While Robin van Persie has been grabbing all the headlines (and rightfully so), Alex Song has also been at the heart of Arsenal’s rebirth. He has improved his passing and his positioning this season to become one of the top holding midfielders in the Premier League.

Song’s Messi-like run and pinpoint cross set up Arsenal’s first goal in their 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. While not known for his tricks, Song has significantly improved his passing skills. In fourteen games so far this season in all competitions, he has five assists. Last year, Song only managed three assists in thirty-nine matches.

The absence of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the midfield is one of the reasons Song has emerged as a playmaker. Both of Arsenal’s high-profile departures slowed the build-up play. This season, the Gunners are counter-attacking at a much greater pace. When Song gets the ball, he immediately looks to release Gervinho, van Persie, or Theo Walcott on the break. Before, he would usually just make the easy pass to Fabregas or Nasri.

Without Song, Arsenal’s back four would be like tortoise without its shell. As a defensive midfielder, he covers quite a lot of ground and doesn’t seem to tire late in games. Song is still there to make the important interception in stoppage time to secure an Arsenal win.

A criticism of Song is the fact that he commits too many fouls and is shown too many cards. It is a fair point but let’s not pretend that Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira were saints on the pitch. Accumulating bookings and conceding free kicks have to be frequent occurrences for defensive midfielders because of the number of tackles they attempt in a match.

Once condemned by Arsenal fans for his inconsistency, Song is now one of the most reliable Gunners. Arsene Wenger has been rewarded for sticking with Song through the tough times. This season, he has been vital to the Gunners’ rise from the ashes. And at only 24-years old, Alex Song can still improve and may even be a staple in the Arsenal midfield for a long time.