Monday, April 26, 2010

Song as a centre-back?

"He has not the reflexes at the moment. He has the capacity to play there but we have seen against Barcelona and once or twice that he has not the reflexes yet. He needs to practise two or three weeks in there to have all the knowledge of the game."

- Arsene Wenger, contemplating Alex Song as a central defender

Arsene Wenger doesn't believe Alex Song is a centre-back. I tend to agree. We saw in the Barcelona game that he's a bit tactically naive when he's confronted with a withdrawn striker; he tends to get sucked upfield and make us vulnerable to the long ball down the middle. Personally, I think it's a waste to turn him into a proper centre-back. I think he has the potential to be great as a deep-seating defensive midfielder who covers for the marauding runs of our centre backs. If we need another centre-back, I'd like us to buy another one.

I read an article from Zonal Marking the other day, about how the popularisation of the 4-3-3 will eventually lead to a 3-man defence, with the full backs pushed up to wing-back positions, the two centre-backs pushing wide to cover the flanks, and a central defensive midfielder dropping deeper to act as a sweeper/third centre back.

The interesting point the author made was that each of the top 3 English teams already have a prototype defensive midfielder/sweeper/centre-back. Chelsea have Jon Obi Mikel. Man Utd have Michael Carrick. And the Arsenal have Alexandre Song Billong. Each of these teams already play a variation of 4-3-3 (okay Chelsea's got a diamond 4-4-2, but the way they run it makes it almost 4-3-3). So it looks like the top English managers have all started preparing for this tactical switch.

The other interesting thing is that we've two possible Song back-ups in Havard Nordtveit and Johann Djourou. They're both ball-playing centre-backs with a tasete for playing in midfield. Djourou even fancies himself as a defensive midfielder first, and a centre-back second. Of course it might just be coincidence. Arsene Wenger likes his ball-playing defenders, after all. But still if you consider the Arsenal back line 5 years' from now could be Gibbs - Vermaelen - Djouoru - Sagna, with Song or Nordtveit as our deep-lying DM, you can definitely see the potential for that line-up morphing into a back 3 with wing-backs.

It means we'll need a centre-midfield pairing with more defensive discipline than the one we have now. It may mean that Diaby and Denilson make way for Ramsey and Eastmond, with Cesc or Nasri deployed as the attacking midfielder. Our current wingers would tuck into the middle, so maybe the conversion of Theo Walcott to a striker will come to fruition with this formation. Arshavin will be long gone by then, but maybe Vela or Wellington will be able to replace him. And Nicky "Best Player In The World" Bendtner will lead the line, of course.

So it's an interesting idea, the gradual conversion of our 4-3-3 into a 3-4-3. Of course, it's only speculation, and much will depend on the success of Barca's 4-2-4 and Brazil's 4-2-3-1, with their reliance on withdrawn strikers and players rushing forward from deep. But it may happen, and if it happens, it's interesting that we already have the players at Arsenal to make the transition.

Of course, it could be that Wenger wants to turn Song into a centre-back purely to avoid spending money to buy another centre-back. If so, he can jump off a bridge. I want better players at Arsenal, not another season of Silvestre and the annual disintegration of our defence through injuries.

Oh, and the really alarming thing about Wenger's quote is that he seems to think that 2 or 3 weeks' practice will give Song all the knowledge he needs in the game. If everything Arsenal can teaches about defence can be taught in 2 or 3 weeks, we're seriously fucked. It's quite a disturbing insight into Wenger's attitudes towards the science of defending. What happened to the Arsene Wenger who appreciated defence and said:

Anyway, on my 362nd last day of my 20s, I attended a barbecue (with the watermelon and BBQ sauce), was made to dance like a chump with another guy for 10 seconds, was given fashion advice by our ex-fashion model pastor (straight-cut jeans, hair product and fitted tops or shirts), and learnt a few more fun facts about the dating preferences of the girl of my dreams (make her laugh, be direct, take it slow). Damn, she's gorgeous. Makes me wish that the 358th last day of my 20s would come around ASAP.

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