I’ll start off with a quick rundown of our current roster and what that would mean if it were to remain unchanged at the start of the season. We’ll primarily look at the 27 players who would have to be registered and take up one of our 25 Premier League squad slots, due to not being classed as U21, if we are to use them at all. The age shown is as of 17th August 2013, and HG status refers to whether the player meets the ‘homegrown’ criteria of having been trained at an English or Welsh club for at least 3 years prior to the end of the season in which they turn 21. We need 8 such players in our 25 man squad, although if needs be we can leave slots empty which would also count towards this.
In the goalkeeping department we’re lucky to have two capable and homegrown goalkeepers. Provided that Krul isn’t unfortunate enough to get injured for a large portion of the season again, we should be fine here. We also have young Jak Alnwick as further back-up, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be called upon to make anything more than a bench appearance, which even then will only happen if Krul or Elliot get injured or suspended.
Centre-back is a position that many were expecting us to need to strengthen this summer as captain Coloccini’s departure seemed imminent, but luckily he has confirmed that he will be staying for the coming season at least. Thanks to that this is a position we actually have some quality and depth in, with Taylor and Yanga-Mbiwa battling it out to accompany Colo, and Williamson as decent back-up when required. We also have Streete and Good as youngsters who likely/hopefully won’t get anywhere near the team, unless we plan to play weakened sides in the cups. We’ll likely have to bring in a new CB in 2014, but this isn’t an immediate concern.
We’re also strong at full-back with Debuchy, Santon and the U21 Haidara all in contention for a first eleven place (with Santon capable on either side), and sharing the same trait of being very attack minded for supposed defenders, which can result in them getting caught upfield, but has the obvious benefit of giving us more attacking threat down the wings. Ryan Taylor has been omitted as his injury should rule him out for most, if not all, of the season.
In back-up to these 3 we have a trio of homegrown academy products that have yet to really prove themselves in the first team. Tavernier and Ferguson have both shown flashes of brilliance at times when given a chance, but they both need gametime to further their development. Something we can’t afford to give them, especially when two of the players ahead of them are around the same age and already showing far more talent and consistency. We need to loan out or sell at least 2 of these, in my opinion, given that squad space is at a premium and they’re no longer U21.
I’d give Ferguson his heavily hinted to loan move to Birmingham and see if he can show week in week out that he is good enough to come back and challenge for a place, be it at LB or LM, and either loan or sell Dummett, which is in line with his comments about going to a Championship club this season and rumoured Celtic interest. This leaves Tavernier as back-up to Debuchy, Haidara and Santon, plus potential covering by Anita and Gutierrez.
Centre-mid is where things get complicated. Last season Pardew favoured a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 with Tioté and Cabaye being the more defensive minded CMs and supporting the Sissoko in front of them. For the purpose of this post I will presume that a similar system is being used (although personally I’d pull Tioté back into the DCM/anchorman role he excelled in during 11/12, and bring Sissoko in-line with Cabaye, giving the playmaker the choice of pulling the strings himself, or letting Sissoko surge from deep to start attacks). Provided these players are on form and being utilised properly, that’s a very strong core for the midfield.
Pushing for a place we also have the capable and underused Anita, as well as U21 Bigirimana. We’re also likely to see Gutierrez in one of the more defensive roles, as well as any of our other wingers in the attacking role. If we hold onto Cabaye, who hasn’t exactly been dismissive of interest from the likes of Monaco, Manchester United and PSG, I don’t see us needing any reinforcement here.
The problem comes in the 4 homegrown options for this position. We have the ineffective Gosling, who is reportedly set for a move to Crystal Palace, and then 3 highly regarded youngsters who have all come of age at once and not made a single PL appearance between them. This is similar to the full-back situation in that we can’t afford to spend 3 squad slots on them, especially when we have an 18 year old (as well as reportedly outbound U21 Abeid and forgotten U21 Vuckic) higher up the pecking order. So we need to loan out or sell at least 1, with Newton being linked to a return to the SPL through Celtic, then whoever remains needs to come good on their promise and justify their place at the club beyond adding to the HG quota.
|RM||Hatem Ben Arfa||26|
Responsible for a grand total of 8 goals and 11 assists in a combined 83 starts and 33 sub appearances, our wingers / attacking midfielders left a lot to be desired with their performances last season. It could be argued that Gutierrez is more of a CM now, but he still played more than half of his games on the wing last season according to WhoScored. Ben Arfa and Marveaux are both immensely talented, but plagued by injury and fitness trouble. Ben Arfa scored 4 goals and made 3 in 18 starts (+4 subs), while Marveaux scored 2 and made 5 in 17 starts (+15 subs). Both are vital players and pretty much our only vaguely reliable sources of creativity on the wings. Aside from a couple of good Europa performances in October, Obertan has consistently failed to be effective, while Amalfitano is seemingly and hopefully half way out of the door already after playing a poorly in his 122 minutes of first-team football last season.
