Alex Song’s commitment is key to Arsenal

It has been an interesting transfer window for Arsenal so far this summer, with the exciting additions of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla counteracted by the blow of Robin van Persie’s desire to leave north London. However, one transfer story that could well galvanise the Emirates Stadium club is Alex Song’s decision to commit to the club.

The Cameroon international has grown in stature over recent years, and proved his worth last term after Cesc Fabregas’ departure and in Jack Wilshere’s absence. Song’s blend of combativeness in front of the defence and creativity from deep have rightly seen the African battler emerge as a key man for Arsene Wenger’s side.

However, Barcelona have taken note and are eager to bring Song to Camp Nou as a replacement for Seydou Keita. Speculation over the player’s future has rumbled on over the last month, but Song has now expressed a willingness to stay with his current employers, despite the pedigree of his suitors.

Song’s decision bucks the trend over the last five years, as Gunners fans have had to watch in despair as leading players have left the club. The likes of Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri and now captain Van Persie have all touted ambition and the search for silverware as the reason to depart north London, in a vicious cycle for the club.

However, Song’s rejection of Barcelona may well have the uniting effect that the club need. Not only is the African a key man on the pitch who drives their style of play, but the fact that a major Gunners player has turned his back on a European giant such as Barcelona will be critical in changing the current mentality of the Arsenal squad that there is a step-up to be made away from north London.

Arsenal’s ideal 2012-13 line up: The men Arsene Wenger wants for his starting XI next term

Arsenal have been through something of a rollercoaster season, starting very slowly before a revival has the north London side 90 minutes away from a respectable third place. Ensuring that the Gunners qualify for next term’s Champions League, Arsene Wenger should be able to bring in a number of new faces this summer, which could see the Emirates outfit challenge for the Premier League title in 2012-13. But what is Wenger’s ideal starting XI for next season?

GK – Wojciech Szczesny

The Polish goalkeeper has stepped up to the plate this term, and finally the Emirates faithful have a man between the sticks that they can trust. Wenger will look for Szczesny to continue his development in 2012-13 and become one of the most consistent stoppers in the division. Rumours have linked Swansea’s Michel Vorm with a move to Arsenal, and the north London club will need a backup with Manuel Almunia on his way out of the club.

LB – Thomas Vermaelen

The Belgium international is an important member of the Arsenal set-up, and Wenger will hope to have the vice-captain fit and available for the bulk of next season. With a raft of central defenders, Vermaelen may well end up at left-back, with Andre Santos a solid backup.

RB – Bacary Sagna

Despite the prominence and potential of Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna is the first choice at right-back and is an excellent defender. The France international has recently broken his leg for a second time, and Wenger will be keen to have the 28-year-old back in his starting line-up for the start of next term.

CB – Jan Vertonghen

The Ajax captain is in the last year of his contract with the Eredivisie giants, and is reportedly being chased by Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United. Wenger will hope his side can win the race, as the centre-back would be an excellent addition to any of the leading Premier League sides.

CB – Laurent Koscielny

The French centre half has shown maturity and doggedness this season, and will most likely get the nod over Per Mertesacker if everyone is fit and available.

CM – Jack Wilshere

The Gunners have missed their home-grown hero Wilshere this term, with the England international not kicking a ball in anger all campaign. The Emirates faithful will hope to have their favourite back available for the start of next season, which will be as good as a new signing.

CM – Alex Song

The Cameroon international has been one of the standout performers for the Londoners this season, and is now a majorly important member of the team. Song’s combative nature in the centre of the park is complemented by a surprisingly excellent range of passing and boundless energy.

CM – Yann M’Vila

Wenger’s number one transfer target this summer, M’Vila has been imperious for Rennes this season and forced his way into the France international set-up. A £17 million deal has been touted, but Arsenal must fight off interest from Inter to get their man. If the battler does arrive in England it may limit opportunities for the likes of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

AT – Lukas Podolski

The vastly-experienced Germany international has ended a long-running transfer saga by agreeing a move to north London this summer. Podolski will take some of the goalscoring responsibility away from Robin van Persie, and is a feisty and passionate forward.

AT – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The young starlet has shown glimpses of brilliance in his debut Premier League season, and will be in line for a regular first-team place next term. Fast, skilful and with an eye for goal, Oxlade-Chamberlain is a star in the making. Wenger will also have Theo Walcott, Gervinho and potentially Clint Dempsey to choice from.

ST – Robin van Persie

The PFA Player of the Year has been unplayable at times this season, and has on occasion single-handedly dragged the side to results. With one year left on his contract, the Netherlands international’s future will have a major bearing on the club’s fortunes next season.

