Today, we continue our series of Arsenal Player reviews with everyone's favorite/frustrating Cameroonian midfielder, Alex Song.
Alex Song continued his ever-present play in Arsenal's new-look midfield this year, slotting in alongside newcomer Mikel Arteta in a double-pivot, making 46 total appearances, 34 in the league, with a goal and sixteen (!!) assists in those 46. He missed three matches at the start of the year after being banned for stomping on Joey Barton. Follow us after the jump for how we all felt about him this year!
Ted: Alex Song is, I believe, a terrific football player. The trouble is, he seems stuck between stations. I think he could be a very good defensive midfielder / anchor, staying back and breaking up attacks, provided he doesn't get out of position too much and have to execute one of his patented yellow-card fouls as an attacker blows past him. I also think he could be a really good deep-lying playmaker, whose job it is to launch through balls, a talent he has clearly displayed this year. The thing is, he tries to be both, and he tries to do it in a double pivot where, minus Mikel Arteta's understated solidity, the pivot basically evaporates. Arsenal, perhaps more than most Premier League teams, need to defend well as a unit and get their shape right after they lose the ball, and the amount of positional awareness this requires is incompatible with Song's chosen style of play this year. With a player like Arteta alongside him, this is minimized (although by no means does it go away), but otherwise, it's the main weakness in Song's game. He is a great tackler most of the time, he's strong, he's quick enough, and he's got solid technique. He just needs to...chill, basically. He's also only 24, so there's time.
Grade: B (would be maybe a B-, but...16 assists.)
Aidan: In many ways, this was a breakthrough year for Alex Song. Not because he became an unknown to a key player, but, because we finally seemed to define what Song is best at. And that is as a deep-lying playmaker in a double pivot, switching defensive duties with another defensively responsible player. This has seemed to be Song's path; he's always looked capable of adding brilliance to his game; last season, he scored 5 goals, this season, he assisted 16 times. His trademark lofted passes helped replace Cesc Fabregas, and although the former captain still needs replacing, Song's partnership with van Persie took a lot of Fabregas' role. THe problem, though, is that Song wasn't the best defensively; too many times he was too far forward, especially when he wasn't with Mikel Arteta. His positioning was average at best, his pressing sometimes lackadaisical. With Yann M'Vila rumoured to come, Arsene Wenger looks to be addressing this problem, and is perhaps acknowledging the fact that Song isn't the best at being solely a defensive player. We could see Song pushed forward in 2012-13, a la Yaya Toure, where he'd add stability to the midfield, but also, unlike Aaron Ramsey, an ability to play through balls. He was, after all, the best at making through balls in the Premier League, and that shouldn't be taken away from him. Much like Vermaelen, I feel that his grade should be split into attacking/defending components.
Thomas: Alex Song is not simple. He can be absolutely spectacular when he's on his game, forcing players off the ball and spraying passes forward and basically bossing the midfield every way a player can. The problem is that as the season moved forward, it seemed like he'd show that side less and less, instead getting beaten on the dribble and committing desperate fouls, and lobbing ineffective ball after ineffective ball into packed boxes. Occasionally Songinho would reveal himself, but Alex Song looks like a player in need of an identity. Is he a holding midfielder? Is he an enforcer? Is he a playmaker? He can do all of these things, but when he tries to do them all, it's rare that he succeeds at any one of them, and ends up pulling the team out of position. Other players, whether new to the team or just returning from injury, could help him find his level. This year, he provided some great moments and was crucial for a large part of the campaign, but down the homestretch, he could have been a lot better.
Paul: Alex Song had the same problem that almost every other Arsenal defender had this year - he had no idea where he was supposed to be at times. He's a good distributor of the ball - he can thread a pass through a sea of opposing defenders pretty easily, and more often than not it finds where it's going, and his ability to put the ball in the air and have it consistently find its target is a rare thing in the modern game. The two knocks on him from where I sit are his speed - he runs like me, and while none of you actually know me I can assure you that while I can probably outrun at least one of your grandparents, it's important to remember that your grandparents are really old and really slow - and his defending. Grading Song down for not being a better defender seems a bit petty, after all he is a midfielder, but he has the same tendency as the back line of getting out of position more than he should. I think I'm going to start grading Wenger and the coaching staff down more than the players for this mistake.
Grade: B- (should have maybe been a touch lower, but full credit to him for staying uninjured most of the season)