Obertan Ahead Of Ben Arfa And Other Newcastle United Dilemmas
After two great and somewhat unexpected victories against Jose Mourhino’s Cheslea and AVB’s high flying Spurs, Newcastle find themselves 3 points ahead of where they were after 14 games last season. With 3 away wins already on the board and no Europa League hangovers, Newcastle have made a promising start to a turbulent premier league season.
With everyone now having beat everyone (see the matrix doing the rounds on the social media sites) we should be looking at a strong top half finish. With the exception of Sunderland (A) and Hull (H) Newcastle have started well this season. The system of 4-4-2 has worked wonders both at home and away and Pardew has finally realised that we are at our best against the so called bigger teams when letting them attack and exploiting them on the counter with the likes of Remy, Gouffran and Sissoko all utilising their greatest attribute – pace.
With only one summer signing this season, let’s take a look at the factors in which make this team so different from the team that flirted so closely with relegation last season.
January Acquisitions Getting to Grips with the PL
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mathiew Debuchy , Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Gouffran have all cemented their place in Pardew’s starting line up this season. Having initially struggled with the pace and strength of the premier league compared to Ligue 1, it’s clear now that all have found their feet within this team. Mapou looks an assured CB alongside Mike Williamson and his commitment was typified by his goal line clearance from the free kick on Sunday.
Debuchy has been the only ever-present player for Newcastle this season and seems to have found the right balance between when to bomb on and when to hold his defensive positions. He also looks to have come back much stronger having bulked up over the summer to cope with the power of the PL.
Sissoko hit the ground sprinting last season getting an assist on his debut and scoring twice against Chelsea at SJP. However, he drifted out of many games following that last season, partly because Pardew couldn’t find his best position. Although being deployed out wide (Ben Arfa a seat on the bench) Sissoko has played fantastic in the last 3-4 games, again utilising his pace and stamina to press higher up the pitch (something Ben Arfa would never really do).
Lastly, Yohan Gouffraan is quickly becoming a fan favourite on Tyneside. Coming in with little reputation and an even smaller price tag (£1.5m from Bordeaux) Yohan has proved to be a great buy. His work ethic is 2nd to none and he does not give defenders a moments’ rest. Not only that but he can score and assist, as shown against Chelsea and Spurs respectively.
Established Players Finding Form
I will be the first to admit I have never been a fan of Mike Williamson, however this season he has been inspired. Ever since the 2nd half against Everton in which he won pretty much everything against Lukaku he has looked a new man. Confident and assured, Williamson has slotted in seamlessly for the injured Coloccini & Taylor and has a good shout of starting the next game against Norwich alongside Mbiwa having kept clean sheets in the last 2 games.
Managers aren’t often given the credit they are due as players are the ones who cross the line and take all the plaudits. However, installing Cheick Tiote as Captain for the injured Coloccini is nothing short of a masterstroke. Tiote has been one that has noticeably found his form which once had him valued at £15m/£20m by the likes of Chelsea allegedly. Cheick was guilty of trying to overplay the ball too many times last season but now seems happy to going back to basics in winning it and distributing it. Discipline was always Tiote’s downfall with almost an every other game yellow card ratio. However, now he seems much calmer (I’m pretty sure Pardew has a button sending 240 volts to Tiote’s armband any time he thinks he’s going ‘wolverine’).
Vurnon Anita is another who has now shown us why we paid £6.5 for him from Dutch giants Ajax. Anita has been pushing for a starting place all season and hasn’t disappointed when given the chance.
No Europa League
I was ecstatic when Newcastle qualified for Europe 2 seasons ago and made the most of it while it lasted, going to every home game and one away (Bruges in Oct). Although it was great entertainment and it offered us another route to that elusive trophy – the impact it had on our premier league performance was significant. Players looked tired and our squad simply was not big enough to cope with playing Thursday – Sunday –Thursday- Sunday. With only one game a week the energy levels of the players seem to be the best we’ve seen, the pressing of teams (A) and playing counter attacking football has worked and seen us already have 1 more away win than we did the whole of last season.
There are still many unresolved questions for Pardew to ponder;
Does Coloccini come back into a settled back 4?
Will Gutierrez dislodge Gouffran in LM?
What to do with Ben Arfa???
The latter has to be more worrying than anything else. It is understandable why he has been dropped, his performance against Everton was shocking and he never turned up against Sunderland (along with the other 10 players). But there were opportunities to give the Frenchman game time which is vital to his World Cup aspirations against Chelsea and Spurs but Pardew opted for Gabriel Obertan instead. To be fair to Gabby he did have a part to play in the build up to Remy’s goal against Chelsea but offered very little in terms of stretching Spurs on Sunday. It’s worrying, as how long can Ben Afra be ignored before he kicks a fuss? Hopefully Pardew is simply putting Obertan ‘in the shop window for January’ and is resting Hatem for games in which he can be more expressive without having to chase the ball for 90 minutes.
With the mouth watering prospect of two very winnable homes games coming up it’s nice to go into the international break on a positive for once!
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