Published – Soccerlens

Liverpool v Arsenal: Reds must win or kiss Champions League goodbye

Liverpool fans are on a high after winning the Carling Cup last weekend, with Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard heralding the triumph as the start of a new era of success for the club. Whether this season is a success or not may well depend on the outcome of this Saturday’s fixture against Arsenal however. With the Reds currently in seventh place, seven points behind the Gunners in fourth, anything other than an Anfield victory will leave the Merseysiders too far behind the other challengers to qualify for the Champions League.

Although success in cup competitions is a step in the right direction for Liverpool, whether it is the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, the ability to finish in the top four will be the real litmus test to whether the club are back amongst the country’s elite once more. Winning cup games is one thing; showing the consistency over 38 games to be adjudged as one of the top teams in England takes more doing.

So far this campaign Liverpool have blown hot and cold, with good performances and wins being counter-balanced by dropping points against the so-called lesser teams. This irregularity has blighted the team and frustrated the fans; it is the reason that a team that can beat anyone on their day is not currently in the top four Premier League teams. That said, the Reds have been relatively good against the bigger teams this season, and on the back of their cup success will look to shorten the gap on the top four with a win over Arsenal this weekend.

The Gunners were staring into the abyss this time last week, with FA Cup elimination and Champions League embarrassment threatening to spoil their season. However, Arsene Wenger’s men showed that they are not willing to go quietly into oblivion by outplaying, out-battling and thoroughly beating Spurs 5-2 in the north London derby. The Emirates Stadium outfit will have their tails up after the victory, especially given the fact that they fought back from two goals down, and the away fans will hope that the resolve and determination shown last weekend will be re-enacted this time out.

Arsene Wenger’s backing of under-fire players has been a trait during his 15-year tenure at the club, and the French coach sternly believes in the ability of the players that he has nurtured from a young age. The current case in question is Theo Walcott, who’s potential has not been replicated into performances this term and the winger is at risk of missing out on Euro 2012 after playing at a sub-standard level for the majority of the campaign. Wenger left in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench against Spurs; it will be interesting what role the latest Southampton youth protégé plays on Saturday.

There are a number of key battles that will decide the game. Daniel Agger broke a rib in the win over Cardiff, and will be replaced by dependable but ageing Jamie Carragher. The veteran’s centre defence partnership with Martin Skrtel at the back will be key, especially given the fact that Arsenal scored five in their last outing. Robin van Persie should play despite suffering a slight injury whilst on international duty, and is currently at the pinnacle of his abilities.

In midfield it is time for Steven Gerrard to get back to his best, but Alex Song will be keen to shackle the Anfield talisman come Saturday. Mikel Arteta is no Cesc Fabregas, but he is starting to make his mark on the north London club; the Spaniard will be motivated to win against Liverpool given his time at their rivals Everton.

Arsenal’s defence wasn’t especially tested against Tottenham, but it is likely to be pushed harder at Anfield.  Thomas Vermaelen looked shaky in the loss of two early goals to Harry Redknapp’s men, and the Belgium international and Laurent Koscielny must be better to foil Luis Suarez and the Liverpool attack.

Expect a close game; both sides need the points and are on a high after good results last weekend, but there isn’t room for both of these giants in next year’s Champions League.

Published – Soccerlens

The African Cup of Nations is underway, but does it feel like we are missing a few people?

The 2012 African Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday, with co-hosts and debutants Equatorial Guinea getting a last-gasp, dramatic 1-0 win over Libya. The likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Demba Ba are chomping at the bit to showcase the quality of football in the African continent, but this year’s edition has a number of recognisable absentees. With Niger and Botswana making their bows in the tournament along with the co-hosts, the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt have missed out on participation. Despite the sizeable ability of some of the players and teams at the event, there is considerable African talent not competing this year, which could make up quite the team….

GK: Carlos Kameni (Cameroon / Malaga CF) – Once heralded as the shining light of African goalkeepers, Kameni has amassed 63 caps for The Indomitable Lions over his eleven-year international career. The talented shot-stopper had fallen out of favour this season at Espanyol, and secured a move to big-spending and ambitious Andalusian side Malaga during this transfer window. Kameni will look to recapture the form in La Liga that saw him linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs earlier in his career, and have a new start at La Rosaleda.

Back up: Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria / Lille)

LB: Benoit Assou Ekotto (Cameroon / Tottenham) – The sprightly defender has made the left back jersey at White Hart Lane his own in recent seasons, and has increasingly become a more important part of the north London club’s side. Initially slightly unpredictable and nervy after his move from Lens back in 2006, the 27-year-old now has Harry Redknapp’s confidence and has installed a solidarity and consistency into his game. Internationally Assou-Ekotto has made 17 appearances for his country, but will have to wait another two years for the chance to potentially make his African Cup of Nations debut.

