Thursday, December 1, 2011

Van On Fire (Part 2)

...and Song's on Song...

Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Another Van Persie brace, another win.

As has been the case in quite a few of Arsenal's wins this seasons, it was not a barnstorming performance, and there was no surfeit of chances, but the Dutchman is so clinical at the moment that the results are starting to stack up.

But Song was the real star of the show, and after an iffy start to the season, he is showing signs of yet more improvement on last campaign's impressive displays.

The term "holding midfielder" is a ubiquitous term nowadays, and not without some reason, as most teams field three central midfielders. With that system dominant, there is a greater number of midfield "specialists", and less midfield generals like Patrick Vieira or Roy Keane in their pomp. A midfielder is usually seen as a creator or a destroyer, and while there are some players who occupy some kind of middle ground between those two simplistic terms, there are few nowadays who combine combative tackling with incisive passing and an instinct to drive forward.

Song has, since his return from that vital loan spell at Charlton, often looked a little too talented to be just another Makalele clone. What with Arsenal's defensive travails over recent years, most fans just wanted him to be a disciplined and effective presence in front of the back four, good enough to provide a shield, win the ball and shuttle it on to someone else, preferably Cesc Fabregas. But he has more technical ability than your average destroyer. That has become more evident still since Fabregas's departure.

A lot of this is probably down to the maturity of Arteta, who is proving to be a much better version of Denilson, doing what the Brazilian was meant to all along. Arteta gets tackles in, helps Song protect the defence, and does not get ahead of the play too often, leaving Ramsey closest to Van Persie out of the three midfielders. Song and Arteta have already forged a decent understanding and Song must feel more freedom to push forward as he likes to, knowing that his team mate is likely to fill in behind.

We have seen some nice slide rule assists from Song- for Gervinho's opener at Blackburn and for Van Persie's winner at Norwich. This time, the game-breaking assist came from a jinking run and a pinpoint cross that allowed Van Persie to power a downward header past the keeper.

It had been something of a stalemate up to that point, with neither side creating a great deal. Dortmund had just won in impressive fashion at Bayern Munich and set about Arsenal in a similarly intense fashion. Their pressing was quite effective and it took something out of the ordinary from Song to open them up.

The second goal was also out of the ordinary, by Arsenal's current standards. Or out of the distant past, perhaps? A corner, a near-post flick on, and a poached could almost have been Paul Merson, Steve Bould and Ian Wright after a week of tough training under the watchful eyes of George Graham. In reality it was Vermaelen and Van Persie who combined to convert Arteta's inswinger.

And with only a few minutes to go, that was that, although there was time for the concession of a very late Dortmund consolation. It was the result of some sloppy play in the corner by Song and, especially, Djourou. With the game won, maybe the most heartening image of the night was Vermaelen raging at his team mates. It's the kind of professionalism and passion that have been lacking in too many of his team mates over recent years. It's good to have him back.

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