A run of 7 wins in their last 8 league games, with the other a draw against Fulham, sees Arsenal as the form team in the Premier League and just 9 points off of the top of the table. Although the gap still sounds substantial, the Gunners' points tally of 29 is one that may have seemed unattainable at this stage by many, after a run of 4 defeats in 7 at the start of the season.
While captain fantastic Robin van Persie steals the headlines, and rightly so having struck 15 times in as many league games this season, the midfield behind him is fast forgetting the absence of their former leader. With Mikel Arteta slotting into the side somewhat seamlessly, the Spaniard has been credited with filling the shoes of his countryman Fabregas, while the role of Alex Song tends to go unnoticed.
However, WhoScored's stats indicate that the 24-year-old Cameroon international has played more than his part in bridging the gap left by Fabregas. We look at Song's importance to the side over the last two seasons and how he has added creativity and flair to his game without impeding on a renowned tough tackling approach.
Arsene’s Favourite Song - With or Without You
When studying the impact of Alex Song on Arsenal's results one only needs to look at their success, or lack there of, without him in the side. Since the start of last season Song has lined up 42 times from the start for Arsenal, with Wenger's side winning 26 (62%). Though they have lost 10 (24%), they have only drawn 6 times with Song in the side (14%).
With Song not involved, Arsenal have played 11 league games and have drawn 7 in comparison (64%), proving that the Cameroonian is crucial to winning games, perhaps more so than he is in preventing defeats. Arsenal have only lost twice without him in the side (18%) but have also only won twice (18%) - indicative of the 24-year-old's importance to all things Arsenal.
When it comes to goals scored and conceded, the differences are significant, with 2.02 scored per game when Song plays compared to 1.64 when he doesn't. However, his role in shielding the defence is unsurprisingly the facet for which he receives most praise, with the side conceding double the number of goals per game without him in the side (1.02 - 2.09).
Creation Outweighs Caution
An instant look at the defensive midfielder's figures from this season will show that he has already assisted 5 goals this term, which is a joint high for Arsenal and dwarfs Arteta's 1. The latest came from a sublime ball over the top of an Everton back line that were helpless to prevent it reaching Robin van Persie and the rest, as they say, is history.
While nothing can detract from the sheer brilliance of the Dutchman's finish, Song's delivery was one that Fabregas himself would have been mightily proud of, and the show of creativity hasn't been a one off. An assist to set up the Dutchman just weeks earlier in a Champions League victory over Dortmund was even more impressive, dancing his way around 4 opponents before supplying the perfect cross for van Persie to head home. One only need watch his last two assists to know that Song has plenty about him.
In fact, Alex Song has completed more through balls per game than any other in the Premier League Player Statistics (0.8), as well as attempting the most (30). While the figure doesn't stand up to Fabregas' exceptional 1.5 per game from last season, it is more than a match for the rest of the players in the Premier League, and twice that of Arteta (0.4) alongside him.
When comparing his stats to some of the other top defensive midfielder's plying their trades in England’s top-flight, Song’s stats prove that he is so much more than just a ball winner. The Arsenal-man beats the likes of Lucas, Gareth Barry and Scott Parker when it comes to key passes per game, successful dribbles per game and his aforementioned through balls per game. In fact, his figure of 1.4 key passes per game is only down on Stiliyan Petrov of defensive midfielders in the league, while his 0.9 dribbles is only trumped by another Villan - Fabian Delph.
Despite all this, his 3.3 tackles and 2.5 interceptions still rank him 12th and 15th in the league respectively, which goes to show that he is isn't shirking his defensive responsibilities having made 3.3 and 2.6 on average respectively last season. An area in which he could improve, however, is his tendency to give away fouls, having committed 2.5 per game thus far - the third worst record in the league.
In spite of a clear increase in creative output this term, Song remains Mr. Consistency for Arsenal, only ranking below 7 in WhoScored ratings in 3 of his 17 appearances in the league and Champions League this term and never below 6.5. Wenger will therefore be delighted that Cameroon somewhat shockingly failed to qualify for next month's African Cup of Nations - with Wilshere's comeback still unknown. Whether the England international could break into the Arsenal midfield on current form is less than certain.