Master and Commander
By Jonathan Anderson
Sunday 25 Nov 2012 10:48:00
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Twelve games gone, twelfth place in the league; and now, after back to back home defeats to bog standard, mid-table teams, what looks like a rather worrying spell of form. For some reason this season, we've just not got started, and if anything, we're getting worse.....

 

So, what's going wrong? Well, if you ask Alan Pardew he will point to a whole host of factors; injuries/red cards/suspensions to key men, the Europa League, and now this farcical 5-day ban for Papiss Cisse. Whilst in one respect all of these factors may be true, in reality they are nothing more than a smoke screen to divert from the real issue; the penny-pinching from our Commander-in-chief and the complete lack of investment that never came in the summer. 

 

We are lucky enough to have some top players at our club these days; Krul, Coloccini, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas, Ba, Ben Arfa and Cisse all proved their class last season and led our club to a fantastic, unexpected top five finish. In the interest fairness, it should also be mentioned that all these players (Bar Tim Krul) have been signed by the current regime, and, given the dross signed by Freddie in the past, this should not go underestimated. However, this season, with the exception of Ba, and possibly Ben Arfa early on, none have re-produced last season’s form. Personally, I don’t really blame the players too much, they needed help and the reinforcements just never arrived.

 

As the management and a majority of players have remained the same, it’s all too easy to compare last season to this, the issue here is, that last year was a very different animal. Last season no one expected us to perform the way we did, no one given us a hope of fifth place at the start of the year, especially with the departures of Nolan, Barton and Jose. Thanks to group of players who stuck together and believed in themselves, our boys rolled along like a steam train all year long. Aided by an injury list that was relatively kind, along with early exits from the both cups, there was nothing to throw us off course and disrupt the momentum. Virtually the same eleven, playing every weekend, with a full week to focus and prepare for the next match. Simple.

 

This season was always going to be harder; but we knew that. We knew the Europa League was going to stretch us to our limits, both in terms of playing staff, and in terms of preparations for the weekend’s fixtures. We knew that we’d not get as lucky with injuries and suspensions as we did last season. We knew that in order to match last season’s performance we needed to strengthen. Question is, if we knew that, then so did the club, so why didn’t it happen!?

 

Well, as the season ended and all the other teams in the league moved to strengthen their squads for the new campaign, we spent the summer with our thumb up our arse, wallowing in our own glory and patting ourselves on the back for how well we’d just done. Given the competitiveness of the league, you just can’t afford to stand still, if you do, invariably you get left behind.

 

Our squad was already paper thin as it was, we got away with it last season; but with all the extra fixtures this year, and added demands that comes with them, we needed at least 4/5 new senior players to boost the ranks, maybe even more given Guthrie and Best’s departure. By the end of August, for all the white noise about Carroll, Douglas and Debuchy, all we had signed was three young lads and ONE senior player; Anita, who so far has struggled to get to grips with the Premier League. Simply not good enough for a full summers work.

 

There will be those who say that the lack of any new signings has helped the younger players coming through. This is a bit of a fallacy. We have a good crop of young players in our squad, and in order for them to develop they need game time, that goes without saying. The likes of Gosling, Vukic, Tavernier, Bigirimana, Sammy all have bright futures, and because of the extra games, these lads have hopefully all gained some valuable experience already this season. However, regardless of whether extra first team players were signed or not, these boys should still have been given the games this year, especially in Europa League. It’s the senior ranks, who are responsible for supporting these youngsters when they do get a game, that need strengthening.

 

Once again it seems Mike, our commander-in-chief, was having gamble at our expense, spend the bare minimum and hope that lightening can strike twice. Hell, even if it doesn’t come off at least we should still have enough quality to stay in the league these days. That’s not how you run a Premier League team, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the position we were in May, its imperative you strike whilst the iron’s hot and bring in hungry new recruits, ready to help push on and make the next step up the ladder.

 

Malcolm X once said that “Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”, well guess what? We didn’t prepare, and right now tomorrow belongs to West Brom, West Ham and Everton. Let’s just hope that in January we can rectify last summer’s mistakes before its too late. If we can't, and we fail to build on all the great work of last season, then the commander-in-chief really will have become the Master of our own demise.



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