The Sheep and the Scapegoats
Over the last months, many a gooner tongue has lashed and many a keyboard rattled in chastisement of Alex Song and Emmanuel Adebayor. Arsenal supporters the length and breadth of the interweb have dismissed the pair as evidence of Wenger's occasional naivety in the transfer market. Song and Adebayor appear to have become a running joke for blog writers. With Pascal Cygan packed off to sunnier climbs (£2m for a 32 year old in the final year of his contract, who says Arsene doesn't know?!) I fear the African youngsters may be about to be fully bestowed into the annals of scapegoathood (is that a word? Well, it is now).
As such I feel somebody should stand in their defence, rather than nod in blind deference to the naysayers. And I feel that somebody should be me!
I will start with our Togalese talisman. The criticism of Adebayor is perhaps understandable. He certainly seems to have a penchant for missing the proverbial sitter, in fact, at times you think he'd struggle to finish a packet of smokey bacon. But the first thing to say is that Adebayor is still young and still aclimatising to the break neck speed of Premiership football. Upon his arrival last season, amidst the travails of a troubled winter, Adebayor immediately stumped up the goods in terms of goals. Strikes against Birmingham, Fulham, Charlton and Villa were a respectful return from a player who has spent his developing years in le championnat. The goals themselves were scored from close range, often the killer touch in a flowing move, or a close range header where the boots were flying. Unheard of from an Arsenal player in the Wenger era, with the exception perhaps of Mr. Ljungberg. But with Freddie's emotional investment last season sporadic, Manu offered our game another dimension, a 'Plan B' long cried for Arsenal fans. (Probably the same ones who are now slating him).
The other point to understand is that, much like his doppelganger Kanu, Ade is not meant to be a goalscorer, the factory did not design him that way. He is a target man, deft of touch and colossal in the air, his link play between midfield and striker is always impeccable. He constantly offers an outlet for the midfield, enabling our more wing heeled forwards to exploit space that his mobility has created. Consequently, Adebayor is a handful for defenders, his nuisance factor is crucial, pulling defenders every which way. Allow me to elucidate. Henry's beautiful curler at home to Aston Villa at Highbury last season. As the ball travelled through the air, three Villa defenders were immediately attracted to Ade, to the point of comedy in fact, in unison Hughes, Ridgewell and de la Cruz were seemingly pulled in by an industrial strength magnet on Manu's studs. As a result, following his delightful back heel, Titi was left in oceans of space to curl nonchalantly into the top corner. Adebayor provides a delightful foil for Henry, with his tireless industry, harrying defenders and generally being a pain in the backside, the Togolese international liberates Henry, leaving him to execute more aesthetically pleasing duties.
Given time Adebayor's finishing will improve, of this I am certain. The one thing you cannot question (and few do) is his workrate and insatiable appetite for the game. One can only speculate, but I suspect that Adebayor and Wenger will have identified this hubris and will endeavour to rectify it. For all his blunders in front of goal, Manu keeps putting himself into those positions. To me, this suggests a real hunger to allay the naysayers and silence scathing tongues. He always puts himself in the firing line and besides, do you remember some of Henry's finishing in his first few months in red and white. Seems like a very long time ago now doesn't it?
While Adebayor generally polarises opinion and attracts some grudging criticism, a young man almost universally maligned by Arsenal supporters is Alexandre Song Billong. Now I can offer little in the way of recourse nor can I decostruct the criticisms of him in full, because they all seem to be pretty baseless. How a player who has played two and a half first team games and three Carling Cup apperances as an 18 year old can be dismissed with such impunity is astounding. I have seen all of his aforementioned appearances (even the Carling Cup games away at Sunderland and Doncaster. No I don't know why either) and felt that he looked unremarkable on each occasion. Not lamentable, nor spectacular, just solid.
I think maybe the problem with people's perceptions of the kid is two fold. Firstly, he is being groomed to play a pretty unspectacular role, the so called 'screening' position in front of the defence. This position does not demand a hundred stepovers per minute, nor does it require the player to scamper around foam mouthed, flying recklessly into challenges and beating one's chest primatively. As such, any player who adopts this role is likely to look unspectacular. For his part I think Song appears to have a good positional sense that belies his years and has the required discipline, though his distribution is sloppy (much like our other unfairly castigated 'invisible wall'). In these days of joga bonita ads and fancy dan autobiographies, the intelligence of the average football fan has deteriorated. The conditions for a good player now seem to be judged on bicycle kicks per game, simply doing one's requisite job in a humble and dignified manner is no longer acceptable. (Are you listening Steve Gerrard?)
The other problem for Song is that all but one of his appearances have been away from home, meaning the majority of gooners will only have seen him on television. The problem is that the television only gives you a keyhole into the game, as a result, someone such as Song (or Gilberto for that matter), whose game relies on positional prowess and ability to read the game is less visible than someone like Frank Lampard, whose anonimity is forgotten the instant one of his pot shots ricochets off the referee's arse and goes in off the underside of the bar. In truth, I've not made my mind up about Song yet, maybe he'll be good, maybe he won't, maybe the signing of Denilson is something of a death knell for him. But I will certainly give him more than five games in an Arsenal shirt before I do make my mind up.