Alex Song- The Work in Progress

The holding midfielder has come a long way, but aims to go much further.


  Song goal vs West HamAlex Song's game-winner against West Ham. Very nice, but how necessary?

 

There is much to like about Alex Song. Last season he was consistent and steadily improved over each week. He’s tougher than most of the recent crop of Arsenal players.

The transition from center back and utility player to first team defensive midfielder over the two previous season has been smooth and natural—similar to discovering that one is in the process of finding one’s place in the world. It’s a pleasure to follow.

The “current project” at Arsenal is the closest thing football has to a Bildungsroman. More than any other Arsenal player, Song is living proof of growth and maturation. Others have improved and matured, but only in fits and starts. Coming of age is a significant theme in the Arsenal story. There has got to be something to the fact the Goethe spent important years in Arsene Wenger’s home town of Strasbourg. 

This is overdone, but points to the yearning need of Arsenal supporters to see the system’s virtues produced on the pitch. The faith invested in Wenger lies in his ability to transform idea and principle into something living and active, to do what we don’t think we can't.

Up to now, supporters have had only unstable images to project their longing and hope for this team. These fans need the coming of age story as much as Wenger or any of the players.

For each of the last few seasons, the same question has been asked. When will development, maturity, and experience forge great players into a team capable of winning the title? Theo Walcott, Abu Diaby, and Nicklas Bendtner have revealed glimpses of this, all to fall back into the confines of potential.

By the end of last season, the question had undergone a mutation. Instead of “when”, it is now “if”. Doubt has crept in hinting at failure. But the underlying suggestion is that the team is no longer so youthful and green. The accumulated experience nullifies the excusable youthfulness, even if the experience isn’t sufficient to take them to the next level. There is both a lack of experience and too much experience, which provides evidence to bolster both the “when” and “if” of the club’s current situation.

Last season, Song was an enduring sign upon which unfulfilled expectation could be hung. The question of “if” is restored somewhat to “when”.

This season it only took a few games to becomes irritated with Song. There was an immediate pattern of silly little fouls, which inevitably accumulated yellow cards and gave away field position and dangerous free kicks. Song has been charged with presenting steel and mettle on the squad’s behalf. Eager to fill the long-absent role left by Patrick Viera has lead to counter-productive efforts. He has yet to fully sort out when to get stuck in and when to contain, and when to join the offense and when to stay back.

Some of his least endearing fouls have come from behind and are consistent with the recovery of positioning. Too often Song was caught up field joining the offense. When opposition stopped an attack, the middle of the field was too often wide open for quick counter-attacks from teams not notable for having this capability.

The steady progression from last season looked to have been replaced with a leap into central midfielder, where Song’s consistent team contribution became erratic. In exchange for added security in the back, Song has three goals to his name, including the winner against West Ham. The continued notoriety—if not at this point ignominy— of a leaky defense, which opponents rely on to purge their fear of Arsenal, shouldn’t be perpetuated for the return of a few extra goals here and there.

Over these first three months of the season, Song’s continued push forward could not have been self-initiated, as it appeared at first. Clearly, this is what Arséne Wenger has asked him to do. The mixed results have been accounted for by the expected future compensation, a trust in Song’s ability, a faith in the projected continuation of what he has proved and come to represent. The ill-effects now and again can’t be blame on Song nor can his development be considered complete.

 

His development in his own words.

 

11/7/10

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