Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday September 2 2009
With Arsenal beginning the season reasonably well, there have been a fair few candidates for the August Player of the Month award. Despite the apparent allergy to clean sheets, the centre back pairing have earned plenty of the plaudits as they look to forge a partnership that Toure and Gallas clearly never could. Vermaelen has been the anathema of the light and nippy Toure; a built and uncompromising centre half that relishes the physical battle and throws his body on the line with scant regard for his own safety. His last ditch tackle at Celtic Park as the home side threatened to score on the counter seems to suggest that he is not quite the slouch on the turn that the Premiership`s physically imposing centre halves appear to be. I have also read this week that Arsenal have in effect signed two centre halves as Vermaelen has bought the best form out of William Gallas. That is frankly myopic bollocks crafted to fit a counterfeit article because Gallas has been immense ever since last November. It is also woefully premature to place the partnership on a pedestal just yet, with better finishing Portsmouth might well have blemished our score sheet more often than they did. New signings will always get more leeway from supporters; I still remember Cygan and Stepanovs being revered as the natural successors to Keown and Bould in their opening games for the club. Despite having yet to register as a goal scorer this campaign, Robin van Persie can also be pleased with his altruistic team work in creating space for his team mates thus far.
However, the true success of the campaign in its embryonic stages has been the midfield. Charged with extra responsibility with three forwards, much has depended on the fluidity in position of the midfield and their ability to maintain their pressing game. Song and Denilson have formed an axis akin to Mascherano and Alonso, with Song playing the enforcer role. Pressing opponents and harrying them into surrendering possession. With Song playing "bad cop", Denilson sits slightly deeper, providing the outlet for the pass, anticipating the loose ball and tying up the loose ends. This liberates Fabregas or Diaby to accentuate their strengths in midfield. The syncretism between Song and Denilson has been the success in our midfield in the first five matches, incredible when you consider that Arsenal still had not found any semblance of midfield chemistry in the entire ten months of 2008-09- using two semi finals as a laboratory to experiment with new permutations in the engine room.
With this in mind, the Player of the Month for August really is a toss up between Alexandre Song Billong and Denilson Pereira de Neves. How do I call it? Flip a coin, because both are equally deserving, however I`m going to side with Alex Song. Why? For trivial reasons; as is necessary when a contest is so tight. Firstly, I have never given it to Song before. Secondly, because Denilson signed a new deal today and undoubtedly got a pay rise as it is! But thirdly and most importantly, I think Denilson`s early season form is a continuation of last season; whereas, though Song showed signs of progression last year, he appears to be walking a few inches taller this season. The fact that the manager did not appear to make any serious move for a defensive midfielder showed confidence in Song who has continued his progression, not cutting the same nervous figure that first came into the first team with the occasional performance that suggested he had a future. Since his loan spell at Charlton, confidence does not seem to have been such an issue.
Song and Denilson appear to work so well together as their qualities are so different. Alone in the defensive midfield role, I think Song sometimes lacks the positional sense Denilson has, hence the reason he sometimes chases around to the point of exhaustion which previously caused him to fade badly in games and pick up cheap bookings with sloppy, cumbersome challenges. Denilson has a little more sangfroid off the ball. However, Denilson does not have Song`s presence and height- which helps Arsenal greatly when defending set pieces. But Song`s most marked improvement has been how he uses possession. Where once he was erratic, now he is majestic. Beating players with mesmerising close control one never would have thought possible a year ago, before using the ball tidily and effectively. Whilst some young players have the requisite talent for a club like Arsenal, not all have the mentality. Big games are where big players relish the challenge and stamp their mark on a game. As much as I do not particularly like the man, you have to concede that this is where Wayne Rooney has always exceeded, when the eyes of the world are squarely on him, he plays like he has something to prove. Some people you squeeze and they fold; others you squeeze and they focus. Song walked into the match at Old Trafford on Saturday and helped Arsenal boss the midfield to the point that Carrick and Fletcher were left to commit a myriad of cynical fouls. Song has already shown great psychological attributes to bounce back from a mauling from his own "supporters" on his Premiership debut in November 2006, but now he is looking like showing an aptitude for the big match. Let`s hope Song stays in tune for a good few months yet.LD.
Date:Wednesday September 2 2009
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