For many, the loss at West Brom signalled the end of any aspiration for this season at all. For some, it greatly diminished any real impetus Mike Ashley may have had to make improvements to a squad that has been performing well enough this season to meet the goal of a top-10 finish that was set out in the pre-season. Ultimately, while it is hard for one result to make or break a season or "philosophy" (if that's what you can call what goes on at the top levels of our club) it is much harder to close a gap at the top of the table than it is at the bottom, and that's what we're left with at the league portion of the holiday program. We are left 4 points behind Spurs and 5 behind Everton for that gem of a consolation prize that is the Europa League.
The fixtures surrounding the holidays are hard. They come "fast and thick" as we're reminded quite often. This is of course cliche talk for something that is actually true. Premier League teams that play tomorrow will be having their 4th competitive match in the space of 12 days. Even for the "they're professional athletes" brigade, this is a lot. This is of course low-level talk for something that is actually true. Many managers spend a good deal of thought and time in rotating through a number of their squad players during this busy time. Some managers (ours is one) just play their preferred 11 for all matches regardless, opting for the "I'm going to smash my head into this brick wall 1,000 times and see if I can't break through it" approach instead of the "Ouch! Smashing my head into this brick wall repeatedly hurts! I should try to do something different" approach.
It wouldn't be our club if there wasn't an undercurrent of odd rumors floating around, and some of those could have affected Pardew's decisions in some form for sure. For instance, the reports that Jonas Gutierrez is being frozen out so as not to activate an appearances-based automatic extension in his contract would fit this bill and would certainly be reaction to directions doming from an office that is not populated by Alan Scott Pardew, Esq. I refuse to believe that this situation is affecting the entire squad however. I roundly reject an argument that states that Sylvain Marveaux, Papiss Cissé, Vurnon Anita, Paul Dummett, Massadio Haïdara, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa or even Gabriel Obertan are anywhere close to pushing appearance-related clauses in their contracts through. This is largely because between all of them they barely scratch out double-digits in appearance numbers for this season (which, in fairness, has been much like every season). Instead of strategically rotating squad players in to keep key players fresh through this busy part of the fixture list (which as we've talked about before is about as NUFC-friendly a holiday program as we can remember) if your name isn't:
Krul | Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | Cabaye, Tiote | Gouffran, Ameobi, Ben Arfa, Sissoko | Rémy (a total squad of 12 "trusted" players), you can't even get a look in. There are gaps in this squad, for sure. Getting a game for our backup right back (Sir Not Appearing In This Film) is going to be impossible, clearly. Other players have made contributions at the Premier League level. Exactly why these players were not placed on a time-release plan to keep players somewhat fresh and to prevent #tiredbodies is a question that Alan Pardew must answer as we sit prepared to ship yet another FA Cup third round (of course we would be getting Cardiff with their new-manager bump. There is no other way) with a team completely comprised of players that he wouldn't trust with a carefully selected hour or 90 minutes here and there to keep his favorites from destroying themselves over the past 11 days. It's possible (just!) that these players have enough quality in them that they can go and get a result... but this is the same selection policy that led to us being dumped out by Brighton last season among other famous FA Cup departures. I suppose in the end, it's all going according to the script.