*Here’s another of my WHTID articles*
In the last three games against Manchester United, Stoke and Swansea we haven’t conceded a single goal yet we haven’t scored one either and our style of play has been considerably more negative, this was especially notable in the Swansea game just played. However, this is not a time to be panicking about squad depth and our ability to function without our best players; we aren’t losing.
Let me take you back to this month two seasons ago; in December 2013, we managed no wins, 2 draws and 4 losses in our Premier League fixtures. Granted, we had tough opposition, losing to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool but we were losing games and our defence was far from solid. There’s only one clean sheet in there, against Sunderland. And then, this time last year, where we had a similar start to the season, come December, we picked up 2 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses, again with one clean sheet. This season, we have 3 draws from 3 games and perhaps most importantly 3 clean sheets.
As far as I can recall, in neither of the two previous years were we dealing with an injury crisis, yet we didn’t manage to perform to a high level around Christmas time. This season however, we are dealing with injuries to our key playmakers and goal-scorers, Payet, Lanzini, Moses and Sakho. We’re also missing our best performing defender this season so far, Winston Reid. We lost Carroll for the yesterday’s trip to Swansea and we’re only just seeing the return of Enner Valencia and Alex Song from injury. I think it’s safe to say that this has definitely been an injury crisis.
I actually believe that these last three uninteresting draws speak volumes of our squad depth this year. Despite missing six or seven key players all at once, we’re grinding out points against tough opposition. Manchester United, although struggling somewhat for form at the moment, are an incredibly strong side with a number of world class players in their squad. I was there at Old Trafford and can honestly say that we were unfortunate not to return to London with all three points; that is an achievement in itself. We then faced a Stoke side on the up after a very impressive attacking victory against Manchester City and stopped them from scoring. Jack Butland was man of the match, that seems to suggest we played pretty well. Then Swansea, a side looking to bounce back after a poor run of games and the sacking of Garry Monk. It’s never easy to play a club just after the sacking of a manager with players playing for their place yet we managed to defend resolutely and come away with a very valuable point.
So, I am in fact very positive about the last three goalless draws. I think we can take many positives from each of them such as the strength of our defence, the fact that Song is beginning to look steady in that deep lying midfield role and the excitement of Michail Antonio rising to the challenge of Premier League football and showing not only that he is a hard-worker and someone who plays for the team, not just for himself, but also that he can show flashes of the quality necessary to tear Premier League full-backs apart.
What we are lacking at the moment is end product, and this is of course due to the injuries to our players that provide this for us, but I would say that the performance of Jelavic today seems to show that we may be a little light up top and could do with someone who can replicate the job of Diafra Sakho; a hard-worker with good interplay who can be hit as a target man but also has the pace to get in behind and at the end of it all has a good finish. That’s admittedly not easy to find, not for a small amount of cash anyway.
I know that the board aren’t intent on doing much business in January but it would be nice to see them look hard at a few centre forward options and perhaps begin the hunt for a top right-back if it hasn’t already begun. Jenkinson can offer us attacking quality and Tomkins can offer us defensive quality but neither can offer us both, we need someone that can provide this for us. On the evidence of yesterday’s performance, Collins has certainly still got it so it would be nice to see him retained through the window and it might be clever just to make sure of that Lanzini deal while we can, he’s someone we definitely want to keep.
Don’t begin to grumble too much just yet, we might not be playing the most scintillating football but we’re getting points on the board and the return dates of our key players just keep getting closer.