Sunday, 11 December 2011

Without Alex Song, Arsenal aren't the same team and often lose

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Alex Song's performance against Everton.

Alex Song has not always found life in England easy. When the Cameroonian joined Arsenal properly (having been on loan the season before) as an 18 year old, he had the likes of Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini to overtake in the pecking order.

A loan at Charlton Athletic followed, and although he impressed, the Addicks were relegated and Song received little public appraisal. A loan move away from Arsenal is often not a positive sign, however – Wenger is known for preferring to keep young players at the club, where he can play them in the Carling Cup and take a proper look at them.

In fact, upon returning to Arsenal – then 20 – he largely failed to break into the first team; largely appearing in the Carling Cup or as emergency cover in the league. Then followed three seasons in the first team, but with constant criticism from the media who claimed he was too offensive-minded and lacked positional understanding.

Even this season – when he has had far more public backing – the now 24-year-old started the campaign surrounded by people talking about him for all the wrong reasons after his stamp on Newcastle’s Joey Barton.

However, as with all the best footballers, Song has put his past well and truly behind him with some outstanding performances, including one of his best yet in red and white; against Everton.

With Arsenal struggling to create chances against a determined Everton side, it was vital that The Gunners didn’t fall asleep at the back. Song was key in ensuring this didn’t happen – displaying a commanding presence sitting in front of the back four and himself making two tackles and four interceptions*.

Not only did Song keep things tight in the defensive third of the pitch, but his relentless pressing further up the pitch allowed Arsenal to win the ball back early – in turn making it easier to control the game and create chances in the final third. In fact, despite starting in a position between the two central midfielders and back four, Song’s pressing meant he made 40% of his attempted tackles in the opposition half**, while Arsenal ended up with 61% possession and 14 shots*.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

As has been typical of Song - and Arsenal’s midfield in general this season - however, he Cameroonian’s masterful display was not all defensive. In addition to his superb assist for Robin van Persie’s winner, Song controlled the game from the back – making the second-most attempted passes (eight behind Laurent Koscielny) with a 77% success-rate*.

Furthermore, with Aaron Ramsey surprisingly ineffective and Mikel Arteta preferring a deeper-lying role, Song became the Gunners’ prime creator when swapping positions and moving forward off the ball. He ended the game having made two key passes, and attempted seven (!) through-balls*.

Song’s performance against a well set-up, but not particularly offensively minded Everton side is not a one-off, however. The latest fan-favourite is the club’s joint-top assister this season with five in the league (along with Gervinho), while he has averaged more key passes than only four players*. Defensively, too, Song has come on leaps and bounds. With 3.3 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game this season, Song is one of the best performers in the league*.

Clearly, Song has become a hugely important player for the club this season. Cameroon missing out on qualification for the African Cup of Nations in the New Year is a massive boost to the club, who could do with a bit of luck at that time.

Those who claim Arsenal are a “one-man team” clearly haven’t been watching. Even if Van Persie scores the goals, players like Alex Song are helping the team to three points by ensuring the ball stays out of their net. In fact, this favourite motif of the media’s may well be helping other players perform to their best – determined to get the same attention their captain has done.

Long may it continue.

*OPTA statistics provided by
**Statistics from Guardian Chalkboards

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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