If there's one word that has summed up Newcastle United's season thus far, it would probably be "surprising." If you answered with "disappointing," you'd also be correct, but we're playing nice here.
It's been interesting to see the Magpies come back into some form since January, since it highlights that the fans were correct all along when they were clamouring for new signings in the summer.
Newcastle haven't had the depth to cope with any sort of injuries, let alone the procession of bad luck that has befallen the squad. Hatem Ben Arfa, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Yohan Cabaye; all have missed substantial playing time, and it's been to the detriment of the team.
Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson and James Perch are useful utility players, but they're not first-team Premier League players. Newcastle tried to use them in that manner and were frequently exposed.
However, there have been surprising statistics present all through the season. For the sake of relevancy, the three statistics present are from recent fixtures or surveys.
Hatem Ben Arfa is the Second-Best Dribbler in Europe
Fans of the Toon will not be surprised by this at all, and in fact have been making claims to this effect since his arrival on Tyneside. However, the extent of his success may be the thing that surprises.
HamroFootball.com carried out a survey across La Liga, the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, and the results would have been a joy to read for the Toon Army.
At the time of the survey, Ben Arfa had attempted 64 dribbles in total, completing an average of 4.9 successful dribbles per game. Only Franck Ribery fared better, averaging 6.1 successful dribbles per game.
Bear in mind that Lionel Messi finished sixth and Luis Suarez limped in 10th, and also bear in mind that Ben Arfa has been sidelined with injuries for a lot of the year. That sort of efficiency rate is impressive in any season; however, in a campaign where the side has played poorly and the player himself hasn't been at full fitness, this is exceptional.
James Perch's Passing Stats Belie His Critics
The man affectionately known as "Perchinho" has come under attack this year—including the slight swipe at him earlier in this article—and it's true that he sometimes passes through games with little impact. Sometimes he will emerge from the 90 minutes with nothing but blame, having made an error that contributed to another defeat.
With the ball at his feet, however, he is a bright spot in a team that has been lacklustre at best. Over the past two games, Perch's passing efficiency has been impressive and exactly what his team needed.
Given his chance to prove himself in the wake of the January window, Perch has delivered. Against Chelsea, he completed 37-of-43 passes in the Newcastle midfield (via FourFourTwo Stats Zone), enabling the more creative players to run the attack.
He built on this in the next game too. At White Hart Lane he only let one pass go astray, completing 33-of-34 and holding down the defensive aspect of the midfield in Cheick Tiote's absence. If not for Gareth Bale, the game would've ended very differently.
Perch has proven that he can contribute to this new-look Newcastle team, showing English determination amongst French flair.
The No. 23 is Important, After All
Following the horrendous Jim Carrey vehicle of the same name, there were many people ready to dismiss the idea of the No. 23 having any significance at all.
The away victory against Aston Villa was very important, for both teams and for the same reason. After 23 games, Newcastle and Villa were on 20 and 21 points, respectively, which constituted their worst-ever Premier League season.
Before this fixture, the Magpies hadn't won away from St. James' Park since May, when a victory against Chelsea spurred on dreams of the Champions League in a season to remember.
This time, the victory at Villa Park ignited a spark in the team that saw Chelsea again on the receiving end of defeat. Moussa Sissoko carved his name into Magpies lore with a last-minute winner that justified Alan Pardew's decision to raid Ligue 1.
Villa dropped into the bottom three following defeat to the Toon. It was a stark reminder that it would've been Newcastle in the relegation zone had the situation been reversed.