Alex Song fits the mold
On a frosty night at Craven Cottage in November 2006 Alexandre Song was substituted at half time following choruses of discontent directed at the young Cameroonian from sections of travelling fans.
It was neither Arsenal’s nor Song’s most glittering moment.
Wenger’s side slumped to a 2-1 defeat on the night, but many Arsenal fans felt more strongly about Song’s poor performance than the result itself.
In January of the following year the young midfielder was sent out on loan to Charlton where he was unable to help the Addicks escape relegation despite winning a host of new admirers.
Three years later, few Arsenal fans would have envisaged that Song’s place in Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be as cemented as it is today.
Showing maturity beyond his years, the 22-year-old could well have developed into the very player that Arsenal have been lacking.
During the 2007-08 campaign Arsenal were blessed with the relentless performances of Mathieu Flamini who pushed Gilberto Silva out of the side and was a crucial part of the Gunners’ title push. But when the Frenchman snubbed a new deal and opted to move to Italy, and Gilberto Silva left north London, Arsenal were left with a gaping hole in front of their back four.
It was a problem that Wenger recognised as he attempted to bring Fiorentina’s Felipe Melo to north London last summer, but was ultimately beaten to the Brazilian’s signature by Juventus.
Since Flamini’s departure, Wenger has given Alex Song his chance, slotting him into defensive midfield for much of last season. However it is his performances in this year’s campaign that have earned the rave reviews.
His importance to Arsene Wenger’s side was epitomised earlier this month during the Gunners’ encounter with Wolves at Molineux. The Arsenal manager decided to give the Cameroonian a rest, starting Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey alongside Cesc Fabregas.
Diaby picked up a knock early on in the game and was forced off after just 23 minutes. Up until that point, Wolves were dominating proceedings and could have taken the lead on a number of occasions.
Song’s introduction for Diaby made an instant impact. Perhaps it was simply the knowledge that he was on the pitch allowed Arsenal’s attacking players to push forward more freely, safe in the knowledge that their defensive rock was back in place.
The Gunners took the lead five minutes after the substitution and went on to win 4-1.
The prospect of losing Song for most of January when he represents his country at the African Cup of Nations will be a worry for Wenger. Cover will be provided in the form of Aaron Ramsey and Denilson, but surely neither will provide the defensive stability that Song has instilled in the backbone of midfield.
It is testament to how important Song has become for Arsenal that come the new year, both Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger will be crossing their fingers and hoping for a Group Stage exit for Cameroon in Angola.