Are Arsenal over-reliant on Alex Song in attack?

Alex Song is in the midst of one of his most productive seasons at Arsenal. The Cameroon international is supposed to be the Gunners’ defensive midfielder, but has already weighed in with ten assists in the Premier League.

Much of the talk this season has centred on Arsenal being over-reliant on Robin van Persie to score the goals in their quest to finish in the Premier League’s top four.

However, are the Gunners also over-dependant on Alex Song to help their attack, when he should be allowed to focus more on defence?


Alex Song as a defensive midfielder

In Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 system, Alex Song plays at the base of the midfield two, usually with Mikel Arteta, more recently with Aaron Ramsey, but always as the defensive midfielder.

In terms of the Gunner’s defenders, the Cameroon international is right up there when it comes to winning tackles and also interceptions this season.

Successful Tackles
Per Game
Interceptions Made
Per Game
Andre Santos 3.1 2.5
Alex Song 2.8 2.0
Laurent Koscielny 2.6 2.8
Kieran Gibbs 2.3 1.7
Bacary Sagna 2.0 1.7
Thomas Vermaelen 1.7 2.4

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If we look at defenders who have featured more than 10 times in the Premier League for Arsenal, Alex Song makes the second most tackles per game behind Andre Santos.

He also fares well in interceptions, with only Andre Santos, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen making more per game.

Alex Song also features in the top ten midfielders in the Premier League for making tackles and winning a high percentage.

Successful Tackles % Of Total
Tackles
Fellaini (Everton) 83 85%
Cabaye (Newcastle) 79 70%
Allen (Swansea) 79 74%
Parker (Spurs) 76 71%
Mulumbu (WBA) 76 78%
Faurlin (QPR) 68 76%
Song (Arsenal) 66 73%
Barton (QPR) 65 70%
Carrick (Man Utd) 61 68%
Ramires (Chelsea) 61 72%

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The number of tackles a player will make depends on a number of factors; one of these is team possession. As Arsenal lead the league in ball possession, Alex Song won’t have to make as many tackles as players from teams who concede possession such as West Brom, Everton, Newcastle or QPR.

In terms of percentage of total tackles won this season, only four midfielders have been better than Alex Song. Interestingly, of the four, only Swansea (Joe Allen’s team) enjoy more than 50% of the ball in their Premier League matches. The other three players, Marouane Fellaini, Alejandro Faurlin and Josef Mulumbu, all play on teams that concede possession.

How Alex Song helps Arsenal defensively

Alex Song helps Arsenal defensively in two ways. First of all he is able to provide a line of cover in front of the defence. Secondly, he can help retrieve the ball further up the field when Arsenal are pressing the opposition or have them hemmed in.

If we take a look at some of his previous games with the help of Stats Zone we can see this in action.

Against Stoke, Alex Song makes four interceptions in front of his back four in order to help them out and win the ball back and he also makes a tackle.

Then, with Arsenal enjoying 63% possession, further up-field he makes two interceptions when Arsenal are pressuring Stoke to turn the ball over.

Alex-song-defence-vs-stoke

Alex Song helps win the ball back for Arsenal in defensive areas, but also when the Gunners are pressing the oppostion.

In the recent 0-0 draw where Chelsea came to soak up Arsenal pressure and hit the Gunners on the counter, we can see a similar thing happening.

Alex Song makes two interceptions deep in his own half to help the defence out and also two tackles as well. Chelsea concentrated 44% of their attacks down the left through Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou, hence the positioning of Song’s challenges.

With Arsenal constantly pressing a deep lying Chelsea team, Song also makes an interception up field in the Blues’ half.

Alex-song-defence-vs-chelse

Alex Song makes two interceptions and two tackles to stop Chelsea attacking down the Arsenal left.

 Alex Song going forward

This season has been one of Alex Song’s best going forward. The Cameroon international is one of the top assist providers amongst Premier League midfielders.

Key Passes Assists
Silva (Man City) 84 14
Mata (Chelsea) 89 13
Valencia (Man Utd) 49 13
Song (Arsenal) 33 10
Bale (Spurs) 73 10
Nani (Man Utd) 58 10
Sessegnon (Sunderland) 60 9
Nasri (Man City) 62 9
Walcott (Arsenal) 33 8
Giggs (Man Utd) 36 8

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Only three players have provided more assists than Alex Song from midfield this season and none have done it with as few chance-creating key passes.

While this might on the surface seem like an incredibly productive defensive midfielder, someone who is generating a ton of assists through not many key passes. Alex Song has made the most key passes of any defensive midfielder apart from Stiliyan Petrov (37), who plays for a side near the bottom of the table. Is this an indication that Arsenal are over-reliant on Alex Song to attack?

How Alex Song helps Arsenal going forward

Alex Song helps Arsenal going forward in three ways.

First of all, he can win the ball back and start an attack. Secondly, he picks the ball up from the defenders and gets it to the more creative playmakers in the Arsenal midfield. Finally, he gets up the field and is looking to play through balls in for Robin van Persie and the other attackers.

If we look at some of Gunners’ recent matches, we can see how reliant Arsenal are on Alex Song to create going forward.

Against Norwich at the weekend, Alex Song attempted 67 passes, of which 49 were successful. We can see where he picks the ball up from the defence and distributes it forward through the midfield, but he also attempts a staggering nine through balls in attack. Two of the nine are successful, one of which is for a goal by Robin van Persie from the right side of the area. Song’s lofted diagonal passes have been a source of the Dutchman’s goals on several occasions this season.

alex-song-pass-vs-norwich

Alex Song attempts 9 through balls against Norwich.

Against Stoke the weekend before, Alex Song also attempted 67 passes of which 54 were successful this time.

Again we can see how he picks up the ball from the defenders and distributes through the middle of the park trying to move it left and right. This time he attempts seven through balls in to the Stoke penalty area, of which two are successful, but none are converted.

alex-song-pass-vs-stoke

Alex Song attempts seven through balls against Stoke.

In the match with Chelsea, the Blues played a very defensive style and Alex Song picks the ball up higher in the Arsenal half as a result.

His main focus is to get the ball out to Theo Walcott on the right, but he also attempts four through balls in to the Chelsea penalty area, of which two are successful.

alex-song-pass-vs-chelsea

Alex Song attempts 4 through balls against a deep-lying Chelsea.

Just from looking at these recent games, it’s easy to see how Alex Song has ten assists in the Premier League this season. He has also attempted more through balls than any other midfielder; that’s more than David Silva, Juan Mata, Yohan Cabaye and also any other Arsenal midfielder.

Alex Song being so involved going forward is also a reason why Arsenal have been susceptible to the counter-attack this season, as Desi Gunner highlights very well here.

Song is supposed to be the Gunners’ defensive midfielder and he is very effective at this end of the pitch in gaining possession back. However, with his involvement also taking him forward, are Arsenal too over-reliant on Alex Song to attack as well?

I believe they are..

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