Since coming in during the January Transfer Window, at which point he was on international duty with Senegal thus delaying his debut until February 5th, Papiss Cisse has scored five goals in 425 minutes of Premier League football and has laid on a further one assist. Although his inaugural goal for the Toon was particularly delightful, his best and most wholesome performance to date was in Sunday’s 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, in which the Senegalese striker scored a brace, one either side of an assist for Hatem Ben Arfa, to cap an excellent 34 minutes of attacking football from Newcastle to all but kill the game off with just over a third played.
Having taken the reins at St. James’ Park in December 2010, just a few months after being sacked as the manager of Southampton F.C., a club at which he laid the foundations for the successes they are enjoying at the moment, having bought Championship Player of the Year Rickie Lambert, as well as team captain Dean Hammond, centre-back ever-present Jose Fonte, who has kept 36 clean sheets since signing for Saints, and Southampton’s top assister this season Frazer Richardson, Alan Pardew has continued to show a shrewd eye for transfers, undoubtedly aided by the superb scouting networks at both clubs.
As well as the notable purchases made whilst on the South Coast, Pardew has continued to flourish in the transfer market under the purse strings of Mike Ashley, stringently loosened by Derek Llambias. Although the £35m fee received for Andy Carroll, who is still yet to live up to the tag of Liverpool and indeed England’s most expensive signing, had gone largely unused in the summer transfer window, leading to some disgruntlement among fans, Newcastle strived in the first half of the Premier League campaign on their cheap European imports, largely thanks to francophone spotting specialist Graham Carr, but ultimately down to the say so of the purchases from Alan Pardew.
Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote were two of Newcastle’s top performers in the first half of the season, although the latter has had his season hampered by injuries meaning that he has missed handfuls of games at a time, and aside from Newcastle’s top scorer Demba Ba, one shining star in Newcastle’s side, who hasn’t attracted as much attention, has been Hatem Ben Arfa.
Arriving before Alan Pardew’s tenure at the club began, full credit goes to Graham Carr on this one – in yet another Gallic purchase. Although his first season at Newcastle was far from ideal, with the exciting French international breaking his leg in two places, resulting in him playing the combined equivalent of less than two 90-minute games, the Toon showed faith in the attacking midfielder buying him from Marseille, having previously been on loan, during his injured spell last January.
This season, however, beginning with flickering, sporadic first team appearances, but eventually establishing himself as the exciting flair man in a midfield full of determined and defensively minded midfielders, Ben Arfa has grown into his own and since the turn of the year he has found himself after stuttering through a few seasons of his youth as the less mature trickster among seasoned pros.
Now, with eight games left and five points to make up on a stumbling Tottenham Hotspur it could be the combination of Carr and Pardew off the pitch and the combination of Ben Arfa and Cisse on the pitch that sees the Toon secure European qualification for next season.
One downside of Papiss Cisse’s arrival at the Toon seems to be the drop off in form of Demba Ba. Although Cisse’s club and country striker partner has continued to line up with Newcastle’s new #9, playing 629 minutes of Newcastle’s last 630 since his return from AFCON, Ba hasn’t struck the back of the net since Cisse’s debut and is now on his driest spell since joining the Tyneside club.
Questions were asked whether the two could form a partnership together, having, despite being international teammates, barely line-up alongside each other, and as long as Cisse is scoring in Ba’s drought, not many will care for an answer. However, Ba’s contribution on the whole has seemingly dipped, having not assisted either since Cisse signed for £10m – Pardew’s most expensive purchase to date.
Yet, Papiss Cisse is showing every sign of being the number nine Newcastle have longed for since Carroll’s departure and his arrival completes the return on the England striker’s fee. Hatem Ben Arfa, Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Gabriel Obertan, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, Dan Gosling and Mehdi Abeid signed for the Toon for a combined £23 million +/- £2.5m and Cisse’s £10m arrival brings the total roughly into line with what Carroll left for.
Money aside, Cisse’s weekend exploits ranked him among Europe’s finest. For distribution of the ball, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure topped the charts, beating ex-club Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara, who was one of nine homegrown players in Barca’s team that beat Mallorca 2-0 over the weekend. For chance creation, it was Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa that led the charts ahead of Getafe’s J.Gavilan and Toulouse’s A.Regattin.
However, topping the shooting charts across Europe’s five top leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy & Spain), was Papiss Cisse, beating £80m Cristiano Ronaldo and £20m Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To top a brilliant week for Newcastle, Hatem Ben Arfa ranked as the best overall player in Europe over the weekend, according to statistical analysis from Opta and CIES Football Observatory, ahead of Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard – interestingly, three French developed players taking the three top spots.
With Graham Carr seemingly possessing a delicate palette for the succulent footballing market of France, Alan Pardew providing the tactical nous to far exceed Newcastle’s expectations to the point that they’re just as close to 3rd place Arsenal as they are 6th place Liverpool – eight points, and their Francophone squad delivering on the pitch week-in-week-out, be it Tiote or Cabaye, or Ben Arfa or Ba, Newcastle are poised for a strong finish to Alan Pardew’s first full season.
The only question left now is can they pip Chelsea or Tottenham to fourth place or will they be left to fight for a position unimaginable back in August – fifth?