Alex Song and Cheikhou Kouyate have helped West Ham to develop a more fluent passing game this season, but Noble has also been a key part of this. The main change to Noble’s game has often been his positioning. All three players are comfortable in the defensive midfielder role, yet all three can’t play solely as a defensive midfielder simultaneously. Noble has sometimes found himself a bit further up the pitch than usual, on the edge of the box, rather than the edge of the centre circle when we are attacking. This is refreshing to see, memories of his goal against Wolves on the opening day of the 2009/10 season come to mind, perhaps a side to his play that has been missing recently.
Noble isn’t going to turn into an attacking sensation overnight, it has never been the strongest part of his game. With the rise of Stewart Downing in a central attacking role, Noble isn’t needed to be moulded to play a more attacking role anyway. So where is best to fit him in? The argument from some West Ham fans is that Noble is no longer as effective to the side as he used to be. I disagree.
Statistically Noble has a higher pass success rate, makes more tackles-per-game and commits less fouls than both Song and Kouyate. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on the edge of our own box to clear up the defensive mess that another player has created, before clearing the danger. Song and Kouyate have their own abilities to do this well, but for me, Noble is the better player in this situation.
If you play Noble as the most defensive of the three this takes the pressure away from Song and Kouyate, who arguable have superior attacking abilities and allows them to explore this. At the same time, playing all three means that Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson can push forwards knowing that the defensive capabilities of the midfield allows them protection. The full backs attacking down the wings has been very effective this season and having a combination of Noble, Song and Kouyate makes this possible.
During the draw at Goodison Park in the FA Cup, West Ham were without Song and Kouyate. Noble seemed to relish this. I thought that he had a pretty good game and put a good shift in. He was back as the main man in midfield, overshadowing Kevin Nolan massively and it was great to see. Likewise against Swansea on Saturday Noble put in a great performance and a lot of our build up play started with him. Despite his failed efforts to keep out the Swansea goal he had another decent game. With Song now returning from his African Cup of Nations saga, it puts the club in a very good position.
This topic of debate about Noble is a sign of the successful times at the moment, it really is a great scenario to have. Mark Noble may no longer be relied upon as much at West Ham United, but his role within the side is still just as important as ever and will help the new signings in midfield and the rejuvenated Stewart Downing all to flourish. That is invaluable.