Underwhelming is a word I would use to describe our season so far. In fact I could probably choose a lot of others to add to that list…
Alan Pardew has to shoulder a portion of the blame for that, as do the players and the ownership. Combine all that with a bit of bad luck with injuries and you end up where we are now.
Pretty much everyone agreed that it was a bad move not to add numbers over the summer, especially with the Europa league to contend with, and for me that failure to strengthen the squad sufficiently is what is causing most of the problems now. There is no cover for certain positions and no competition for spaces. Compare that even to last season where we had players like Ryan Taylor and Leon Best trying to prove a point and you can sort of see what I’m getting about.
It wasn’t about spending millions in the summer and it wasn’t about buying a world class player for each position but there were certain areas of the squad which needed beefing up and we failed to do that. That is the fault of Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley for me as they hold the purse strings, and those who seem to believe that Alan Pardew is just a puppet should go along with that as it would contradict their argument if they didn’t.
Now with January just around the corner the issue of strengthening will crop up once again. We’re already being linked with lots of players but I don’t expect to see a flurry of activity during the next transfer window. We don’t need a flurry of activity in fairness, we just need what should have been done in the summer. Thing is, where do you start?
Personally I think we’re alright here. Tim Krul has had his shaky moments but overall he is still our number one and to be fair he has decent backup underneath him. I wasn;t sold on Rob Elliot but fair play to the lad, he has done well when called upon in the Europa League. We also have Steve Harper in the background so we’re fine here.
This is one area that needed strengthening over the summer, especially in the heart of the defence. When fit we have just three central defenders which is not enough when you consider one of them tends to spend half a season sat in the stands watching games with this or that injury.
Fabricio Coloccini will always get in the team because he is a class act. He’s made some gaffes but he’s also put in some masterclass performances. He’s also the captain so will get the nod barring a serious drop in form.
Where we struggle is who to pair him with. I’m of the opinion that Mike Williamson is one of those players that has become a scapegoat for fans. He’ll carry the can for errors both he and others make in the eyes of some and any good work he does will get overlooked. He’s not without limitations, but with a lack of another central defender to replace him due to injury what options does Alan Pardew have?
Then there are the full-back positions. Davide Santon has been much improved this term and appears to be finding his feet in the Premier League. Maybe it’s to do with the Geordie lass who is feeding him up these days? Behind him we have Shane Ferguson who can be called upon and even Jonas Gutierrez who has operated that left-back role at times so I think we’re fine there.
At right-back it’s different though. We have Danny Simpson who again I don’t think is as bad as some make him out to be although again I do concede he has limitations. After that we’re looking at James Tavernier who, whilst promising, is yet to really mount a challenge for a spot in a Premier League side. Pretty weak if you ask me and certainly an area for improvement.
Much of this part of the discussion will depend on formation and perception of roles, but I think we’re actually fine in the heart of midfield. We have Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote who are the first choice pairing and it’s a shame they have only played three times together this season.
We then have an improving Vurnon Anita with young players like Gael Bigirimana and Mehdi Abeid supplemented by the likes of Romain Amalfitano and Dan Gosling so we do have numbers.
Out wide we do have numbers but unfortunately not many of them have exactly been lighting up the pitch. Jonas Gutierrez appears to have lost something while Sylvain Marveaux has been hit and mainly miss. Gabriel Obertan is in the same boat as Marveaux. In fact the only one who has contributed has been Hatem Ben Arfa and I don’t think he’s really what you would call a wide man.
Maybe this is something we need to address in the next transfer window? We are lacking a supply from out wide which will lead me on to my next area for interrogation.
This is where we’re really struggling right now. We have one striker who is not exactly firing on all cylinders, another who is but may well be off in January anyway, and then there is Shola…
Again it was a position that needed strengthening in the summer but again it was ignored, although this was despite some rather public interest in former number nine Andy Carroll. However, the exact intensity of such interest remains questionable as does the fitness and form of a player who has played just nine games and scored one goal since the end of August.
The problem here is there are very few options to call upon, options which may well be depleted further in January should Shola answer the call for Nigeria and disappear to the African Cup of Nations and should Demba Ba decide to activate his release clause leaving just Papiss Cisse who is yet another who is attracting his fair share of criticism for “not doing anything” when he isn’t scoring or not being able to “trap a ball” even though the stats show that Cisse is the second highest creator of chances in the team with 16 from open play, and despite the fact that Demba Ba has a higher percentage of wayward first touches…
Having said that we definitely need our forward line added to.
I think you can split our strengthening into two categories. Both are important but some are more important than others. Having a wide attacking player who can provide assists would be great, but is the need for a player of such attribute ahead of another defender or striker? Depends on opinion I suppose.
I very much doubt everything will be addressed in one transfer window but I’d like to hope that the squad is added to. Perhaps we could start with a central defender and a striker to ease the shortage of number in both departments?
Then perhaps we can look at improving on Danny Simpson or other players we already have who can at least do a job in the shorter term?
What do you think