Gareth Bale has scored a lot of goals this season. He pretty much single handedly propelled Tottenham to a 12-match unbeaten run. I would be hard pressed to argue that Bale is not Tottenham's best player, but I don't believe that he is the player that is most integral to Tottenham's success, despite his goals. The most important player to Tottenham plays on the opposite flank. It's Aaron Lennon.
Aaron Lennon joined Tottenham back in 2005 and for the last eight seasons he's been essentially ever-present for Spurs. He's been at the club so long that it's hard to believe that the diminutive Englishman is still only 25 years old. That's right, Lennon is only two years older than Bale, but he has already made 320 appearances for Spurs.That's not bad for a 25 year old. If Lennon stays at Spurs for his entire career, then it's conceivable that he could wind up close to Steve Perryman's club appearance record.
Obviously, Aaron Lennon has been a great servant to the club. There are rarely rumors about him leaving. He seems to re-up his contract every couple years and he's rarely involved in any controversies. He seems perfectly content to go out on the pitch and do his job week in and week out. This sort of attitude and lack of attention from the media belies his importance to the club.
Lennon's statistics don't paint the best picture. His four goals and six assists pale in comparison to Gareth Bale (and Theo Walcott), but his contribution to Tottenham should not be measured by goals and assists alone. Lennon's importance lies in the way that he works with the team. The way he provides balance to manager Andre Villas-Boas' system and the workmanlike way in which he goes about it.
Gareth Bale's star turn has resulted in a bit of an unbalance to Spurs' tactics. Bale, or whatever other midfielder is played on the left wing, winds up cutting into the middle. This makes the formation much more compact. Aaron Lennon helps the team by providing width. He's a true touchline-hugging winger who is capable of stretching defenses and creating space for the likes of Gareth Bale. We saw just how important that width is last weekend. With Mousa Dembele playing right wing Tottenham were even more compact than usual. Sure, Spurs were still able to score two goals, but the lack of width hurt Spurs.
Additionally, Lennon's importance to Tottenham's defense is underrated. While I'd certainly not ever trust him to man-mark the opponent's best player, his willingness to track back and help out his fullback is incredibly useful. He and Kyle Walker have created an excellent partnership on the right flank. They seem to have a good understanding and do a great job of covering for one another. I think it's certainly telling that Walker had one of his worst games of the season when someone other than Lennon was playing right wing.
Before this season, the criticism from many (including myself) of Lennon was that he disappeared too often. This season, particularly early on, he imposed himself on games much more often. When Lennon is agressive as he seems much more wont to be under Villas-Boas Tottenham are a much better team. The ability to attack down either flank with pace is extremely scary to a lot of clubs. When Lennon is in full-on attacking verve, whether on the counter or in a slow measured build-up, he is hard to stop. His end product has even improved dramatically.
In short, Tottenham Hotspur need Aaron Lennon. He's the key to balancing Villas-Boas' formations. He provides a perfect foil to Gareth Bale and an excellent outlet on the counter attack. He helps Kyle Walker immensely on defense too. If Tottenham Hotspur are really going to achieve lofty heights this season, like a Europa League victory and qualification for the Champions League, they need Lennon to be a key player down the stretch.