Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Song’s performance against Sunderland underlines his development into a world-class player

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 Sunderland.

Once again, the result didn’t go our way, and once again, very few Arsenal players stood out as particularly impressive as The Gunners crashed out of the FA Cup to a revitalised Sunderland side.

Alex Song, however, was one of the minority – largely excellent first in midfield and then in defence, the Cameroonian once again showed why his country’s failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations was a real blessing for Arsenal.

One of the most clinically under-rated players in the Premier League, never-mind Arsenal, Alex Song is the perfect example to young footballers determined to live up to their potential. The midfielder has struggled for consistency and balance in the past, but this year ‘Songinho’ has come into his own and displayed traits of leadership, determination, physical strength and – to top it all – an eye for a pass.

Midway through what has undoubtedly been his best season ever in an Arsenal shirt, Song was beginning to make those who still questioned his ability reconsider. With Arsenal climbing back up the table and the midfield starting to develop an understanding, everything was on course for The Gunners to make up for their terrible start to the season and claim fourth spot.

Further defensive injuries, however, plus the loan of Emmanuel Frimpong to Wolves, meant Alex Song’s only deputy – Francis Coquelin – was no longer available to come in and allow for Wenger to rest the 24 year old.

Despite playing so regularly over the last few months, Alex Song has remained one of Arsenal’s most consistent players throughout the season. With defensive problems galore, Song has had a more restricted role of late, breaking up play and tending to drop back behind the two other central midfielders to turn a 4-2-3-1 into a 4-1-2-3 formation, although the midfield pivot has remained a key part of Wenger’s tactics.

His new role, combined with the usual tactics, is perhaps best exemplified in the game against Sunderland. Despite the performance of others around him, Song was one of the only players who looked both quick enough and strong enough to stop the Sunderland counter-attacks, and – further to that – looked lively at the other end of the pitch, too.

As Francis Coquelin (deputising at left-back), and then Sebastien Squillaci were forced off by injury, Song had twice the work to do as different defensive partnerships struggled to build an understanding. Furthermore, with Arteta and Ramsey not at their creative best, it was up to him to get things going in the final third – attempting several through-balls for the runs of Walcott and van Persie in the second half.

In an otherwise unremarkable game of few chances, and next no outstanding performances, Alex Song may be labelled “the best of a bad bunch”. However, although true to an extent, this does not give full credit to a player who has consistently given 110% for the club and who has risen through the ranks to become one of the side’s most important players.

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.

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