When Alex Song arrived at Arsenal, the most I knew about him was that he was Rigobert Song’s nephew.
A few cameos here and there didn’t make me notice him, but the rave reviews he enjoyed at Charlton suggested he had a bright future.
Last season, though, whenever he came on, I watched in eager anticipation, wondering if he was going to be another talent off the Arsène Wenger production line but seeing little to convince me.
It’s fair to say that Song hasn’t really impressed consistently. When you think of the likes of Steve Sidwell and Fabrice Muamba who have left the club and been sold on for big money, you wonder whether they wouldn’t have done just as good a job, even if only as an understudy in much the same bracket that Song is now.
But part of the Cameroonian’s problem is that he has played a lot of the season alongside Denilson, and having two extremely defensive players in the same central midfield makes them both look less effective.
It says much for the growth and importance of Denilson that he is now rested for Champions League games. I am coming round to the fact that the Brazilian is capable of being Cesc’s minder, as long as our captain has confidence in his partner and starts pushing forward again.
But Song gave a performance on Sunday which, even though it was against Championship opposition, was arguably his best in the Arsenal shirt. Two assists, some fine tackling and positional play hint at his capacity to challenge Denilson for the central role himself.
Now I have no doubt that Wenger will play Denilson tomorrow, and in an ideal world, that would be with Abou Diaby, whose ability to skip challenges will be vital, especially in the absence of cup-tied Andrei Arshavin.
But I wonder whether Wenger is tempted to play Song and Denilson together, to provide a shield for a defence which is going to find itself under siege.
Tomorrow is going to be a completely different game to that at the Emirates and we’re going to need some calm heads and people who can tackle.
The next three games are crucial not only for the season ahead but also for the long term benefit of Arsenal FC.
Win them all (I’d take a 2-1 defeat tomorrow) and the chances of the Wenger youth project coming to fruition starts to become more likely.