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In recent weeks there has been much talk about the emergence of Abou Diaby in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield. People have argued the Frenchman’s power and supposed strength in tackling have added steel to the Gunners' attacking flair.
Anybody who believes that Arsenal’s midfield resilience is down to Diaby should watch the first 24 minutes of today’s contest against Wolves.
It was the Wanderers who were making the early strides at the Molineux as the home side answered Mick McCarthy’s rallying call to get at the Arsenal defence. The visitors were on the back foot. William Gallas collected a yellow card for a clinical foul on Kevin Doyle as the Irishman broke down the left flank.
Then Diaby picked up an injury and was replaced by Cameroonian Alex Song. The difference in Arsenal’s play after his introduction was stark.
It’s not as simple as saying Song provides a shield to the back four. His positional awareness is excellent and he is comfortable on the ball under pressure. His reading of the game enables him to turn, create space, and pick a pass that allows his team-mates to break on the opposition.
He doesn’t even sit in front of the back four; it was Song who had pushed up the pitch to win possession in the Wolves half that resulted in Eduardo scoring in the 35th minute—via Jody Craddock’s head, of course.
Song contributes in the final third in an attacking sense as well, he picked out a lovely cross-field pass to find Robin Van Persie late in the game, and he played a perfectly weighted pass to Eduardo before his withdrawal that the Croatian should have finished.
The talking point after the game may way be Arsenal’s stunning attacking play, or even a slight note of concern that they gave away a cheap goal on a set-piece again, but make no mistake, Alex Song’s remarkable performances in central midfield provides the platform for the Gunners' explosive play.
Despite injuries to Theo Walcott, Carlos Vela, and Nicklas Bendtner; Arsene Wenger was able to call on Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky as attacking reinforcements, bringing both players off the bench late in the game.
Who does Wenger have to replace Alex Song? It’s a question the Arsenal manager will have to find an answer for in January as Song departs for the African Cup of Nations.
There is a certain Brazilian waiting in the wings, but will he have the same influence as the magnificent Cameroonian?