A much documented lack of transfer activity has left countless Geordies despondent with the size of our squad entering a hectic season, yearning for the signature of a new striker. The biggest worry is that whilst both Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse are competing in the African Cup of Nations (or potentially injured) we will be left unable to cope without arguably our two most recognised strikers, where a lack of goals could become a defining factor in our Premier League campaign. It’s worth noting that Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse contributed a huge 53% of our goals total in the Premier League last year (29 of 55), highlighting their importance.
So, should we of signed another striker? Not necessarily. Can we cope without Ba and Cisse? I believe so. A conventional 4-4-2 formation is unachievable should only one recognised striker in Shola Ameobi be available, but alternatives can be utilised to apt effect. Of 38 Premier League fixtures last season a 4-4-2 formation was utilised 26 times (68.4%). What about our other fixtures? We were often tagged as operating in a 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation with 1 conventional striker, 3 advanced mid-fielders and 2 central defensive mid-fielders in behind operating predominately defensively. Why could this not be used in the few games where both Cisse and Ba would not be available? Another alternative would be to play a 4-4-1-1 formation (often favoured by Alan Pardew’s predecessor Chris Hughton) with Ben Arfa operating in what is essentially a free role behind Shola Ameobi.
I personally cannot see why the Newcastle United eleven (shown in the image) could not compete near to the astonishing heights that we did last season, despite the potential lack of goals. Shola Ameobi – although with his critics – is undoubtedly a brilliant hold-up forward (although a little inconsistent) who I’m under no illusion could bring a very strong advanced midfield 3 into the game effectively, whilst still posing an aerial threat (averaging 1.6 aerial duels won per game during the 11/12 Premier League season, 4th highest of any Newcastle player). Shola Ameobi’s strength in bringing others into the game (particularly in the final third) is unmistakable when you consider he averaged 0.19 assists per game last season, more than any other Newcastle forward – even more impressive when conceding that he played the full 90 minutes in less than 1/3rd of his appearances last season.
One factor that should be considered however is Shola Ameobi’s injury record. He remained sidelined for a large proportion of last season, managing only 8 starts and 19 sub appearances. He did not feature in 29% of Newcastle’s Premier League fixtures last season. This leaves us with the dangerous possibility of having 0 recognised strikers available during January. The only alternatives during such a huge crisis would be for Ben Arfa or Cabaye to operate in an unfamiliar striker role, or bring in the young and inexperienced Adam Campbell or Sammy Ameobi.
It is also worth noting the strength in depth (excluding the striker role) we have when operating the above formation. The likes of Jonas Gutierrez (LB, LW, CM), Dan Gosling (CM, CAM), Gael Bigirimana (CM), Gabriel Obertan (RW), Sammy Ameobi (LW, ST), Adam Campbell (ST, RW), Mehdi Abeid (CM, CAM), Haris Vuckic (CAM), and Romain Amalfitano (CM, LW, RW) provide fantastic cover in the midfield, which can be easily adapted depending on the strengths and weaknesses of opposition.
In conclusion, yes I believe we can cope. We may be forced into operating in a certain style to accommodate for their absences but this is by no means a catastrophic disadvantage. The signature of a fourth senior striker may have placed us in a more comfortable position going into the 12/13 campaign, but is by no means the disaster some have made it out to be. Place a little faith in Pardew, please. Long gone are the days of undermining our own through unrealistic ambitions.