Fitter Song happy in the Arsenal family

Arsenal 1 West Ham United

Mark Fleming
Monday 01 November 2010 01:00 GMT

For Alex Song, feeling part of the family is vital. The Arsenal midfielder has 17 sisters and 10 brothers, and two children of his own. He dedicates his every Arsenal appearance to those closest to him, and the first person he rang on Saturday after heading the late winner against West Ham United was his wife Olivia.

"I have to say thank you to my wife and children because that is where my inspiration comes from," he said. "Before the match, my wife Olivia said, 'You will score today'. I am very happy because I called her straight away and she said, 'I told you today'. I told them it was their goal."

Olivia is also behind his unconventional bleached hairstyle. Song said: "It is black and blond at the moment. I will leave it like that. My old style, the dreadlocks, that is me. My wife said 'You need to change your hair because you look like every other player' so I try to do something different."

For a man whose father died when he was three, and who has been in part brought up by his Uncle Rigobert, the former Liverpool and West Ham defender, nothing is more important than a sense of belonging.

Fitting into the Arsenal family has been more problematic. He was booed off the pitch by the Arsenal fans and substituted at half-time during defeat at Fulham in 2006, and was loaned out to Charlton a few months later. Many supporters doubted the boy signed from French side Bastia aged 17 would mature into a genuine Arsenal star.

Song however has proved the wisdom of the Arsenal mantra, "In Arsene we trust", for at the age of 23 he is blossoming into one of the most consistent midfielders in the Premier League. Primarily a holding midfielder, Song has already scored four goals this season, although Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, would be more comfortable if he ran forward a little less often.

Wenger puts Song's improvement down to hard work on the training ground. "He is now a good trainer but this was not always the case. That's why he has improved. Song has improved his engine. Before he was less mobile," Wenger said.

"He has improved his mobility. He doesn't need a breather now when he goes and comes back. That has added something to his quality. Now, since he has more stamina, when we win the ball, he is on the move straight away and, when his timing is good, he arrives at the right moment in the box."

Arsenal were grateful for Song's improved engine, for until his 88th minute goal it seemed Wenger's side were going to drop points at home to the Premier League's bottom club. West Ham, led again by the impressive Scott Parker, demonstrated far greater defensive heart than they did in last weekend's 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United and their goalkeeper Robert Green was outstanding, making three classy saves to deny Cesc Fabregas, Song and Sébastien Squillaci.

Arsenal also twice struck the goal frame. Samir Nasri hit a free kick against the bar with a ferocity that seemed out of kilter with his slight frame, and substitute Theo Walcott broke behind the West Ham defence but his shot hit the far post and rebounded into the arms of Green.

With two minutes left, Song charged into the area to meet Gaël Clichy's cross to give Arsenal their fifth successive victory in all competitions. But Wenger said his team still need to improve before a title challenge is a reality. "I believe we have a good chance but we want to show consistency first," he said.

Man of the match Green Match rating 6/10

Possession Arsenal 58% West Ham 42%

Shots on target Arsenal 13 West Ham 3

Referee M Jones (Chester) Att 60,086

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