Alex Song had lovers and haters.
I was inclined to suspect that those who hated him were influenced by the current gaming culture, a culture that admits the penchant to judge players on the fantastic level, which this context engenders.
In this wise, players are mere pawns and the sum of their rating in this gaming environment. At any rate, the very nature of this environment exerts limits on what players can and cannot do.
Thus, a defensive midfielder is just that and anything that sunders this limited understanding is sufficient enough a reason to "downgrade" a player.
This isn't to say that those who didn't appreciate Song's game were all gamers. Such a conclusion would be too simplistic. There are those who truly want their defensive midfielder to limit himself to this basic role.
This is fair enough, and there's nothing wrong in supposing this of a defensive midfielder.
What is necessary, though, is the need to base one's conclusion (on whatever role) within the context of Arsenal's and Arsène Wenger's approach to football.
The basis of Arsenal's game is offense. Getty Images.
Here's what he said recently in regard to this very point:
"Don’t forget that the basis of our team is a very offensive philosophy. So sometimes, if we concede goals in the future, it will not be Steve Bould’s fault. It will only be a consequence of the way we see football."
The basis of Arsenal's football is going forward (offense). It is the reason Arsenal's midfielders are, by and large, offensively minded, the reason Song tended to go forward, even though he was Arsenal's primary holding midfielder.
In fact, Wenger's comments on the player in the 2010-11 season were to this effect. This was the season, the reader would recall, that Song scored the most goals for Arsenal.
To therefore hate Song's game solely because of his penchant to go forward is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of Arsenal's approach to the game.
I was thus very appreciative of a certain reader, who, as I can tell, is very tactically astute, admitted that he leans heavily towards a defensive midfielder who is basically defensive, but that he has come to realize that Arsenal’s game is built on the basic fundamental of going forward, and that, therefore, Arsenal's defensive midfielders are rarely to be seen simply staying back.
This man was able to separate personal preference from his team's preference and, thus, could appreciate a player who is not his prototype of a defensive midfielder. This is a mark of a good reader of the game.
For those who said Song was (or is) a brute who depended (or depends) on brawn rather than brains, these people I can safely dismiss. Their bias is strident enough. Only a blind man can accuse Song of not possessing brains or of being a brute tackler.
But why Alex Song, since this article isn't about him?
Mikel Arteta has become indispensable to Arsenal. Getty Images
Song is the bridge to the fundamental point of this article.
Song's departure was triggered by the return of Abou Diaby. This return, though, should have added depth to Arsenal's squad instead of serving as a sufficient necessity.
It is this very fact that has disturbed me about Song's sale.
You want to see depth in every one of Arsenal's departments: Holding midfield, box-to-box, attacking midfield, and in other specific areas in the three divisions of the team—defense, midfield, and attack.
When last season I wrote articles about the need for an attacking midfielder, those who dismissed this call did so on the basis of the fact that we have several midfielders, but what they failed to realize is the fact that "several midfielders" doesn't equal to specificity of roles.
That is, it didn't mean that we had sufficient box-to-box players or attacking midfielders, as the case may be. I emphasized the fact that, though we did possess a number of midfielders, we were lacking in qualitative, attacking ones, even if the ones we did have had the potential to be so.
Potential is a future prospect and hardly meets your urgent and present need. Since the signing of Santi Cazorla, those who did not see the point of my concern have now realized that I had a point.
Attacking midfield was indeed the glue we needed to sharpen our goal-creation ability. If I should hazard to sound my own trumpet, then, I should say that my conclusions and assertions aren't reached or made haphazardly, but are products of deep thought and good understanding of the game.
Depth is the reason why I think the current team is weak in the defensive midfield position.
Yes, we have Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong, but aside from the fact that Frimpong is only now returning from injury and might not be available (or fit enough) for the next six weeks, both these players aren't at a point where we can say they are mature enough for the big games.
Coquelin tends still to give the ball away at dangerous positions and still tends to be beaten rather easily.
You want these two weaknesses to surface rather rarely in your defensive midfielder.
A recent example of the first weakness resulted in Chelsea conceding an equalizing goal from Juventus in the two teams' Champions League encounter this week when Mikel Obi gave away possession in a dangerous area.
