Watching Leeds United is a great passion of mine. As a young boy I used to go to many a game on the Elland Road terraces watching my heroes – Radebe, Deane, Yeboah, Dorigo – battle it out against the big gu…oh, wait. What I mean to say, is I love watching Leeds lose.
On Wednesday they did just that. By playing 90 minutes like it was the final 5 (in a similar way Liverpool and Newcastle do), with little calmness or build-up, they allowed Arsenal to quietly control the game. Johnson and Howson were bullish in midfield, with the former scoring a screamer before half-time, but they were no match for the Gunners, driven by the tenacity and strength of their central dynamo, Alex Song.
For many Arsenal fans, Song has been a slow-burner. Since joining on loan from Bastia in 2005, he’s had to work hard to cement a first-team place. In his first three seasons, along with a spell at Charlton Athletic, he only played 27 times. Operating more as a utility player he filled in at centre-backa handful of times, most notably for Kolo Toure.
This season however, he’s really broken through. He now seems capable of controlling the game; covering the centre-backs, or driving a counter-attack. In truth he’s the perfect foil for any of Arshavin, Walcott, Fabregas or van Persie.
But Wenger hasn’t always been confident of playing Song in the middle. For the last two seasons, both Diaby and Denilson have muscled with Song for the central midfield berth. But where Denilson literally lacks the muscle, Song is built for the job. In the apparently misquoted comments from Denilson last week, it was suggested Arsenal lacked a leader. In an interview with a Brazilian TV station, Denilson argued;
“I think that we lack leadership and without leadership we can’t move forward. You can walk forward a bit but then the same thing that’s happened will happen again. These things make us very sad but I don’t see a player at Arsenal who is a real leader. I can’t see a single one. Even if Fábregas is the captain, but he is not a leader to me.”
But whilst Denilson was busy apologizing to Cesc in the build-up to the Leeds game, he omitted to extend an olive branch to others in the Arsenal squad. Most notable by his absence, was surely Alex Song himself. Certainly Fábregas and van Persie, in their official roles as captain and vice-captain are obliged to be leaders, instill confidence, and motivate team-mates. But when both have struggled with injury and the former with rumours of moving back to Spain, surely the most settled and consistent individuals should help out too?
Song fits the role. Moreover, since Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva, Arsenal have looked weak without a box-to-box enforcer. His goals against West Ham and Chelsea this season were invaluable in Arsene’s attempts to win some silverware, and more than justify his place in the team. With 20 first team starts this season (compared to Diaby’s 7 and Denilson’s 4) Arsenal have benefited greatly.
In truth, despite my housemate insisting of Song’s greatness, mainly courtesy of the Alan Davies song (below), I have never paid much attention to him. But, with a striking bleached hair and beard combo, I decided to take notice. In the last FwB I made reference to both Djibril Cisse and Abel Xavier. Both have a penchant for bleaching their facial hair. Neither I particularly rate.
But Song has some class, not least because his wife said he should ditch the dreadlocks. Quite possibly this also had something to do with his cousin, the legendary Rigobert Song (or ‘uncle’ as he prefers to call him), who’s disastrous attempt at the bleached hair/beard combo, might have put him off combining the two. But if anyone can teach Alex a thing or two about being a leader it’s the “Big Chief”, and maybe then, Denilson will take note.