Aaron Lennon has been the subject of some criticism here. Does he deserve it?
In a display of souring good holiday cheer that the most unapologetic scrooge would approve of, Aaron Lennon has dealt us a considerable blow in deciding to tear his hamstring in the Sunday match vs. Sunderland. Shame on you for being so unseasonal sir. In order rectify the situation I thought I'd demonstrate a little Christmas charity and take up a bit of front page space to show Lennon haters the error of their wicked ways. Ho ho ho. Here's five dodgy perceptions of Mr. Lennon that need addressing.
1. He has no final ball
I still struggle to see what the fuss is about Lennon's crossing. I will concede that, going by immediate evidence, last season's stats might make for grim reading- just 7 assists altogether in all competitions. Several facts must be borne in mind in this respect, however. Firstly, Lennon missed a considerable number of our games at the start of this year and before due to injury. His inconsistent presence in Redknapp's starting lineup towards the end of the season, which saw him frequently coming second to Rafael van der Vaart, can also be cited as an issue that would have prevented him from hitting his rhythm. Looking beyond this period, the picture looks completely different. Prior to this, in the 2009/10 season, he notched up 14 assists in 36 games, beating a prior record of 13 in 2006/7 - not a bad tally by any winger's standards.
More generally, he has shown time and time again that he can deliver under pressure- his wonderful cutback to Crouch for our only goal in the first leg of the Milan tie being a key if overused example. This is what Lennon can do at his best, and already there are signs that he's regaining that form this season. In the past few months he has been involved in a significant proportion of the goals we've scored so far, notching up two assists in the game against QPR alone. Make no mistake, he's no Bale when it comes to delivering the ball into the danger area- but he has more than enough about his end product to combine in with his pace to make a dangerous package.
2. He's not versatile and can't cope with having to cut inside
I'll accept that Lennon's apparent inability to get past a fullback without getting chalk on his boots has been a recurring problem for the pint-sized Yorkshireman in the past and, at the start of the season when we first started rolling out the inverted wingers system, his skill at beating his man on the inside was a matter of real concern. Since then, however, I would argue that he's risen to the occasion and shown some encouraging signs of improving that aspect of his game, as this chalkboard shows.
When drifting in and linking up with Gareth Bale, Lennon looked more dangerous against QPR than he has for large spells of his time on the fringes of the pitch- hardly the hallmark of a one-dimensional player.
3. He can't track back
A crucial point of contention in never-ending Lennon/Walcott comparison debates. When called upon to do the job, I would argue that Aaron Lennon plays a better defensive role for Tottenham than Gareth Bale, an infrequent full-back. In games where he's been paired with Vedran Corluka especially down the right hand side, Lennon has been tasked with overlapping the full-back, picking up the ball deep and bringing it back up as quickly and clinically as possible- this was a key element of our counter-attacking game last season. Any video reviewing his key contributions to the team will highlight how effective Lennon is at tracking back and winning the ball deep.
4. His lack of confidence meant he bottled the Madrid match
Though Lennon's early struggles with self-esteem issues during the Martin Jol years at Spurs are well-documented, at the age of 24, he has now played in two World Cups already and proven himself capable of living up to the challenge of coming under scrutiny on an international stage. He played and thrived under the pressure of all of Tottenham's Champion's League matches up to the tie at the Bernabeu. He was there for the return leg at White Hart Lane. There is absolutely no way that Aaron Lennon is a bottler for important ties and there is absolutely no way that he would have pulled out of such a crucial game at the last minute unless he felt too physically unwell to play up to the best of his capabilities.
5. We have other options on the right flank
As has been argued many, many times on this site, Rafael van der Vaart is unwilling and incapable of providing a top-class service for the team out wide. Giovanni dos Santos has not proven himself capable of playing the role either, and Niko Kranjcar has never failed harder than when asked to do the inversion thing away at Wolves in September. Modric's creativity is wasted out of the centre of the pitch, ditto Bale when taken off the left flank. Maybe if some competition in the form of another potential winger was introduced in January a proper debate about options could be had but for now, Lennon is irrefutably a dead cert when fit for the first team in his best position.