Darn it – having recently mugged l’arse and Liverpool with last-minute goals, we muggers became muggees this afternoon, against the barcodes of Newcastle. Evidently we can feel aggrieved, but these things tend to even themselves out, approximately, over the course of the season, so let’s not be too despondent. It still baffles and grates me that we’re unbeaten against each of the top four this season, and have lost to just about every rubbish (or at least second-rate) team in the division, but that’s football I guess. By all accounts it was a decent perfromance – and upcoming fixtures suggest that we have a great opportunity to go on the sort of run that would lift us well clear of the relegation zone and ensconce us in the top half.
The fall-guy today was left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, apparently glaringly at fault for the first goal. While ‘Arry has steadied the ship and brought out the best in the likes of Modric and Lennon, and even Gomes and Bent, his faith in BAE has gone largely unnoticed, but nevertheless irks me. My reasons are twofold – numero uno, BAE is mediocre at best; and secondly, we have one Gareth Bale in reserve.
BAE’s mediocrity is spectacular. He is the archetypal “solid” full-back, where “solid” is a euphemism for “dull and of limited talent” . He rarely ventures beyond the halfway line, let alone up to the oppo area, in the style of the great 21st century attacking full-backs. His entire array of passing seems to comprise solely of whacking the ball down the left flank – and his defending, as evidenced today, hardly elevates him into the pantheon of greats. I like to judge a player according to the teams he would attract if offered for sale – and BAE seems to be in the Fulham/Wigan category.
On top of that, he has an unnervingly blank expression at all times. Admittedly this isn’t the strongest reason to exclude him from the team, but that icy demeanour makes him look like he’s formulating a plan to murder someone – with an axe – and scares the bejeesus out of me. Just made a last-ditch tackle? BAE looks blank. Just dropped a clanger? Looks blank. I suspect that even if he slotted home the Champions League-winning penalty his celebration would consist of a blank look into some distance space, before retrieving the ball and belting it up the left touch-line.
And yet BAE is keeping Gareth Bale out of the team. Indeed, BAE was the only first-teamer rested by ‘Arry during last week’s draw to Spartak, so unfathomably sacrosanct is his place in the team.
If Bale were sold today Aston Villa and Everton would have a look, and possibly even the top four – indeed, we beat Man Utd to his signature 18 months back. Now admittedly Bale has had a slightly shoddy season so far. His defending has never been his forte, reflected in the fact that he plays as often in midfield as at the back, and his distribution has been a tad wayward. However, when on song – as in the first half of last season, before getting injured – he is a potent threat. As a natural, attacking left-footer he offers balance to the midfield, the threat of an early cross, good pace and also chips in with goals. When all else was going wrong in the first four months of last season, he struck me as our best player.
The congested Christmas fixture list is likely to force ‘Arry to chop and change a bit, and I implore young Bale to seize the chance with both hands, and left foot, and cement his place in the team. He may look like he’s yet to evolve fully from our simian cousins, but he has at least previously shown himself to be a quality performer in a Spurs shirt – something I’m not sure could be said of the axe-murdering BAE.