The latter example nearly led to the concession of an equalizing goal by Arsenal themselves at Montpellier when Coquelin was easily beaten, with our salvation coming only in the fact that the Montpellier attacker (Younès Belhanda, I believe) fired straight at Vito Manonne.
Indeed, then, we have potential at the holding midfield position, and granted that one must give room for this potential to blossom, but potential, like I observed above, isn't the sufficiency of the now.
You want to be equal to or to be head and shoulders above your rival right now in every one of your team's departments. You want to match the Manchester Citys, the Chelseas, the Real Madrids, the Barcelonas, stride for stride right now, not tomorrow.
This is what will ensure your success in your quest for trophies and titles. This is why I'd have preferred Song to stay, since he was, for all intents and purposes, our primary holding midfielder.
Now Mikel Arteta has been converted to this role, and, of course, he is discharging the duty required of this role splendidly.
What sorts of backups does he have? Potentials, not quality that has already blossomed, and this has been the hallmark of Arsenal in these seven years of trophy drought.
You want to see a change, if indeed we are in the process of transiting from the building years to a new era of consolidation.
If Arteta were to get injured, Arsenal's quality in defensive midfield would drop rather considerably, and this might affect the team's trophy and title challenge.
Cazorla has become a very effective part of the current Arsenal team. Getty Images.
In attacking midfield, were Cazorla to get injured, you'd be left with Aaron Ramsey, who at the moment isn't as reliable and as consistent as Cazorla is. You'd have Tomáš Rosický, who is good, but is out and, at any rate, injury-prone.
Again, this means a drop in quality for Arsenal.
In the box-to-box role, any injury to Diaby admits a similar problem as in the scenarios above. True, we could move Arteta to this role, but then this would only transfer the problem to the defensive midfield position.
Neither Coquelin nor Ramsey is good at the box-to-box role, nor for that matter, is Rosický. The only other option is Jack Wilshere, who isn’t yet back from injury, even if he is poised to do so. Even so, none can guarantee that he'd recover his former form immediately.
We see, again, that any injury or loss of form to our principal players would result in a considerable drop in the team's quality. In other words, the present team isn't deep enough, and you need depth to retain a realistic chance of winning any major competition.
Lack of depth, again, has been Arsenal's Achilles' heel in the past seven years. It is for this very reason that I have been opposed to and perplexed at the Song sale, even if right now I'm adjusted to it. You'd realize, though, that this point isn't tied to the person of Song per se.
I put down the sacrifice of depth that Song's sale engendered to Abou Diaby's return. Without anticipating that this would happen, I do not believe that Wenger would have sold Song.
There's, of course, the latent potential in both Coquelin and Frimpong, which we've acknowledged in the foregoing, but I'd rather err on the side of depth than on the side of potential, insofar as our goal is to generate real impact on all our competitive fronts.
Think, then, that had Diaby's return been delayed by a few weeks, Song would still be at Arsenal and this fear about depth in quality (as opposed to in potential) wouldn't be an issue.
To sum up, then, it is by reason of this rationale that I say Wilshere's absence might turn out to be a positive thing for Arsenal.
I doubt that we would have been blessed by Cazorla's presence were Wilshere available to play at the beginning of the current season. I believe, rather, that Wenger would have reasoned that there'd be no need for a new midfielder.
Wilshere and Frimpong are poised to return soon. Getty Images.
Such reasoning wouldn't be unsound, but it'd rob of us of the quality that Cazorla brings to our team, a quality that only multiplies when Wilshere returns.
Whereas had Wilshere been available, the luxury of having another player of great quality in reserve would exist for us only in the realm of imagination and fantasy.
Quality in depth rather than merely in potential, I'm convinced, has a strong bearing on winning trophies and titles.
For this reason, I'm thankful that although Wilshere is returning, his return has not prevented the signing of a needed and very gifted midfielder.
Unfortunately, the welcome return of Abou Diaby has prevented such abundance in the holding or the box-to-box position.
This isn't to imply that Arsenal cannot rise to the demand and the challenge that this season's competitions pose. To say this would be to demonstrate lack of belief.
Belief is a quality I have in abundance. The above, then, is an examination of certain principles that fans, like myself, can explore and analyze should they choose to, and what is fandom if we don’t explore and analyze?
Read my take on the Montpellier match here.