It has become the accepted wisdom amongst those looking on with interest at Spurs over the last 6 weeks that investment in a forward of some description is necessary this month if the club wishes to advance into next season's Champions League. Being a cussed sort who takes pleasure in looking askance at anything that could even remotely be deemed a lazily concocted media narrative, I endeavoured to add a little flesh to the bones of this thinking.
At about this time I came across a fascinating article on the nature of goal difference and its value (beyond separating teams on the same number of points) as an indicator of the quality of teams, and how - notwithstanding heavy investment or other outside factors - a first team squad can be expected to perform in a league over a period of time longer than a season. This led me to ask a question that Daniel Levy has probably already asked himself this January: How good is this team? Where is it likely to finish if nothing changes?
Holding up Newcastle as the team that best validates this theory, the article posits that their current travails could have been predicted at the end of last season, despite their late surge up the table that briefly threatened the top four. Despite finishing 5th with a total of 65 points, what is noticeable is that they finished with a goal difference of only +5, compared to Chelsea, who finished in 6th with a goal difference of +19 and Everton in 7th with +10. Essentially, a string of single goal victories - unsustainable in the long term - artificially inflated Newcastle's league position. With little investment in the Summer beyond keeping the same group of players together, it was only to be expected that they would drop back into mid-table (their current injury crisis pushing them even lower).
So how does this affect Tottenham? Looking at the 2010/11 season, we secured 5th with a meagre goal difference of +9. With further investment last season, 2012 saw Spurs finish 4th with a healthy goal difference of +25 - the same as Arsenal (who finished 3rd) and 6 better than Chelsea. If all things had remained equal, one could have been confident of Spurs securing a top 3 position.
Alas, the loss of Modric and Van Der Vaart (albeit tempered by the signings of Dembele, Sigurdssson and - perhaps most importantly for the sake of this argument - Dempsey) has been met with astounding investment by Chelsea (who already have a goal difference of +24 and are on course to score considerably more goals than they did last year), while Arsenal (despite the loss of Robin Van Persie) have also invested in attacking talent and have actually scored more goals than at the same stage last year and have a goal difference of +19 - only a few off their tally for last season already. You would expect they will continue to improve this over the rest of the season.
Spurs, despite occupying 4th position, have a goal difference of +12, worse than Arsenal, slightly better than Everton and miles behind Chelsea. Despite our relatively close proximity to Chelsea in terms of a points total, it would be hard to argue with the probability of Chelsea stretching their lead ahead of us, particularly as precisely half of our wins in the league have been by a single goal. Furthermore, Arsenal's goal difference implies greater firepower. Again, as things stand a betting man would probably put money on Arsenal securing fourth ahead of us..
Despite the old adage of the league being a "marathon, not a sprint", on a January to May timeline it is possible to string together a series of results with this squad that would propel us into the top four. But it is equally possible that the reverse could happen (see: oh I don't know, February to April last year?) and a string of single goal reverses could see us finish behind Everton.
In short - without further investment in attacking talent, we're on the edge. And teams with better forwards play better, score more goals, win more games and win more trophies. Who knew?