Now before you go all crazy and tell me that we’re in the top six currently I’d like to clarify two things.
1 – I’m aware of our league position.
2 – I want to discuss how far you think we are away from being a regular top-six side.
Should we finish in the top-six this season, it doesn’t automatically make us a top-six in the long term. For that to be the case we need to finish there for a few seasons so we can be considered a consolidated top-six team in the sense that we are tipped to finish up there at the start of the season. Essentially there is nothing to say that this season is just a flash in the oan, but I guess we’ll only find out next season…
It was a question raised by Pootle in a comment the other day. Basically he asked how many players everyone thought we were away from being in a position to regularly finish in the top-six, and it was a bloody good question to be fair so I thought I’d make an article out if it.
Pretty much everyone knows that our squad has limitations. Even Alan Pardew said as much the other day. To boost our ability our squad as whole still needs a lot of work done to it and it is very much still a project in working with the next stage set to be competed in the summer.
So where would you go? What positions would you sign? How much do we need strengthening? By splitting it up and drilling down into different positions I hope to come up with my own answer in this article and leave you to come up with your own afterwards.
For arguments sake I’m going to assume that none of our first team players leave or, if they do, I’m going to assume that they are replaced like for like so if well sell a midfielder I expect to see him replaced with….. a midfielder. Basically think of the first XI as it is now, and then work the squad out from that.
I actually think this is one position where we are fine. Tim Krul is proving to be one of the best on the league and isn’t exactly a sicknote so we should be fine between the sticks. Should Timmy pick up an injury I’ll be concerned as we will likely only have Rob Elliot as backup come the summer with Fraser Forster and Steve Harper heading out of the club, but I don’t think it is a priority.
Where do we start with this? I believe we need to do some major defensive work in the summer to give us much needed depth and quality. Naturally we’ll have Steven Taylor back, but his injury history isn’t good and he tends to have one long term injury each season. With that in mind we need one centre-back that can challenge the starting line up, unlike an Adrian Mariappa for example. That would give us four central defenders, or five if we sign another one as backup.
In terms of the right/left back, I think Davide Santon is learning quickly and will become a cracking player for us, but I’d like to see him on the right. With that in mind we’ll need a dedicated left-back signed in the summer. Ideally we’d keep Danny Simpson around as he could provide cover and competition for those in the first team, and with Santon and Ryan Taylor able to play on the right or left it gives us some flexibility and depth to the squad.
I actually think we’re about fine in midfield. Centrally we have Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote as starters, with Danny Guthrie, Dan Gosling, Mehdi Abeid and James Perch able to give us cover. If Guthrie goes we’ll need someone to slot into his place of course.
On the left wing I don’t think we’re too bad in truth. Jonas Gutierrez has been poor of late, but it has to be noted that he hasn’t got any competition currently and he tends to up his game suddenly when he has someone snapping at his heels wanting to get into the team. With Sylvain Marveaux and Hatem Ben Arfa able to play on the left we have that competition so the performances and squad depth should see a marked improvement on the left.
On the right we have Gabriel Obertan, Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor to ponder. All of them have their merits and pitfalls and as yet I’m unconvinced as to who is our best option the right. Obertan’s pace is deadly, but a lack of killer instinct holds him back. Hatem Ben Arfa can produce moments of magic in attack, but he’ll also leave the right-back hopelessly exposed and Ryan Taylor gives us a threat from set pieces and crosses but doesn’t have much pace. If you could combine all three you’d have the perfect winger but right now we have to do with horse for courses.
Personally this is somewhere where I’d like to see us improve by signing someone like Junior Hoilett who can do pretty much everything a winger needs to do and has pace to burn. That one signing would give us so much depth on both wings and would pretty much sort us.
In attack we are still lightweight. Beyond Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse we don’t have an awful lot to think about, which is worrying when you consider we’ll more than likely be losing both of them to the African Cup of Nations again next year.
Once again it’s an area that needs strengthening, but it will require careful strengthening. For instance I really can’t see many strikers getting ahead of those two, so we need to have a look at strikers who will happily play backup and wait for a chance. The problem is that any striker who has a reputation for scoring goals will more than likely warrant a starting place elsewhere.
So what are we looking for? I make it, as a minimum, one right or left back, one centre back, one right winger and another striker, and remember, that is without losing any of our first teamers or assuming that we replace them with like for like replacements.
What do you think we need though?