bridging the gap
Premiership Goals 2006-07
When I look at the squad that Martin Jol has assembled, I genuinely believe that we are not far from reaching the top four and all the rewards that entails; from playing Champions League football to winning silverware on a regular basis. But to do that first we must catch them and step out from their shadow.
The way I see it, there is a massive chasm in front of us which we must first cross. On the side we now stand are fifteen clubs and on the other are just four. What we seek is a place amongst those four clubs and to do that this chasm must be bridged.
I feel we are on the cusp of making that crossing and taking our place on the other side, including challenging for trophies and hopefully creating a real era under Jol. That can all happen, if that gap is crossed, but how to do it? The way I see things is that aside from the top four we are the best equipped side in the league. True, Bolton and Everton are vying with us for fifth place, and it would do either side a great disservice to say they donít deserve to be where they are, yet we are geared for crossing to the other side far more than they. Neither have the squad or the resources to match ours at present, so that makes us most likely.
We stand at the edge of that chasm and at present we are being jostled by the other sides around us as they try to take our place, but we are certainly first in the queue. The way we have played in the cups this season and still have a chance of finishing fifth has shown we arenít far behind, yet to take that crossing we must step out over the abyss and that is a step into the unknown.
In the history of league football in England, there has never been a period where such a group of teams has been so dominant over the rest of the league. Even when Liverpool where at their best in the 70s and 80s, clubs were still capable of competing with them if they got the right blend of players in a season.
So, how do we bridge the gap ? Well you may have seen that at the very top of this I have noted the two midfielders who have scored the most goals in the Premiership this season. And it should come as no surprise that they are from the current champions and the league leaders, both of whom are a mile apart from the rest of the division. Of course, a reliable goalkeeper, solid defence, creative midfield and free scoring forward line are all necessary to being a successful side, but Arsenal have all of these attributes within their ranks and arenít exactly blowing away their opponents this season, or the last for that matter, and the reason they look set for a second successive fourth place finish and another season without silverware is because they lack goals from the middle.
The goal-scoring midfielder is key in the top Premiership sides. Chelsea have Lampard, Liverpool have Gerrard and Manchester United have Ronaldo, not to mention Giggs and Scholes, the only club who lack one regular goal-scorer from midfield and take a regular berth in the Champions League is Arsenal. They saw the need for such a player in the summer, when they bought in Rosicky, but he has not lived up to his reputation. Whether that is because he hasnít fitted in to their team or canít adapt to English football is not my concern. So who is our great hope, the One in the midfield to bring us goals and fire us into the top four ? Well, at present it is Jermaine Jenas.
Donít get me wrong, Jenas is a player with great energy, drive and enthusiasm, as well as one who does chip in goals from the middle. But would anyone say that he will haul us into the top four ? I donít believe so, as much as I value his endeavour. Our run of five wins in a row in the league has coincided with Jenasí return to the side and his decent work in the middle. Without him, we deployed Huddlestone and Zokora next to one another, and the pair we too deep and lethargic, not to mention playing the same role. Most notably, however, is that neither provides the goal threat that Jenas does. Even so, I donít believe Jermaine will ever give us the kind of goal return needed for us to gatecrash the Champions League.
In order to get among that group Jenas would need to score around twelve goals in the league next season. I canít see that as realistic, because thatís a return of one goal in almost three matches, and he isnít that reliable, if he was, he would have put that chance away at Anfield.
There are plenty of Spurs fans Iíve spoken to this season who claim that our issues revolve solely around our left flank, that once we acquire a left back and a left footed wide player of similar ability to Lennon that the puzzle will be complete and we will have the team.
I donít believe we need a left back any longer, Lee has done well recently in that role and is finally standing up to the physical challenge opposing him. Malbranque, I do take some issue with because he isnít a left-sider and cuts in all too often, leaving Lee exposed. I donít have anything against him in the team, just that he shouldnít be on the left. So yes, while we are on it, we do require a proper left-sider too (and it would be nice to have some able to take set pieces, because I donít think I have seen a goal scored from a direct free kick at home since Defoe scored against Forest in the cup in 2005. And donít get me started on our cornersÖ). There are many candidates we could try to sign in the summer, one name that springs to mind is Petrov, and I have no doubt that Jol will seek to address this in the summer, but that should not be a priority.
The fact remains that the top three sides in the league table at present all contain within their ranks a player capable of scoring regularly from midfield, and stamping their authority on a game. Lampard, Gerrard and Ronaldo are all able to score goals, create goals and do both when needed, and once we have a player within our ranks capable of doing all these things we will be able to challenge them on a more regular basis, not just occasionally.
Jenas doesnít look capable of ever being the player to fill that hole. Sure he can score and make goals, but he doesnít threaten to do it nearly enough, and I donít think he will ever grab a game by the scruff of the neck and make a serious impact, certainly not in the way the three above do. To my mind this should be Jolís priority in the summer, because once we have him thatís when we will seriously challenge the big four.
As for who can fulfil that gap; I donít know, I only hope Martin does.
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