The recent transfer of Robert Van Persie to Manchester United would appear to be a smart bit of business for the Red Devils. United finished behind Man City on goal difference last season and probably suffered from a lack of killer instinct in font of goal. This problem appears to have been addressed with the edition of the Dutchman who’s maturity in front of goal was an assert Sir Alex highlighted at his press conference. My point here is that this move seems to of had a purpose. Sir Alex saw a problem within his side as addressed it accordingly. The speculation that another Arsenal player is linked with a move away from the Emirates is hardly surprising, but what is surprising is the player in question and the club he is linked with. I’m talking about the purposed move of Alex Song to Barcelona.
At the beginning I put this story down to lazy journalism and a need to fill column inches. Every transfer window we read about supposed moves that fail to materialise. But now it seems that the speculation is well founded and even Wenger himself has given some backing to the rumours. He recently said that the transfer situation with Song is different to Van Persie as his midfield is well stocked:
“Midfield is a different area because we have nine or ten midfielders of top-class quality. Just today we have six or seven midfielders available, plus Wilshere and Frimpong who are coming back. Diaby is available again, Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain now plays central midfield – this is an area we have much more freedom to make decisions.”
So it would seem that the loss of Song would not be as disastrous as the loss of the former captain. What I failed to understand was why a club like Barcelona would be interested in a player like Song in the first place. The answer came to me in a dream and then left me when I woke up but returned to me when I was on the tube. Anyone who followed Arsenal or indeed the Premier League would know that Van Persie scored 30 goals last season including some absolutely amazing volleys. The ones against Everton at home and away to Liverpool are of particular quality. Both of those goals came from lobed balls into the box by Song. He seemed to perfect the art of a lobed spinning ball into the penalty area from outside the box. Much like how Shane Warne could spin a cricket ball with pin point accuracy. Looking at his stats from last season Song managed 11 assists, the highest of any Arsenal player and that made him the fourth highest assist maker in the Premier League (David Silva finished top with 15 assists). Clearly there is more to Songs game then acting as a midfield enforcer.
Over in Spain Barcelona are certainly not lacking in creative midfielders but new manager Tito Vilanova is most likely trying to find players that can add another dimension to his side. Despite all the wonderful play that Barcelona produced under Guardiola he never managed to find a plan B for his side for when things were going against them. His players are so drilled and devote to their tiki-taka style of play that long balls are almost out of the question for them. Alex Song would add something different to a midfield that has a lot of fairly similar players.
Xavi, Andres Inestia and Cesc Fabregas wouldn’t feel threatened by Songs arrival, he would most likely be in direct competition with Sergio Busquets. Javier Mascherano may also feel threatened for his place in midfield but he has been used more often as a make shift defender. Busquets performs a vital role for Barcelona. He sits at the base of the midfield diamond and breaks up play and links together the defence and midfield. It was his emergence during the 2008/09 season that spelt the end of Yaya Toures time at the Nou Camp. Yet for all the dirty work that he performs he offers very little threat when he enters the final third of the pitch. This is not a criticism of him, it’s just not the type of player he is. You wouldn’t expect Nigel De Jong or Scott Parker to score over 10 goals a season. Their roles are to break up play and add protection to their defence. In 116 La Liga matches for Barcelona Busquets has managed six assists.
Song’s game is hardly perfect either. Because of his tendency to drift forward and help out in attack he can leave his defence exposed. He also became too obsessed with his spinning lob ball; at times instead of passing to a player out wide or in space he would go for the Hollywood ball wasting possession. It’s worth remembering that is only 24 years old and still has time to develop his game. Barcelona would also find him a perfect fit to their system as he comes from a club that they feel plays the game in a similar way to them. Arsenal are a side that treasure possession and set high standards for themselves trying to play the game in what Arsene Wenger would deem ‘the right way’.
Another option would be for Barcelona to set up in a similar way to the Spaninsh national side. There, Busquets played alongside Xabi Alonso who both acted as deep-lying playmakers. Busquets sat deep and allowed Alonso to venture forward like he did against France in the Quarter finals of Euro 2012 when he scored a header after running into the box unchecked. It seems unlikely that the two would start along side each other regularly as it would force Xavi higher up the pitch and he likes to run the midfield from near the half-way line. But this is still an option for Vilanova and that is what he is after, options.
Unfortunately it is now an all to common trend that Arsenal, season upon season lose one of their best players. Gunner fans must sit back at times and wonder what could have been if Wenger were able to keep a hold of his stars. Yet every season they find themselves in a position where their squad is picked apart by clubs that are ready to offer ridiculous wages. Wenger wants no part in what he sees as ‘financial doping’ of the game. In the long run he may be proved right as Arsenal are probably the best run club in England. With no debt they are in a better financial position then the rest of their Premier League rivals. With the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules about to come into effect, Arsenal are well placed to fit into the rules. But that sort of news doesn’t interest the average fan. They live in the now and really Wenger is a victim of his own success. The reason Gunners fans are so demanding is because of the high standards that he has set.
Barcelona on the other hand seems to be going from strength to strength. Even though they lost the title to Real Madrid they are still in a position to challenge for the title and are surly one of the favourites for the Champions League. A new manager should bring a new lease of life to the players who may feel they need to prove themselves all over again. We are all familiar with how they play and the club knows this. In their search for footballing perfection they want to add players that can give them an edge as well as offer something different to what is already within their squad. In Alex Song they have found such a player.