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After the Fulham game, Arsene Wenger indicated that he had instructed Alex Song to play further forwards this season in an effort to open up more room in midfield. General reaction around the blog-o-net seems to be that Wenger must be crazy. ‘He’s a holding midfielder! He should hold! This is why our defence is so poor!’
I don’t necessarily disagree. But how many points would you say we’ve dropped, how many points would some bloggers say we’ve dropped, on account of Song’s positioning? The answer might surprise you.
In this article, I’m going to review all the times when we’ve dropped points this year. For each goal we’ve conceded in those matches, I’ve looked at the videos I could find and tried to determine if Song’s positioning was at fault or not. The goal is to see whether Song’s forward play has actually led to us dropping points this year.
In order to avoid nitpicking, I’ve made the following rule: if I can’t see where the goal came from (as is the case with some free kicks whose highlights begin and end with the goal and don’t show the buildup), I’ve assumed the goal was directly as a result of Song getting caught too far forwards. This way, the number that comes out should be as bad as possible.
I’ll keep a running Song Positioning Total through the article. After each game, I’ll try and see how many points Song’s forward positioning has cost us this year.
1-0. Overconfident passing in our defending third and sub-awesome goalkeeping leads to two points dropped. Song’s positioning? Not at fault.
I think most of us would agree that this one mostly sits on Almunia’s shoulders, right?
1-0 For the first goal you can see Song sitting right in front of the back four like we’d prefer the entire time. Maybe he should track the run, but the problem clearly isn’t his getting caught too far upfield. Song’s positioning: Not at fault.
2-0 He should probably do better here to track Jara’s run but I don’t think you can say it’s a question of positioning, just switching off at the wrong time. Song’s positioning: Not at fault.
3-0 In the highlight I watched (arsenalist.com) you can’t see Song anywhere in the clip. Farcical goalkeeping, of course. But since I promised to hold him accountable if I couldn’t tell, here I am. Song’s positioning: at fault (by default).
1-0 Don’t think you can fault Song here–Cole’s run isn’t tracked by Nasri, Drogba pulls a wonderful finish from nowhere for the first. Song’s positioning: Not at fault.
2-0 Free kick from Alex. I haven’t been able to find a highlight showing where the free kick came from. So if we assume he’s guilty, that’s a goal on his account. Song’s positioning: at fault. But can you honestly claim we were getting point there?
I think you have to say he’s earned us two points here by getting forwards in a game headed for 0-0. Song’s positioning: earned two points.
1-0 Goal came from a FK won nicely in the air by Carroll. On MOTD you can see that Song’s caught a little forwards from where he ought to be. He puts in a decent tackle on Tiote/Ameobi but Gutierrez gets in good position and wins the FK off Sagna. This seems like our first actual candidate for a point dropped clearly because Song got forwards. Song’s positioning: possibly at fault.
1-0 Ridiculous. Ball played into the heart of D—wouldn’t have been Song’s position anyways, just bad work from CBs. Song’s positioning: not at fault.
2-0 Song’s fair tackle -> terrible free kick -> bad decision by Cesc -> penalty. Song was in the exact right place on the pitch, just got whistled for a good tackle. Song’s positioning: not at fault.
3-0 Kaboul’s flick from a free kick on the right. As I recall, Koscielny was skinned by Bale and brought him down. I can’t find fantastic video evidence for this one, though. Lots of clips, few conclusive about where Song was or where he should have been. Assuming it was his fault even though Koscielny gave away the kick, even though the kick was on the right flank where Song doesn’t play. Song: At fault.
Braga and Shakhtar away have been omitted because Song didn’t play in either of them.
Season SPT: -1
Of the 10 goals we’ve conceded this season in games where we’ve dropped points and Song has played, a maximum of four of those goals can be attributed to Song’s attacking positioning. One of these goals, and this one is indeterminate, came in the dying minutes of a match (Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal) most supporters would agree we weren’t taking points from anyways.
The root causes of two of the goals (Arsenal 2-3 West Brom and Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham) are difficult to determine from the available videos (if anyone has MOTD taped from these games and can tell me what happened, I’d be very appreciative). In the worst-case-scenario, in which both of these mystery goals are directly given up because of Song’s positioning, these goals constitute two points dropped.
For only one of these goals (Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle) is there direct video evidence available that Song is caught too far forwards. We can definitively say that at home against Newcastle Song’s forward positioning cost us 1 point. Although even then the goal required a foul by Sagna, poor marking, an excellent free kick, and a poor effort from Fabianski. Combined with the worst-case-scenario against Tottenham and WBA, this is a total of 3 points dropped.
But most supporters would agree that Song earned us 2 points against West Ham with his diving header. So even under the most critical possible lens—assuming Song’s positioning led to ALL unclear goals we’ve given up while dropping points—Song’s positioning has cost us a total of 1 point this season. But I think that further examination/better videos would likely reveal that the Tottenham goal was not up to Song’s positioning. In that case, his forwards play has been a wash.
I won’t deny that his forwards play has led to some hairy situations—yellow cards for him and sometimes his teammates, free kicks given away in bad positions, some bad times for the centre backs. It’s possible Song should start holding all match every match. But a review of the available video evidence shows that what Wenger has asked him to do has had a net effect on our points total somewhere between +1 (if you choose to not believe Song’s positioning was at fault for the WBA and Spurs goals) and -1 (if you choose to believe Song’s positioning was directly at fault for these goals).
Troubling to lose a point, certainly. And his positioning might have something to do with the defence seeming frail to watch, something to do with elevated heart rates among Arsenal supporters. But I don’t think you can make a very strong case that the manager’s instructions have been crippling our season. After all…we’re top of the league.
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