Last season, Aaron Lennon was practically an undisputed starter for Tottenham. Although he was in and out of the starting lineup towards the end of the season, he finished the season with 47 appearances in all competitions, the most appearances by any player on Tottenham's squad.
However, did those appearances translate to production on the pitch? Not always. Lennon recorded three goals and three assists in the Premier League, production that paled in comparison to his counterpart on the left, Gareth Bale, who scored seven goals and made two assists.
In the Champions League, Lennon fared much better, recording five assists in 11 matches. Still, he was outdone by Bale, who recorded an astounding four goals and nine assists in 11 matches.
Even if we forgo the comparison between Bale and Lennon, since they play in opposite positions, it's hard to say that three goals and eight assists justify constant selection as a starter on a team with the goal of reaching the top four, especially when only three of those assists came in the Premier League.
Why, then, did Lennon pick up so many starts last season for Tottenham? Did he add some sort of intangible element to Tottenham's play which is not represented on the stat sheet?
No, that, once again, was Bale, whose pinpoint crosses and defense-splitting runs often opened up play and did not always lead to direct assists, but rather were key passes in the build-up to a goal. Lennon, on the other hand, struggled greatly to put in respectable crosses and often ran into trouble whenever he tried to run at defenses.
The truth is, Lennon would probably not have picked up the number of starts he did on any other team in the top six last season. Back then, Harry Redknapp still criminally underrated Niko Kranjcar, and was still forced to play Rafael van der Vaart as a second striker as Tottenham were still lacking quality in the striking department, and so Lennon picked up many more starts than he actually deserved.
Those circumstances no longer exist for Tottenham. Redknapp has finally recognized the great talent Kranjcar possesses, and given the opportunity to finally play, Kranjcar has looked much more consistently dangerous down the left than Lennon did last season.
Furthermore, van der Vaart is no longer need as a second striker. The Jermain Defoe-Emmanuel Adebayor partnership has looked great in its two Premier League games together and has seen both strikers picking up goals regularly. Defoe looks back to his best, and Adebayor looks just as dangerous as he was when he was on loan to Real Madrid, if not more.
So, does Lennon still deserve to hold onto his position in the starting lineup, given the rise of Kranjcar and the resurgence of Defoe (forcing van der Vaart to find a new position)? No, in my opinion, he doesn't.
Lennon is not a bad player; surely he would not have been selected for the England squad 19 times if he were. However, he is far too inconsistent, and his development has not been impressive over the seasons.
When Lennon completed the 2006-07 season with five goals and 13 assists at only the age of 19, huge things were expected from the winger. He received seven caps for England that season, the most he has ever received in a season in his career.
Since then, things have not panned out as expected. The 2007-08 season and 2008-09 season saw Lennon's production drop despite receiving more game time, and the England call-ups dried up as well. The 2009-10 season saw a resurgence in Lennon's game as he recorded three goals and 10 assists in only 22 games, but in 2010-11 he was back to his frustrating best with one of his worst combined goal-assist outputs in his career.
With Tottenham coming off their biggest victory of the season and possibly of the year, now is the time for Redknapp to implement lasting change that will ensure Tottenham stay successful for the rest of the season. Kranjcar has proven himself a better fit for Redknapp's system than Lennon has in all his time under Redknapp, and van der Vaart is undoubtedly the most talented of the three.
Going with either Kranjcar or van der Vaart will improve Tottenham going forward, but sticking with Lennon will only hold back the team.
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