A lot of this summer's transfer interest has centred around Arsenal, and not only their new signings but the attempts to keep hold of the stars of last season. Though the Robin van Persie saga rumbles on and has gained much of the focus surrounding the club, interest has seemingly emerged in Alex Song from Barcelona after the Cameroonian had a successful 2011/12 campaign.
With this in mind we have started a search for players that could be capable of replacing the midfielder, moulded around his stats from last season. Each of the players to have made our shortlist had to have matched Song by attempting over 50 passes per game with an accuracy over 83%. However, they must have both defensive and chance creation qualities, with the Arsenal man shining in the latter last season.
While the likes of Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal made the grade, they were overlooked due to the fact that they would be unrealistic targets, so we've come up with four alternatives, each from different leagues. Interestingly, one of the more similar players in terms of statistics has been heavily linked to the club, with Rennes' Yann M'Vila cropping up.
In Serie A, a more experienced candidate emerges in Napoli's Gokhan Inler, whose defensive attributes could be a good fit at the Emirates. He, however, only joined the club last summer for a fee of around €12m, so the Italian outfit would be looking for an advance on that if a quick turnaround of teams were to happen. Another midfielder who crops up having only recently signed for a new club is Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan who, at 21, could be a decent option for the future.
Finally, one of a few Premier League central midfielders to live up to Song's statistical standards last season was Joe Allen, who looks set to join Liverpool. Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta's figures put forward a debate as to whether there would be a need for a like-for-like replacement were his teammate to follow Fabregas to the Nou Camp.
All of the following statistics are taken from games that each of the aforementioned players started in defensive midfield or central midfield only.
In terms of passing statistics last season, Alex Song attempted a high average of 66.7 passes per game. Apparent target Yann M'Vila trumps this average, with 71.8, but his accuracy is slightly down on Song's 84.4%, at 83.2%. In comparison, both Inler (57.7) and Gundogan (58.6) attempted fewer passes per game but had higher respective accuracies of 86.6% and 85.1%.
Swansea's Joe Allen, however, joins Arteta having topped Song's figures for both. The apparent Anfield-bound Welshman averaged 69.7 passes per game with a sensational 91.7% accuracy, while Arteta was at the centre of Arsenal's play, attempting 76.8 passes per game with an again excellent 90.7% accuracy.
If Song were to leave the club, many feel that Arsenal would do well to look to a player with slightly stronger defensive attributes, as the African has developed his overall game in the attacking third over the last season. However, his tackling stats were strong last term, completing 3 per game, along with 1.91 interceptions a match. Both averages were understandably up on Arteta, but the Spaniard's 2.5 tackles and 1.89 interceptions suggest he may be able to fill in.
Our other alternatives here all have stronger stats in both regards, with Allen's tackling standing strongest, at 3.85 per game, and Gundogan averaging an impressive 2.77 interceptions a match. However, all four candidates average over 3 tackles and 2 interceptions per game, so would be capable at covering the anchorman role in Arsenal's creative midfield.
A major development in Alex Song's game last season was his creativity, picking up a superb 11 assists from deep. While none of the players on our shortlist can contest on these terms, including teammate Arteta, with just 2, Song's average of 1.33 key passes per game is not particularly high, and others here can compete.
Joe Allen again comes out on top, with 1.4 key passes per game, with Gundogan the only other player above Song's average (1.36). While M'Vila (1.13) and Inler (1.03) had averages below that of the Arsenal man's modest figure, their defensive strengths mean they are still capable in playing a similar role, but taking all factors into account, who is the most appropriate candidate?
Put simply, there is little surprise that Arsenal's interest in M'Vila has reared its head again since the Song rumours. The duo have very similar passing and defending statistics, and though M'Vila's creativity may be down on that of Song, Arsenal's need for a strong influence in front of the back four may override an impact in the opponent's half, particularly having signed Cazorla and seemingly moving in on a move for Nuri Sahin.
However, as an alternative, Ilkay Gundogan could be an interesting option, and though Dortmund would not be looking to offload their youngster, having only signed him for around £5m they could be tempted into a sale in the region of £10m-£15m. Now we must wait and see if Arsenal's hand is forced by Barcelona yet again to see if any replacement is needed.