The only prominent youngster we have to provide any back-up is Sammy Ameobi, who has so far proved promising if inconsistent. Hopefully another loan move is on the cards for him to help him come to fruition. This lack of depth is why we saw Gouffran pushed out to the wing for much of last season.
Up front we have a great, if frustratingly frequently offside, first choice striker in Cissé, who had numerous goals wrongly ruled out last season limiting his league goal count to just 8 from 35 starts (4 in 8 in Europa League). I’m confident that with a better supply line and hopefully less mistaken offside call he can easily score 15+ goals in the coming season, when he should be exclusively played up front in his native poacher role, rather than shunted out of position as he was for roughly ¼ of the season gone. Gouffran is capable competition/back-up, and can fill in across the bank of attacking midfielders if needs be, but he is similar to Cissé in that he almost exclusively scores goals, rather than also helping to assist them. Unless a symbiotic understanding comes about between these two I don’t see them working up front together when we play a 4-4-2 or similar.
As for our back-up in this position, we have Shola. As much as I love him, seemingly the only role he can fill now is that of a sub to be brought on to retain possession and see the game out, preferably not when we’re only 1 goal up, but that’s Pardew for you… Then we have the U21 Adam Campbell who in his cameo appearances has shown a lot of energy and determination, but little end product, although he is only 18 and has plenty of time to develop into a potential first-team regular.
Without any players in or out, we have 27 players, 12 of which are homegrown, of widely varying quality, competing for 25 squad slots. This means that we have to sell or loan out a few if we are to make any over 21 additions. If, as I’ve suggested, we loan/sell Ferguson, Dummett, Gosling, Newton, Inman/Richardson and Amalfitano, we are left with 21 players, 7 of which are homegrown. We’d then have 4 slots left over to be potentially filled with over 21 players, although at least 1 of those would have to be left open or used on a homegrown player in order to meet the quota of 8.
I feel that the weakest link in our first eleven is on the left wing. While Marveaux can do a very good job here, he is injury prone and fares better as a centre attacking midfielder. Gutierrez offers little to no attacking threat in this role and instead serves as a fullback enhancer, which just isn’t enough for the system we play. Therefore this is position we need to prioritise, preferably finding a left winger who can consistently create chances and who has a good eye for goal, something our wingers other than Ben Arfa sorely lack.
One player who we’ve been linked to that could potentially fill this role is Tom Ince, who got 18 goals and 14 assists in 42 games last season, albeit in the Championship. He is expected to leave Blackpool this summer with a quoted price of around £8m, a large fee for a 21 year old with only two Championship seasons under his belt. I expect Carr will have cheaper continental options lined up, but one major factor in Ince’s favour is that the coming season will be his last as a U21 so he wouldn’t even take up a squad slot, and he will of course be a homegrown player after that.
Next on my shopping list would be a striker who isn’t just a poacher. We need someone who can partner with Cissé or Gouffran and create chances for them as well as bringing onrushing midfielders into play. This would give us something resembling a plan B, seemingly an alien concept to Pardew, and hopefully create a vital link between midfield and the oft stranded Cissé, something we’ve been sorely missing of late. Ideally this player would also be in their early twenties, since our other 3 strikers are all around or nearing the 30 mark.
Bafétimbi Gomis, who has rejected moves to Cardiff and Swansea this summer, is a player Lyon are trying to sell before his contract expires, and could potentially fill this role. He scored 18 goals and assisted 5 in 33 starts last season, and he’s something different from what we already have; a strong and somewhat pacey targetman who can actually score and bring others into play. We might even score from set pieces with him in the side. However he will be 28 at the start of the season, which could make a move for him unlikely.
Finally I’d like a better back-up option on the right wing than Obertan, despite clearly having some talent he’s struggled to make use of it or his pace and has had large segments of the crowd on his back pretty much since signing. Not ideal when you’re struggling for confidence. The main reason I consider this a position we need to strengthen is that Ben Arfa has been frequently injured or otherwise unfit over the last two seasons, so we need a reliable back-up that will deliver when called upon. Gouffran can cover this position, but we’re already short up-front and he is a striker by nature.
Alright, get to work Joe.