faster and more physical.

We need a strong quick defence-minded holding midfield player with impeccable positional awareness. I hope Wenger signs one this window. I really like the look of Yann M’Vila he certainly shows all the above qualities but it is a shame about his questionable temperament he is the type of player we so desperately need.

Ross Sandell




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2 Responses to The Song Enigma

  1. davi July 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    “If we are going to continue to play with a staggered central midfield three, Song will be best used as the most central of the trio, not as the deepest of the three as per the last two campaigns.”
    I swear I don't understand what people are watching. Last year it was clear as could be that Arteta was the main holding midfielder. He very rarely moved ahead of Song during play, and he positioned himself brilliantly to stop attacks (like a holding/defensive midfielder!), so unless Alex was just going rogue, one has to assume that it was Arteta's job to sit in front of the defence and Song was playing further forward. I know you mention this, but I don't think Arteta once played a different role, Song was always ahead of him. Perhaps we would have suffered less when Mikel was out the side if Song had been played in that position, but frankly I saw no evidence of that.
    The year before, it's more debateable which was Song's main position, (whether it was him or Wilshere who would play more defensively), but I think they were able to share the burden to allow Fabregas to take the reins when he was fit. What WAS clear was that when Diaby was available, he played BEHIND Song, so even he was used more as a holding/defensive midfielder than Alex. What's more when Denilson was available, even HE was playing behind Song.
    So when you describe Song as a box-to-box midfielder, you are correct, and that's how he's been playing. Perhaps in the early days, Song did play a holding role more often, afterall Wenger did say that he didn't think he had the stamina to play midfield, but since we switched to 4-3-3, Song has played ahead of a DM MUCH more often than he has played the DM position himself. The idea that he is a DM/holding mid seems to be based on the fact that he has played that kind of role before, and that he's our strongest and most physically imposing midfielder, rather than how he and the other midfielders actually line-up on the pitch these days.
    So, to describe Song's apparent lack of positional awareness as his major flaw is just wrong. People think he lacks this ability or discipline because he doesn't play the way they want him to. To me it's like criticising Koscielny for not crossing the ball enough. I'm quite sure he's just doing what Wenger asks him to, otherwise I doubt he'd be such a fixture in the side.
    IMO Alex Song is criminally underrated by Arsenal fans. He's been one of our most consistently excellent players for the last 3-4 years, rarely letting the side down and personally I doubt we woudl have stayed in the top 4 in that time had Song been a lesser player. If fabregas had managed 11 assists in a season as Alex did, without taking corners or freekicks, we would have called that a solid season, and Song undeniably contributes more to the defence than Fabregas did.

  2. July 5, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    Song started the season as the deepest midfielder and he could not do the Job thats why when Arteta was fit he played as the deeper player. I do not want Arteta to have to take that role. My point was the need for a holding midfielder and we do need it. As I said it wasn't a criticism of Song I was just explaining why he cant play this position. Your point about Kos crossing is invalid as he does not play on the wing. Song played many games as the deepest midfielder last season and its a weakness in our squad that he did this and it needs addressing.

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