Back up – Taye Taiwo (Nigeria / QPR-AC Milan)

RB: Joseph Yobo (Nigeria / Fenerbahce) – Man-mountain defender Joseph Yobo is known for his no-nonsense approach and is currently on loan at Fenerbahce from Everton. The stopper is generally deployed as a central defender but has the versatility to play at full-back; his time at Goodison Park has seen him alternate between both. Captain of Nigeria with 86 caps, Yobo is one of the most experienced and well-respected defenders on the continent; at 31 years of age his chances of playing again in an African Cup of Nations in the future are fading away slightly.

Back up – Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt / Sunderland)

CB: Sebastian Bassong (Cameroon / Tottenham) – Another Cameroon and Spurs defender, Bassong has failed to live up to his excellent Newcastle form down in London. Despite slipping down the pecking order at the Premier League side and being linked with a move away from the club, the 16-times capped centre half has the ability to compete at a top level if he keeps his head in the game and maintains concentration. Excellent in the air with a turn of pace, Bassong could have enticed potential suitors at the tournament had Cameroon qualified.

Back up – Aurelien Chedjou (Cameroon / Lille)

CB: Stephane Mbia (Cameroon / Marseille) – Admittedly Mbia plays predominantly as an all-action central midfielder, but the 25-year-old has on occasion featured in the backline and has the aptitude to make an excellent defender. The 36-times capped man progressed through the ranks at Rennes, and has made the step up to the Stade Velodrome, where he has looked accomplished and assured for Didier Deschamps’ side.

Back up – Nicolas N’Koulou (Cameroon / Marseille)

RW: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria / CSKA Moscow) – Flying 19-year-old winger Ahmed Musa has announced himself onto the club and international game in spectacular fashion over the last 12 months, staring for Dutch side VVV Venlo before sealing a €5million deal to CSKA a fortnight ago. With pace to burn and a trickery that has tortured countless full backs, Musa will continue his development in the Russian capital and has the potential to be a top-drawer player in the future.

Back up – Victor Obinna (Nigeria / Lokomotiv Moscow)

CM: Michael Essien (Ghana / Chelsea) – The Stamford Bridge battle-axe has not recovered from injury in time to step out with Ghana in the tournament, but has returned to fitness and will start to feature again at Chelsea in January. Persistent knee problems have robbed the Premier League of one of its most dynamic and athletic midfielders over the last two seasons more often than not, but the 52-times capped bruiser will look to get back to the form that made him one of the best players in his position before injuries took their toll.

Back up – Jon Obi Mikel (Nigeria / Chelsea)

CM: Alex Song (Cameroon / Arsenal) – Arguably the most improved player at the Emirates Stadium this season, Song has become an integral member of the north London club’s squad since the summer departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. Excellent in possession, the 24-year-old gets through a shedload of work in 90 minutes, and is at times charged with stopping opposition sides’ midfield advances single-handedly due to the attacking instincts of his team-mates. Already an excellent player, Song has the ability to be as good as Gunners legend Patrick Vieria should he continue his current path of development.

Back up – McDonald Mariga (Kenya / Inter Milan)

LM: Ryad Boudebouz (Algeria / Sochaux) – Similar to Mbia, attacking midfielder Boudebouz is playing slightly out of position in my dream team, and would be tasked with coming off his wing into a more central role (tactical genius). The Algeria international is slowly but surely gaining the recognition he deserves after emerging as a major talent in Ligue 1. Creative, decisive and energetic, it is only a matter of time before the Stade Auguste Bonal outfit lose their star player to a bigger club; he deserves it and is ready for a step up.

Back up – Steven Pienaar (South Africa / Tottenham)

ST – Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo / Tottenham) – So often the solitary threat in an average Togo side, Adebayor is anything but mediocre and has a record of success at every club he has played at. The sometimes temperamental forward has been key in Spurs’ rise to third in the Premier League, as he continues to showcase the ability of being both a target man and an attacker more than comfortable with the ball at his feet. Quick, strong, lethal in front of goal – Adebayor is comfortably his nation’s top ever goalscorer with 18 international goals, despite only being 27.

Back up – Mohamed Zidan (Egypt / Borussia Dortmund)

ST – Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon / Anzhi Makhachkala) – An African idol of a generation, Eto’o remains one of the most accomplished strikers in world football despite opting to swap Serie A giants Inter for Russian oil tycoons Anzhi, and would quite comfortably slot into some of the best teams in the world, nevermind my African dream team. Deceptively strong, Eto’o has been a handful for international defenders across Spain and Italy for a decade; the majority of the competition’s centre halves will have sighed with relief that the 109-times capped Cameroonian is not participating in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Back up – Obafemi Martins (Nigeria / Rubin Kazan)

Published – Soccerlens

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