Arsenal’s sale of key players Robin van Persie and Alex Song last summer have undoubtedly had a huge impact on their performance in all competitions this season.
However, whilst it would be pointless to note that they miss their PFA and PWA Player of Year, I wonder whether the Gunners have actually been more damaged by the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona.
The Dutch striker has scored 20 goals for Manchester United so far this season, leading many to regard his acquisition by Sir Alex Ferguson as the title-winning steal of the summer.
However, Arsenal brought in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud as his replacements and, between the two of them, they’ve almost equaled his tally, with 18 in total.
Santi Cazorla has added an extra 6 goals for the Gunners from midfield this term and, whilst it is almost impossible to replace a player of van Persie’s quality like-for-like, Arsene Wenger has in fact replaced his goals in the team.
What he failed to replace was his holding midfielder – moving Mikel Arteta back into the deeper and most defensive role of the midfield trio has certainly been revelation in the earlier stages of the season but Arsenal have lacked that penetrative final pass from midfield so often this term and I’m inclined to suggest that was one of Song’s best qualities.
His defensive capabilities were at times dubious to say the least but when the North Londoners were searching for a late winner or equalizer, as they were against Swansea in the FA Cup on Sunday, Song could often come rampaging out of his position to deliver that pass that would undo the opposition defence.
Arsenal have struggled to consistently create enough chances this term and, whilst there are a number of contributing factors to this dysfunction, their Plan A of ticki-tacka in and around the attacking third has been lacking in precision, accuracy, and penetration. They’ve not found that final ball on so many occasions and, subsequently, they either give away possession or the move breaks down and they have to start again.
Song was not Arsenal’s most technically gifted player, nor was he their most reliable but he had guts and determination, along with the willingness to risk that they so badly need right now. When Plan A isn’t working, they have no Plan B and, consequently, they end up bringing pressure on themselves when the move breaks down.
They lack incisiveness in the final third and unless they buy a replacement for Song in January their hopes of a top-four finish may suffer. They’ve done their utmost to replace van Persie’s goals but so far they’ve done little to replace Song’s highly underrated tenacity.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald