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A Song to look forward to

Songs goal against City at the weekend reinforced an observation made by many this season that he doesn`t seem to be restricting himself to the more recognised defensive role of a holding midfielder. It isn`t an entirely new development as much the same could be seen last season on occasions with negative consequences whenever we conceded. But as a pattern of play it has become too evident for it to be a maverick action from Song. He must be acting under instruction.

It can be a little alarming when players don`t fit the labels anointed in a perceived standard formation. Holding midfielders are conventionally seen simply as defenders playing in front of the back four but it seems the role has become more flexible. The Uefa technical report on the 2009-2010 Champions League picks out an increasing tendency for teams to line up with two 'screening` midfielders. It also highlights the need for flexibility to, on one side maximise the effectiveness of counter attacking strategies, and on the other nullify opposing counter attacks. The report refers to the success in which players like Zanetti and Toulalan could adapt to the patterns and demands of the game being screening midfielders that contribute to attacking needs.

It has concerned me at times to see players like Cesc , Denilson and Diaby to varying degrees having to cover Song`s arse but then it should only really matter if they don`t do so successfully. If Song is winning the ball higher up the pitch then the players behind him, whether Wilshere as of late, Diaby or Denilson more familiarly, and even Cesc and Nasri have more room to play and pull others out of position. One way or another it seems to be a defined tactic and in many ways just what we have come to expect from Wenger`s teams. As much as Henry or Bergkamp could become midfield providers as well as strikers or Overmars and Pires could become strikers perhaps holding midfielders that attack while attacking midfielders hold is just another step in changing a formulaic approach to the game.

Thinking back neither Vieira nor Petit would confine themselves to sitting in front of the back four. Though Petit was the more schooled in defending it was a role they were able to successfully share. As long as players react to each other`s movement and the shape of the team can be maintained then having three midfielders all rotating their roles could provide the unpredictability needed to open defences. It requires a high level of understanding and training but the players have been together for some time now so familiarity should be there.

I suspect it will still take me some time to feel comfortable with Song in advanced roles but as long as the opposition aren`t comfortable seeing him there either and someone is balancing the defensive needs then I`ll be happy to see him up his goals and assists tally. It seems he isn`t there by accident.

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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Wednesday October 27 2010

Time: 10:27AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Until recently I thought he was just going gung-ho, but the last two games clearly show he's under instruction as the players covering his role when he advances have stuck to their task as they should without complaint. As I said in the forum it seems kind of wasteful when Song advances when Jack Wilshere is in the same midfield. Jack can tackle and appears to me at least to be more productive on the ball and less likely to give it away, but with Cesc, Song and Denny in the middle of the park it seems to work a treat.
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27/10/2010 10:38:00

Top, top post Amos! One of the best I've read up here. I've noticed a more Essien type feel to Song lately with either Denilson or Wilshere being the more defensive of the 2. As long as he does it well then its fine, but he does tend to lose possession a lot, which is a real concern.
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27/10/2010 10:39:00

Very good observation Amos I did notice the same my self few weeks back and it seems to be working so far. Even Jack,who is new to the midfield group, seems to have fitted into this system quite easily which may suggest that this has been planned for some time and pushed through the ranks to make it easier for younger players to fit into this system.
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27/10/2010 10:43:00

I think in a way it makes sense to have a Wilhere or Denilson type sit deeper. They can more acurately and safely start attacks due to their better range and ability of passing. It's the same as what Milan did at their recent peak with Pirlo sitting deep and Gattuso pressing high, except that Song is a far superior attacking force than he was. My theory is that Arsene has began to employ this tactic in response to the Barca game at the Grove last season, where they smothered us in midfield with relentless pressure high up the pitch and didn't let us play our passing game. It worked well against Chelsea (if you ignore the result), where Song was our best defensive player despite operating mostly in our forward half. If it works successfully it will also help us break down packed defences and attack quicker, which we've seen a fair few times through direct balls to Chamakh already this season, by winning the ball closer to goal and creating space for our real playmakers.
Ozi Gooner
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27/10/2010 11:03:00

I think you're right Ozi, there's been a definate improvment in the faster paced pressing in defence. I've never seen a team work so hard as I did when Barca came to the Grove, it was a blitz that was very impressive to watch. If we can keep that up every game then people aren't only going to hate it when we've got the ball, they'll hate it when they have it also.
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27/10/2010 11:06:00

Which I think is the aim. Arsene is a proub man, he's also smart enough to know when he's beaten and adapt. He clearly admires Barca, and was one of the first club managers to realise the switch in the way the game was going and adopt the 4-3-3/4-5-1/W-W formation they've used so well in recent times. I think he saw the future of pressure football that night and sought to emulate it. The thing that may even work better for us if we can perfect it is, our midfielders are generally more fit, fast and athletic than Xavi, Buquets and Iniesta.
Ozi Gooner
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27/10/2010 11:10:00

Yes, but for it to be totally affective, then the laziness we see so often from Diaby and Arshavin needs to be stamped out. As well as the complacency we saw against West Brom.
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27/10/2010 11:17:00

I love Arshavin, but Rosicky definately should be in ahead of him for now. Tommy can tackle and also has the silky passing skills of Andrei. AA is more deadly going forward, but man that dude could saunter for his country. I don't think it should be an indefinate replacement as he's more capable of winning games, but he does need a kick up the arse.
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27/10/2010 11:34:00

Our style is definitely not Barca style yet. I feel Barca take more risks and are generally rewarded for it. The way they pressed the ball when we played them was incredible. We were beaten at our own game, rushed in making passes and unable to keep possession. Maybe we lacked some experience/confidence there. I have to say I wasn't comfortable with Song so high up the field but he proved me wrong with his goal, just the same as he might prove me right next time he loses the ball and gets stranded in a counter-attack.
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27/10/2010 11:45:00

Love the article and all the comments are spot on! but any one eles notice that the title starts with the player in questions initials." A. Song ..." nice one Amos!!
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27/10/2010 11:50:00

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27/10/2010 11:50:00

Agree Rocky. I think once RVP is back, it might serve him well to be dropped to the bench for 2 or 3 games and see how he reacts.
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27/10/2010 11:57:00

Its basically what Man Utd do with Scholes and Fletcher.
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27/10/2010 12:57:00

I thought arshavin did pretty well against man city. At one point in the second half he tracked back all the way to our corner flag and dispossessed tevez. I guess that sort of thing isn't common enough yet, but credit where it's due. Nasri's got it down though, the kid is good!
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27/10/2010 13:25:00

Speaking of the defense, it's remarkable how much more stable we've become. It's especially noticeable on set pieces. And the most amazing thing is that vermaelen has been out for quite a while. If he's back we should start seeing some more clean sheets. For me he is more important then rvp
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27/10/2010 13:29:00

I've been surprised at how little Arsenal blogs have talked about how poor Song has been in this season's early games. Some have noticed it but for the most part, he's been a liability, not an asset. Now I see that it's because he's been following AW's instructions to change his basic DM duties and play a more complicated role involving both attack and defense. It's been very frustrating to watch because he obviously hasn't perfected it yet. But recently he's shown signs of mastering his new brief and that goal on Sunday was something you'd expect from Cesc, Wilshere, Chamakh or RVP--not Song. It's just a more modern, more sophisticated version of AW's classic Arsenal teams in which players are interchangeable and switch roles at different moments. But that requires a very high level of understanding/communication among teammates. Coupled with that is the pressing game, which isn't something that can be sustained over a long period. It requires a judicious use of false pressing so that players can rest briefly before starting up again. And with this team's propensity for injuries, the intense, collective pressing game is just an added factor for potential injuries. AW is asking this team to learn an extremely difficult game requiring not just enormous skill but enormous mental discipline and focus. You don't see any other PL team asking their team to do anything on this level of collective effort and skill-incl. Chelsea. It's pathetically beyond most pundits/rival fans/other managers understanding to see AW's vision and ambition for this team. The second half of the City game certainly showed signs that the team has jumped up a level. At the start of the season the same Arsenal team would have drawn (like v. Liverpool) or maybe even lost that game (have I mentioned how much I HATE seeing Silva at City?). I've been one of the most skeptical gooners around this season but I truly want AW's vision for this team to work. It would be an incredible achievement, certainly one of the greatest in English football.
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27/10/2010 14:28:00

