It is heartening to see Arsene Wenger’s unsentimental reaction to Alex Song’s latent courting of interest from Barcelona and other rivals. So used to having to beg players who invariably display a lack of regard for the loyalty he has shown them to stay, he is finally adopting a business-like approach to hiring and firing that recognises Arsenal will no longer be held hostage by any one player. The club ably demonstrated that it could move past the feared ravaging effect of Cesc Fabregas’s loss last year, and that has rightly emboldened them to play hardball with wantaway players this summer.
Song’s betrayal of Wenger’s faith in him was apparent long before he encouraged the advances of Barcelona in the way that he constantly shirked the holding midfield duty Wenger had asked him to perform on the field. Arsenal were roundly mocked for their defensive troubles last season, but that was to ignore how much an attacking 4-3-3 system relied on the holding midfielder protecting the back four to be successful. Much like Sergio Busquets for Barcelona, Wenger would have instructed Song to stay in position to shield an exposed defence whenever Arsenal lost the ball up the field in recognition of the fact that the repurcussions of the holding midfielder neglecting his duty in their system would be far worse than for most teams. Instead Song’s insatiable lust to play the killer pass often contributed to starting opponents’ lethal counter-attacks, while his willfull indiscipline in straying from his position meant that Arsenal’s defenders were often deserted and made to look more silly than they deserved by the goals they conceded. Furthermore his desire to keep the ball to himself for a few additional seconds, while well-executed, displayed a lack of understanding that Arsenal’s possession game required quick exchanges to ensure that the opposition did not settle into premeditated defensive positions and blunt their attacking edge. As a player whose conversion from a central defender to a holding midfielder revealed his footballing intelligence, these acts of sabotage against Wenger and Arsenal’s plans can only have stemmed from a desire to indulge his tendency to do as he pleases overriding his sense of duty to the team.
In the context of enduring such frustration from a player whose position holds the key to so much of Arsenal’s success, it is no wonder that Song’s calm willingness to consider a future away from Arsenal is approaching something teeteringly close to a final straw for Wenger. Financially too, it would make no sense to allow Song to use external interest to hold the club to ransom for a contract once his current one expires in 2015 or to follow Nasri and van Persie in attempting to walk away from the club for free. The new Wenger, hardened by his experiences with three key players who have deserted him in the last twelve months, has finally come to view the transfer market as a means of strengthening the club rather than a destabilising act. If Barcelona follow through with their interest on Alex Song, it will provide Arsenal the funds to go after a different player with a greater sense of team responsibility, whose embracing of the holding midfield role would finally allow them to negotiate the thin margin of error allowed by their system between attack and defence.