Arsenal's Alex Song says buck stops with players

By Leon MannBBC Sports News

Buck stops with players, not Wenger - Song

Alex Song looks at me straight in the eye, then drops his head to the floor. He is deep in thought, his eyes searching around for an answer.

The questions I pose are pretty obvious, but not necessarily easy for the Arsenal midfielder to answer. Where did it all go wrong in the Gunners title challenge? Who was to blame?

"This year we just missed something," Song confesses. "We were very close and I think we did very well. But we missed something by a fraction because when you look at the games we lost - how can we lose against Bolton and win against Manchester United?"

Arsenal have now gone six seasons without a trophy. While some of the fans are growing impatient and sections of the media have questioned whether Arsenal are too soft and lack leaders, the Gunners defensive midfielder disagrees.

"That's what the newspapers say," he dismisses with a shrug. "On the pitch, you don't just need one leader. You need them in every position. I think in the squad we have a lot.

"Sometimes I hear people saying we are too young, we are not mature and I think 'no'. When I watch this squad I'm happy to be with the guys because we have one of the great squads in the league."

Given the quality of football, consistent top-four finishes in the Premier League and the club's achievements under manager Arsene Wenger, it is difficult to lay the blame with the Frenchman. But some Gunners fans are unhappy. So where does the buck stop if it does not with the boss?

"I think it's not him, it's us. Maybe because when we go on the pitch, we are too confident that we'll win the game. I don't know. Next season we have to change this.

"When we play against Bolton we just need to be ready - like we were against Manchester United. Maybe we need more concentration. Maybe we should think about how we can play in those games like we do against United or against Chelsea. We need to be more consistent."

It is no surprise that Song jumps to the defence of his manager. If it was not for Wenger, the Cameroonian would have left the club in his first week in England.

"In the first week, I didn't have any friends so after training I'd just go back to the hotel," Song recalls.

"The food was different so I didn't eat a lot, only bread and butter. Just bread and butter. Not because it wasn't nice but because everything was different. I said to my Mum I wanted to come back to France.

"The manager helped me a lot. He was like a second father because he's like my dad. He said he knows it's not easy when you leave your family and come here. He spoke to me everyday and said he knows it's not easy but if you want to be a professional footballer you need to trust yourself and give your best.

"He told me don't leave now because the journey is long and you just need to continue to push and today I'm happy."

Song explains that he and the rest of the players want to win the title for Wenger. It is the 23-year-old midfielder's belief that the boss has done so much for him and his team-mates that they repay him.

And by learning from this season's disappointments, Song thinks the team can end their trophy drought.

"We have just missed something this year. But I'm confident we have a strong team and very, very good players. We are mature now because we have grown up together," he reflects

"We have a lot of players like me who have been here since they were just 17 or 16. Now today I'm 23. We have others that are 24 and 25. I think we are more mature and I think every year we progress one step by one step. For next season we will touch something."

Our interview takes place at the London Motor Museum. As we stroll between the vintage motors and super cars, we talk about his earliest memories of Africa ahead of Britain's Best of Africa awards and team-mate Theo Walcott's obsession with cars. We then move on to the emergence of Jack Wilshere at the Emirates.

"Jack is a big character. He's still young but as I said he's very clever. When you're on the pitch, you need to talk to help your partners and he's done very well," Song states.

"Sometimes when I push forward, he says, 'no Alex, try to drop back a little bit'. We just try to talk to help each other - which works very good. I think this guy is very clever, quick, good on the ball and is just 19.

"He doesn't want to say 'today everyone talks about me, so I won't work harder'. Every day in training it's like a new day for him. I've never seen him walk in training. I think that's very good because when you have the mentality like that it's the winning mentality. England have a good future with him."

Song is smiling away as we discuss which cars represent his Arsenal team-mates. He jokes about Wenger's lack of interest in cars and tells me he hopes his best friend in the squad, Emmanuel Eboue, stays at the club because he is good for the dressing room.

Then amidst the jokes we get to the subject of his bleached blond hair - a barnet that has attracted a fair bit of comment over the season. He offers a polite laugh before he explains that he did it for his family.

Song says: "When I was at the World Cup, my son watched the games and because I have another player in the national team with dreadlocks, when I was far away my son got confused who was who. He thought the other guy was me!

"So, when I came back my wife said 'you need to do something'. She booked me into a salon and said we should try to change your style. So, I went and thought, let's try it. Now I like it. I did it for my son."

One of 28 siblings, family is important to married father-of-two Song, who lost his own father when he was only three-years-old.

He says: "Today I have a big family, I have two boys and a wife. I have a good life. I miss just one thing. I miss my dad. If I have this guy with me today it would be very, very good. But that's just life. I didn't have any chance to know my dad. So that's why I want to give everything for my family."

At the end of our interview, Song jumps out of his seat and asks me to film him talking about the car that represents Cesc Fabregas again only he changes his mind - the Arsenal captain needs an upgrade.

Song's decision reflects far more than a passing thought. He is always thinking of those around him. He is loyal and believes in doing things the right way, just like his manager.