Possible Song departure marks a changing of the guard at Arsenal



So the summer’s most tedious transfer saga is ending with Robin Van Persie set to a complete a move to Manchester United for what The Guardian reports as £23m. Within hours of the announcement, The Daily Mail reported that Barcelona representatives were in London to complete the signing of Alex Song. While Van Persie’s departure has long been inevitable, it is the transfer of Song, who has seemingly been willingly let go by Arsene Wenger that is arguably of greater interest.

The departure of Song, so often described as one of Wenger’s “projects” following his inauspicious start to his Arsenal career, arguably signals the end of Wenger’s third Arsenal team that emerged in the post-Invincibles era at the Emirates. Gone for one reason or another are some of the mainstays of a team that despite much hope, hype and expectation ultimately failed to deliver a trophy. Alexander Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue and even fringe players such as Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner – names that burst onto the scene with their youthful verve, threatening to win honours are now names of the past. Add Song and Van Persie to that list and the transformation appears to be complete.

In their place, the starting squad for Saturday’s Premier League opener v Sunderland will carry the experienced names of Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Andre Santos, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Of course, youthful promise in the classic Wenger mould remains in the likes of Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while members of the previous team (Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby) still remain. However, as John Cross from The Mirror suggests, Wenger’s philosophy has changed and he is “building a team (that) can challenge for trophies”. The names and indeed the ages of the squad speak for themselves. Gone are the callow days when Wenger’s team would consistently buckle under a Bolton or Stoke onslaught until the likes of Fabregas, Song and Van Persie, still in their early 20s toughened up. Can anyone imagine Podolski, with over 100 caps for Germany or Arteta, aged 30, being unable to mix it physically?

The decision seemingly taken by Wenger personally to sell Song thus serves as an epoch moment in his time at Arsenal. The 24 year old struggled in his early days at the club, unable to hold down a regular position and coming under fire from the fans yet emerged as a starter and caught the eye last season, albeit with his creativity rather than his defensive work. It certainly comes as a surprise that Wenger would be so willing to let him depart for a rather meagre fee (£17m according to The Daily Mail). Has 49 goals conceded last season finally alerted Wenger that an attacking “defensive” midfielder such as Song is insufficient for a possible title challenge? It’s been suggested that Song’s forays forward were under the instruction of Wenger himself as he saw his team struggle to break down deep defences, particularly after Fabregas’ departure but the decision has clearly been taken that without Van Persie and with Cazorla now taking up the creative mantle, keeping Song, a defensive midfield who did not like to defend, was unnecessary. Yann M’Villa has long been mooted as an Arsenal target and as a battle hardened, pure holding midfield, he would provide the perfect antidote to the chasms that Song left open in the middle of the park.

Perhaps the major point behind Song however is that for all the talent that is clearly there, the 24 year old Cameroonian, like so many of his team-mates who have since departed, seemed to lack the mental fortitude to get over the finishing line. In many a big match, Song has often been one of the biggest culprits as the Gunners collapsed. The Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham saw one of Song produce one of his worst “performances” for the club as he proved to be totally anonymous; out-thought and out-fought by Birmingham’s pedestrian midfield of Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer. Similarly, it is ironic that Barcelona find Song so appealing as his performances for Arsenal against Barca in recent years resembled a headless chicken. Perhaps Wenger has finally come to the belief that most came to long ago, that players such as Song were simply incapable of producing when it mattered for Arsenal and that rather than place his trust in such inexperience, proven winners such as Cazorla provide the way back to success for the Gunners.

Adam Mazrani @AMazrani

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