So now that we have only five games to go and are hoping to gain entry to at least Europa League football for next season, what else is on our minds?
Of course we have each remaining game, the FA Cup semi-final between Everton and Liverpool, and just seeing what Tottenham and Chelsea can do with their remaining games in the league. And then comes the transfer window after all those games are over, with all of the hundreds of names that will be linked along with NUFC.
So what kind of players will Pardew and Co be looking for over the summer? Obviously the centre-back position and even fullback has been mentioned more than enough by now. But what about attacking players? Should NUFC be looking to bolster our attack, even with noted threats as Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, and Hatem Ben Arfa available up front? Obviously, we should always be looking to improve, but exactly where?
It’s obvious that Alan Pardew prefers to have one or two formations for the squad to really know their roles and be confident in the their team-mates. The 4-4-2 that he stuck with for quite a long time until Ben Arfa was recently up for more, was a formation that was always used, so that the players were comfortable in their roles. Now our 4-3-3 has emerged as a preferable system for bossing the midfield, being threatening on the counter-attack, and having our three most feared players right against the opposing defence. We obviously have plenty of options in our 4-4-2 system to fill roles, with midfielders galore and supposedly more lined up to come in, but what about the 4-3-3? If Ben Arfa is unavailable, do we have anybody who can somewhat fill his position on the right wing? What about the left wing? What about ACoN?
In that top three, Shola Ameobi and Leon Best can obviously fill in at the striker role if absolutely necessary, and can contribute on the wings for a while. Currently though, in my opinion, the players that might have the ability to offer a threat on the wings from the start are Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux, along with perhaps Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson.
Three of those players are recovering from injuries right now, and probably won’t have much of a shot at playing there this season. I’m not even that confident in Marveaux, but the little bit that I’ve seen and heard about him, he seems like a player that could wreak some havoc out there. And Obertan has also obviously shown a lack in decisiveness that would eliminate any kind of threat that he could consistently offer, but at the same time, we can see the ability in there and maybe he just needs to be inspired and coached a bit more. Sammy is another that doesn’t have the pedigree of the three starters, and is only 19 years old, but his pace, dribbling, and even height can all be huge advantages for playing up top in this system. The other youngster, Shane Ferguson has pace and great dribbling skills as well; he also has a decent cross, but I’m not sure if he would be prepared right now to start on the wing.
Looking at those options, it seems that we don’t really have any other players who could come into that system and offer a lot up top. Having said that, it is my hope that we can bring in at least one top player to actually challenge the three starters that we have in those positions. David Hoilett has been talked about almost all season, but I think he may be going to one of the few clubs that are actually bigger than us. Clint Dempsey is another player who will be entering the final year of his contract this summer, and could technically be signed for free in a few months, although I cringed when I saw that Sky rated him at £10 million when linking him with Arsenal. Then there are probably several players that Graham Carr is watching in Holland, France, Germany, and who knows where else.
Whoever comes in needs to simply fit the transfer requirements of late: Quality player that has proven himself in a lot of games, hungry to succeed, and will work for the team. The other transfer requirement of being under 26 years old I think could actually be held back a bit for this player, as really I’m mostly concerned about being prepared for our first foray into Europe in a while, and for when Ba and Cisse go off to the Africa Cup of Nations against next season.
In two years we should hopefully have some young players coming through more, hopefully in Mehdi Abeid (whatever his best position is), Haris Vuckic, and even JJ Hooper and Adam Campbell. Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson should also be getting some more game time by then as well.
If our sudden great hope does happen, and we get into the Champions League next season, then we will need a lot more quality in depth. We have a great starting XI that can hurt anybody on their day, but those extra games are going to be starting before the Premier League even begins as we’ll have to play those qualifying matches during what is usually our pre-season. This will also allow us to play better and fitter teams in the Cups, allowing us the chance to (dare I say it?) win a trophy next year!
And I’m not totally slagging off the 4-4-2 formation. It helped us against Bolton and has helped us in several games this season. But Pardew wants good options from the bench, and I’m really hoping that he can have that. Whether he wants to work the lads into a 4-3-3, or 4-4-2 is obviously up to him. But if Ben Arfa is available, it would be nice for us to still have the option of effectively playing the three up front.
More older, first team players will also mean that more of our budding stars can be free to get the experience that they need on loan. Developing these young players is just as much a part of the club’s model right now as buying inexpensive players that can do extremely well. So it would be nice to see us putting all of that into action next year with an improved squad in all areas of the pitch.
Thanks to AndrewT for sending this in.