Yaya Sanogo is a not a name that many will be familiar...
Song’s Departure Can be a Positive Move by Wenger
Alex Song is gone. He completed his medical this morning and looks all set to be introduced today. It has been said that the move was sanctioned because of demands for a new contract that fell apart early in the year and because as one outlet calls it, Song was lazy, habitually late for training, driving the coaches to distraction and lacked defensive discipline.
The piece that follows is taken from a piece written by a good friend of mine Walid (@1Walid1 on twitter) and reading it again it made sense even today. Walid has let me reproduce it here and it explains why selling Alex Song should be seen as positive move for Arsenal.
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 early last 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 (at the time) 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 and now joined by Song, 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 plenty of scoring options in Walcott, Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, and Gervinho. If Wenger invests in buying a holding midfielder like Capoue or M’Vila or of the same mold as Gokhan Inler, the Gunners boss can certainly have the luxury of variation in the way the team plays.
Giroud, Podolski, and Chamakh, as central strikers combined with Gervinho and Walcott on the wings would provide plenty of attacking power for the North London side, while Cazorla, 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 Giroud 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. Part of that key is a more versatile defensive midfielder who can operate in multiple formations, with the departure of Alex Song that may now be possible.