Every preview for Arsenal’s season mentions their need for a battling central midfielder, someone who can guide them from the middle of the park. This is perhaps nostalgia of the time Patrick Vieira was proving himself to be one of the best players in the world in this position. Until he came along, Roy Keane had been the number one enforcer, intimidating everyone who came within 10 feet. Vieira showed he was more than his match and did it with an elegance completely befitting a team featuring such technical players as Bergkamp and Overmars.
After Vieira left, Gilberto Silva stepped in. He was a similar type of player to Vieira, able to break up attacks and play smart balls which would push the team forward quickly. He was eventually replaced (at first because injury) by Mathieu Flamini, who after a few seasons as a utility player got his chance in the middle of the park, and took it with both hands. He was a different type of player, able to track back and tackle, but he played higher up the pitch – where he used his great shot and which he scored with on many occasions – but did not have the strong, athletic build of the others. His breakthrough season, 2007/08, saw Arsenal seriously challenge for the title, reaching at least the quarter-finals of all competitions and setting a club record of 28 games unbeaten. Their midfield during this campaign was Flamini and Cesc Fabregas, both 5’10” with medium build – not exactly what you would call a powerhouse midfield. Last season, Manchester United won the title with players such as Michael Carrick, Anderson and Paul Scholes playing in this position, none of which you would ever call a battling midfielder. Tactically-minded, passing midfielders are just as useful as an enforcer.
So, is there a need for Arsenal to recruit a strong defensive midfielder? The answer is no, it is not essential. They already have enough midfielders that can pass their way out of trouble and will – hopefully for Arsenal fans – be getting to the point where they can show the tactical awareness needed to be successful there. But the good news for the Gunners is they already have one midfielder who can both battle and play his way around the park. Alexandre Song was one of the revelations for Arsenal of last season.
Able to play as a central defender (where for his country Cameroon he has won massive plaudits) or a defensive midfielder – where he proved he could hold his own. If injury had not ravaged Arsenal’s attack last season it is quite possible his performances in the team would be remembered more fondly. He is strong and quick with a large frame, with the maturity to control Arsenal’s games from the middle. He is not your archetypal 22-year old – already married with two children. A troubled childhood forced him to mature quickly, and this could give him the composure to really dominate for Arsenal over the coming seasons. If he is chosen to partner Fabregas this season (although this is in no way certain as Abou Diaby, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere will also be fighting for a place) it could make all the current pining for a new Vieira – or even for the old Vieira – seem like a huge waste of time.