Morning all, welcome to a brand new week and one that will kick off with another high profile departure.
Alex Song will become a Barcelona player today and Arsenal will receive somewhere in the region of £15m + add-ons for him. For some it’s a sign that we’re content time and time again to sell our best players, for others it’s a good deal for a player whose reputation outweighs his talent.
Back in 2006 I was very quick to write him off. I still stand by the fact that at that point he was nowhere near ready to play for us, where I got it wrong was saying he would never be good enough (something people have reminded of plenty of times!). A salutary lesson that Arsene Wenger can see things in players that nobody else can. Song went on loan to Charlton, did well there, came back, progressed and developed well and is unrecogonisable from the guy who had away fans at Fulham singing for Cesc Fabregas to replace him.
More than any other player I can think of under Wenger’s reign, he’s seemed like a personal project. Arsene was determined to develop him into a player who could do the business in the Premier League and beyond. It wasn’t as if he came back from Charlton the finished article, he was just a bit better with a little more confidence. And that progression continued but took time, helped by having the quality of someone like Cesc, for example, to make up the shortfall.
Now, after his best season ever, Song’s decision to play up for a move to Barcelona must feel like something of a betrayal to Wenger. After all the work he’s put into him, after the patience, support, understanding and everything else, the first time his loyalty has been tested he’s decided to jump ship. And look, I know Barcelona are a great team and the chance to go there might not come again, but while I’m pretty much ok with him going it does seem a bit of a slap in the face for the man who made him as a player. Without his manager’s backing Song wouldn’t be a top level player, simple as that, so when people criticise the club for selling they ought to bear in mind that the player himself is the one who has agitated for it to happen.
Like others I’ve heard stories of Song’s attitude not being 100%, shall we say. Even as Gunnerblog, a big fan of Song, writes about him this morning, I remember him telling a story of an away game (perhaps Stoke) when a much younger Song decided he’d completely ignore his captain Kolo Toure’s instructions when Arsenal had a set-piece. As we bemoan the loss of our ‘most defensive midfielder’ there were question marks over his defensive work at times.
Looking at the Catalan papers this morning they’ve described Song as the new Yaya Toure. I know somebody’s always going to be the new somebody else but I do wonder how much of him they’ve seen. For a player who finds himself in good positions he seems almost allergic to shooting and although his physical presence will certainly bolster a fairly small Barcelona team, he’s not as strong, quick or rampaging as Toure. Barcelona covet his versatility, his ability to slot in at centre-half will suit a team who have been using Javier Mascherano back there, but I think he’ll find out very quickly that some of his more self-indulgent traits simply won’t be tolerated there.
Last season his assists for van Persie, and that one for Thierry’s goal against Leeds, highlighted the creative part of his game very well. I don’t think I was alone, however, in thinking he was a player who often ignored simple options to try the more difficult pass. I know that’s a weight that a ‘creative’ player has to carry but it was frustrating to see balls lofted over the top and out for goal kicks when he had perfectly good options left and right. There was a sense he was playing for himself (shop window, perhaps?) rather than for the team.
If the stories about his training ground attitude are to be believed – and I’ve heard from more than place that he could certainly have been better behaved – coupled with his desire to leave then Arsene has obviously decided enough is enough. With three years left on his contract we had a strong hand if we had a real desire to keep him, we obviously don’t. I’d agree with those who say the money might have been better considering the duration of his contract and his age, but as a return on what we bought him for (under £1m) it’s another remarkable piece of business from a manager who does this time and time again.
If it wasn’t quite rags to riches, Song deserves huge credit for the way he became an important player at Arsenal after a very difficult start to his career. He seemed a popular guy with his teammates, a bit of a character, and added something to team that we missed, both in terms of his creative streak and his physicality. At the same time though, I won’t miss a player whose insistence on hugging the opposition drove me bananas (stamp on Joey Barton by all means, who wouldn’t? But don’t hug the fucker afterwards), and a guy who is so willing to turn his back on the manager who made him. At least he did it, for the most part, in private and out of the public eye, but let’s not ignore the fact he’s made it clear he wants to go in more ways than one.
As I said when speaking about van Persie, if a player doesn’t want to play for us anymore then they can go. Simple as that. We need players who are committed and Song’s desire to go to Barcelona meant that he wasn’t. We take the money and hopefully we re-invest because the team does need some strengthening, Saturday’s game showed that was still apparent (even if I think we’ll be better when new player settle in and we’re more physically sharp).
It does look as if the signing of Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid will be completed early this week and the former Dortmund man is a player Arsene Wenger has admired for a long-time. The move to Madrid hasn’t worked out for him. The details of the deal remain a little sketchy, whether or not we have an option to buy him at the end of the deal for example, but it looks as if we’ll find out soon enough. He is a very good player but obviously not the defensive beast many would like to see patrolling our midfield.
It will be interesting to see how the manager is going to deploy his midfield options, and he has many. He might be thinking ball retention is the best form of defence, and we have a plethora of technical players in the squad right now. Whether or not we’ll miss Song’s physical presence remains to be seen, and it seems unlikely that we’ll sign another midfielder if Sahin arrives, so there’s clearly going to be some change in how we’re set up. Interestingly, our next game is against Stoke, probably the most demanding physical test in the Premier League, so whatever the boss has got planned let’s hope it works.
And just to finish on an amusing note, a story in the Mirror suggest Sp*rs want to solve their striker problems by signing Marouane Chamakh on loan. The Moroccan didn’t even make the bench on Saturday and while a change of scenery seems an absolute necessity for both parties now, it would be fairly hilarious to see him go there.
Right, that’s it, it looks like it’s going to be a busy week so let’s see what happens. Any breaking news etc can be found over on Arseblog News. More here tomorrow.