Newcastle play Spurs this Sunday looking to keep their unbeaten start to the season intact. For this game, more so than any of the previous 7 games, Alan Pardew has a real selection headache. Firstly, Davide Santon will be at full fitness, or at least very close to it, and secondly, Mr Ben Arfa might feel that he fancies a Premier League start for the first time since that horrid afternoon last October. Should we stick or twist?
My inclination is that, injury permitting, the starting line-up will remain unchanged. Ryan Taylor has done a sterling job filling in at left back, even though his deficiencies are obvious. Every team we have played so far has tried to target Taylor to some degree, and whilst we have had several close calls, Taylor has, by and large, stood up to the challenge.
Tottenham have got enough quality out wide to make a mug out of any full back, but I would feel more comfortable going in to the game knowing what we can expect from Taylor rather than with an unknown quantity in Santon, who could not only play poorly but also upset the balance and understanding in defence. We will come under pressure against Spurs at some point and any lack of communication or understanding could well cost us.
If Taylor has a nightmare against Spurs we can play Santon against Wigan the week after which would be a much gentler introduction to life in the Premiership. Finally, if Taylor were to be dropped, what sort of message does that send to the other squad players? It would be better for team spirit to send the message that if you play well you keep the shirt.
Ben Arfa is a different question all together. With this man’s ability he will simply be a starter when he is fully fit and playing well. If he had played in the reserve game against Bolton his case for a start would have been strengthened considerably.
The question of Ben Arfa also relates to tactics as much as anything. Do we have enough faith that out midfield can match theirs and control the game? If we lose the early midfield battle we could find ourselves over run with neither Ba nor Best particularly able to drop deep and aid the midfield.
I think our best bet would be to drop Best in favour of Ben Arfa, who I would play in the hole. This would be harsh on Best but as Trappatoni said in midweek, sometimes you need a different option. The game should be an open one with both teams placing an emphasis on attack. They are not going to try and kick us off the park but they will look to control the game through their technical players. I think we should let Ben Arfa, Tiote and Cabaye go head to head to with Van der Vaart, Parker and Modric. If we give those types of players the numerical advantage in the middle of the park our strikers could become redundant and thus any benefit of having strikers on the pitch would be negligible.
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