Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song Personify the Meaning of Having Guts
Arsenal versus Wigan, December 2008.
Fulham versus Arsenal, November 2006.
Both games had differing results. In the first, Arsenal beat Wigan 1-0 at the Emirates while the second saw the Gunners lose 2-1 to Fulham at Craven Cottage.
However, both tell an underlying story of the cliche villains to heroes tale as the two games represented the lowest point in the careers of two Arsenal players. This was taken to such a point that many fans thought they would never see Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song play in an Arsenal shirt again following these games.
Against Wigan in 2008, Emmanuel Eboue was a first half substitute for Samir Nasri as Arsenal played out a tense game at the Emirates.
The season was a bad one for Arsenal where they played catch-up to Aston Villa for most of the season, although they would surpass them handsomely at season's end for the final Champions League spot.
In the game against Wigan, Arsenal went ahead in the first half thanks to an Emmanuel Adebayor strike. However, the result was far from secured.
Chances weren't being created and those that were were rarely on target.
Events were tense in the second half and despite all the team not being up to scratch, Eboue was pinpointed as most likely to give away a goal.
He misplaced passes, mistimed tackles, was lazy on the pitch and in a moment of madness took the ball from team-mate Kolo Toure and passed it to a Wigan player who set up a counter-attack.
Arsene Wenger was getting increasingly anxious on the sideline, and with only minutes left on the clock he replaced Eboue with Mikael Silvestre.
A sub had been subbed—and the crowd cheered ironically and jeered the Ivory Coast international off the pitch. He went down the tunnel in tears.
Arsenal won the game 1-0 but all the talk was about Eboue.
In the wake of the game, many fans e-mailed the club to apologise for their actions.
On forums and Internet blogs, the debate raged.
A hefty percentage claimed they were jeering Arsene Wenger for bringing on an Emmanuel Eboue who, not only had had been out of action for several weeks, but was also played in the left side of midfield. This was alien to the right back come right midfielder.
Others said they were right to boo Eboue as he could have cost his team the three points.
The Ivory Coast man has often being pinpointed as a "boo boy" for Arsenal fans who tire of his theatrics and rash tackles which have often seen him sent off.
The game against Wigan was seen as the straw that broke the camel's back and many didn't expect to see Eboue back.
Neither did the player himself : "I felt very down after the game against Wigan. I was feeling sick and I did not even want to come back to training. I would never wish what I went through on anybody."
Someone who could probably second his feelings is fellow Gunner, Alex Song.
In 2006, the then 19-year-old started in midfield for Wenger's charges against Fulham. It was another off day for Arsenal and the Cameroon player felt the brunt of the travelling fans angst. Like, Eboue he was roundly booed.
At half time he disappeared with his team-mates down the tunnel, he wouldn't reappear for the second half.
Following the game, Wenger sent him on loan to Charlton for the rest of the season and many were definite this was the last they had seen of Alex Song.
However, Arsenal fans were to see Eboue and Song again, and again, and again in the famous red and white.
Up to the beginning of 2009 many weren't happy, both players were often the first to appear on "Who Should We Sell?" lists.
What a difference a few months can make.
Now, fans sing that "We've only got one Song" and chant that Eboue "comes from Africa, he's better than Kaka."
The latter may be tongue in cheek, but there is no doubting Eboue has changed opinions.
So what has happened?
Try a little graft and a little belief.
Following the Wigan game, Eboue was sent off for two silly yellow cards against fierce rivals Spurs.
Once again, the fans were on Eboue's back. However, large credit must be given to the player who admitted his faults and apologised to the fans for seeing red. He vowed to work hard and make the fans love him.
Judging by last Saturday's game against Sunderland, he is well on his way.
Starting at right back in place of Bacary Sagna, Eboue tormented the Sunderland defence and his determination helped him find Nicklas Bendtner unmarked in the box to tap home.
For the 87 minutes he was on the pitch, Eboue was Arsenal's best player. He worked tirelessly, crossed well, and none of his usual theatrics were evident.
He is once again a very good option, at not only right back, but also the right side of midfield.
At times he is missing a radar and often runs like a headless chicken, but his heart and endeavour to give 100 percent has endeared him to Arsenal fans.
His hard work has been mirrored by Alex Song.
Towards the end of last season, Song's presence in the heart of Arsenal's midfield increased dramatically.
He became more assured of his role in the team and shows no fear in facing any opposition.
Song is willing to get stuck in, which Arsenal often lack, and has also chipped in with his fair share of goals.
His more assured performances have allowed Cesc Fabregas more freedom to do what he does best.
Unlike in previous seasons where their departures mightn't have raised a blip on the radar, this January's African Cup of Nations saw Arsenal fans bemoan the loss of Alex Song in particular.
Both players are not the best in their position when the whole League is taken into consideration; however, they are right up there.
Arsene Wenger kept faith in both players when the fans didn't want to, the players must be credited for grasping the opportunity.
Perhaps all is not lost for Lukasz Fabianski and Theo Walcott. Both have not been booed by Arsenal fans but certainly have come in for their fair share (rightfully) of criticism lately.
If Eboue and Song can recoup from worse, surely if Fabianski and Walcott have the talent they can do the same?
It can be considered all in a day's work for a footballer to get grief from his own fans, but to recoup from thousands of your fans booing your name takes some guts.
Let's just hope they keep up the good work, for then the nice chants will follow.
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