@jaelle I watched Barcelona the other night and tried very closely to see how they manage to play such an attacking game and, by and large, not get caught out. It also intrigued me the way in which we despatched Shakhtar with relative comfort, but the Birmingham City game was a struggle - after all, it wasn't as though Shakthar came out and attacked, they also sat back. Would Barcelona suffer similarly playing in the PL? Or are they simply just markedly better than us? (PS - I think the Cesc factor is simply huge for our team, just his mere presence and economy of passing).
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27/10/2010 15:41:00

Vin, the only way to judge how Barca would do in the PL is if we look at their performances v. Chelsea, Inter, Rubin. It's true Mourinho's Inter got the better of them in the final stages of the CL last season but previously in the same CL campaign (group stages), Barca beat them twice. Against Chelsea 2 seasons ago both games were very tight. As good as Chelsea were, they couldn't score against Barca at Camp Nou. Anyway, it's not altogether true that in Spain they have it easy against every team in the division. Even in their most successful season (in recent yrs), I watched them struggle against a handful of teams in La Liga like local rivals Espanyol and Getafe, who used tactics like Birmingham against them. Last season they went on a short poor run of losing/drawing against such teams. It is true that they face comparatively fewer Bham-like opponents than we do but it's also true that they're more efficient, collectively focused & disciplined than we've been. They never put their heads down. This season their clinical efficiency in front of goal has weakened, they're conceding more goals and having to work much harder to win games. They're also over-reliant on fewer goalscorers than we are right now. So they're not running away with the league. I do think Barca have been better than us simply for the reasons I mentioned. They make fewer mistakes, they don't switch off, they have a better understanding/communication, they know when to alternate between real pressing and false pressing. Our players are just as talented, it's the discipline, attitude and concentration that's been lacking. Of course there's one factor they don't have to deal with as much as we do: our plague of injuries. Agreed re Cesc. He's vital to us. Another point re AW's use of Song this season: I'm still not convinced it's a good idea to use him this way in big games against big opponents.
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27/10/2010 17:07:00

Barca in the premier league would be interesting. Iniesta, Busquets, Alvez and Puyol play-act compulsively, rolling around the second they miscontrol a ball or get dispossessed. Their biggest challenge would be adjusting to the lack of soft foul calls from the refs.
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27/10/2010 17:37:00

A_W, that's also a big advantage for them: their players are protected far more than skilled players are in England. It's true that, as a flair team that prioritizes pass and movement, Arsenal have greater obstacles to succeed in the PL than Barca do in La Liga. One would think, then, that would make Arsenal tougher, more resilient, more disciplined and organized than Barca, since presumably we have tougher opponents week in and week out. Generally we are quite good against most European opponents, who just aren't used to playing against us and haven't figured us out the way the Birminghams and Sunderlands of the world have. But we certainly weren't tough and disciplined enuf against Barca--and that was the 1st time this Barca team ever played against Arsenal.
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27/10/2010 18:34:00

good points jaelle. Barca also benefit from the width and pristine condition of our pitch. Almost more than we do. All in all, I hope we learned from last year and I would actually fancy us against them this year if we can stay injury-free.
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27/10/2010 19:14:00

Good article Amos. Though we were a bit fortunate with the way the ball landed to Song, his constant movement and focus on where the ball was is just as good as his finish. If you watch him, he never stops moving up until the moment he hits the ball. It's almost as if he is defending against there defenders and the sheer pressure lead to the Bridge mistake. Arshavin switch in the moved was also critical to the goal, I really don't understand why he is getting all that stick.
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27/10/2010 23:29:00

I think against more skilled opposition, Song, Den & Cesc has proven to be the most effective and productive midfield.
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28/10/2010 05:11:00

Jaelle, contrary to your observation, I have found Song extremely decent this season, continuously moving all the time, breaking up attacks further up the field, which our boys were not doing previously and then running all the way back to break up attacks further back. Besides his skill level seems to have gone up a notch. The problem is you are too used to seeing him in the old Makele role, however, I concede that there has got to be an understanding by the whole team of his new role.
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29/10/2010 15:48:00

Seems my assumption that Song must be acting under instruction isn't completly justified. Wenger after the West Ham game said: "We didn't do anything stupid and tried to be intelligent and that is why we scored. Song had three good chances, he has added that to his game. He has got the taste to go forward, sometimes a little too much for a holding midfielder."
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31/10/2010 01:07:00


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