Firstly this article is not a criticism of Alex Song who for me was one of our most consistent performers last season. The actual point I am going to make is how imperative it is the Arsenal sign a genuine holding defensive-minded midfielder.
Song has had his critics which I feel is very unfair, as in my opinion he has played for two season now completely out of position.
Song for me is a typical box-to-box midfielder.
Firstly no one can question his ability to win the ball and turn it into attack. His eye for a pass is exceptional and in fact his assist stats from last year speak for themselves. Most importantly he has a great engine. All the attributes needed to be a top box to box player.
If we are going to continue to play with a staggered central midfield three, Song will be best used as the most central of the trio, not as the deepest of the three as per the last two campaigns.
The most important aspect of a holding midfielder is ‘positional awareness’. People misunderstand this attribute a lot its not just awareness of the players own position but of the position of players around him.
This is Songs major flaw.
A player in this position must know at all times the position of both full-backs this is imperative at all times. Too many times last season both Song and one or even both full-backs were caught up field in the same move. This is suicide. If the left-back gets caught out of position the holding midfielder must cover, same on the right if both do (which probably should not happen in it self) then the holding midfielder has to effectively split the centre-backs.
This was just not happening last season. Anyone who wants to see this in action should watch a replay of Liverpool away last season (I know we won, not the point). The Reds dominated us for long periods, and at various points in the game you could stop it and pinpoint how far out of position Song was, and the reason he was completely unable to recycle possession. He certainly did not have any idea at anytime where the full-backs were.
Another important job of a holding midfielder is what I like to call the Gilberto Silva foul.
What Gilberto was great at and I am sure most of you will remember is when play broke down, Gilberto would high up the pitch or in the centre give away a completely non-cynical foul and relieve pressure.
Song I admit does this fairly well but time and time again it’s cynical and get the yellow meaning he can no longer use that tactic.
Now for the bread and butter for any holding midfield player is to sit in front of the centre-backs what this allows is the holding midfielder to put pressure on the ball allowing the centre-backs to stay tight together reducing the space in behind the back line. Last season Song was so often caught up field or his positioning was so off that the two centre-backs were being pulled all over the place leaving huge gaps in behind and we were punished for this far too often.
What I don’t want is us to go down the route of playing a ball playing holding midfielder ala Andrea Pirlo. We did this effectively last season with Mikel Arteta at times playing deeper than Song and this is great for games where we are going to dominate possession.
I will admit I was completely surprised by Arteta’s defensive qualities but to be honest this is not the Italian league, our game is faster and more physical.
We need a strong quick defence-minded holding midfield player with impeccable positional awareness. I hope Wenger signs one this window. I really like the look of Yann M’Vila he certainly shows all the above qualities but it is a shame about his questionable temperament he is the type of player we so desperately need.