Pitch-perfect Song striking the right notes
West Ham United 0
Published 01/11/2010 | 05:00
Aside from the bleached-blond hair, there is little that instantly stands out about Alex Song.
Among team-mates renowned for their intricate and often complicated patterns of passing, Song's value derives from the understated simplicity of his style.
Yet with the exception of Cesc Fabregas, his influence has grown to the point where it is doubtful whether there is another player more assured of his place in the Arsenal team.
Arsene Wenger says he cannot think of a more improved Premier League player and it is also clear that Song is still getting better.
Having evolved from a centre-back to one of the league's very best holding midfielders, Song has suddenly begun to contribute regular goals.
Saturday's headed winner against West Ham was his third in consecutive games and, given Chelsea's victory at Blackburn, unquestionably the most important.
"Maybe he will finish as a centre-forward," joked Wenger. "He sees there is massive competition in midfield and that helps. You have Diaby, Denilson, Wilshere, Ramsey and Nasri can play in there.
"We've had so many good players who have become exceptional here and, at the moment, Song is moving forward.
"He is now a good trainer but this was not always the case. That's why he has improved. He was less mobile before. Since he has more stamina capacity, he is on the move straight away when we win the ball. If his timing is good, he arrives at the right moment in the box.
"Chelsea are super-favourites now but, if we can keep in touch until the second part of the season, we have a chance."
Song's wife, Olivia, had told him before the match that he would score and her encouragement has also inspired the drastic change in hair colour.
He explained: "My wife said to me, 'You need to change your hair because you look like every other player'.
"My wife and children are where my inspiration comes from. I told them it was their goal. I am more mature now and more confident. When you play in one team for a long time, with the best manager in the world, you want to give your best every day.
"When I came to Arsenal, I was just 17 years old. Today I am 23. I am more mature now and can learn every single day."
Song's contribution was all the more impressive given that he played the final 20 minutes with a shin injury. His leg required treatment immediately after the match and he was unable to walk properly as he left the Emirates.
Captain Fabregas is another significant doubt for the Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday after playing the full 90 minutes despite a tight hamstring.
Both players will be assessed today, but Fabregas clearly felt significantly restricted and described his performance in the first half as his worst for Arsenal.
Yet West Ham also deserved considerable credit for the way they negated Fabregas -- as well as Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh -- and prevented them from inflicting their usual attacking damage.
With England general manager Franco Baldini watching, Scott Parker and Robert Green were excellent for the visitors.
Green, who returned to the most recent England squad following his World Cup ordeal, could feel particularly aggrieved to be on the losing team after making five outstanding saves before Arsenal's late winner.
The problem for West Ham, however, is that the weekend's results have caused widening gaps at the bottom of the Premier League table. They are now three points adrift of Wolves, with matches over the next month against West Brom, Birmingham, Blackpool, Liverpool and Wigan likely to define their season.
The position of Grant also remains under the spotlight and on Saturday it appeared that some of his players were unhappy with the decision to bring on a full-back in Julien Faubert just a minute before Song's goal.
Grant was vague in his explanation for the substitution but remains unfailingly optimistic for the future.
"It will be enough if we continue like this," he said. "If all the performances were very bad, it would be worse. I don't think the owners are disappointed with this game. I'm very positive about this year. It will come. I'm not happy with this situation but we have a lot of time to recover from this.
"We are working on the small things and I think we can do it. Slowly, slowly it is coming.
"We have been a bit unlucky, but there is still a long way to go." (© Daily Telegraph, London)