At 33-years-old Mark Noble’s time with West Ham is undoubtedly drawing to its conclusion, but precisely when he should hang up his boots is another matter.
This season more than ever Noble’s dwindling physical capabilities in the engine room have appeared to be one of the Hammers’ most significant weaknesses, with the arrival of the stellar Tomas Soucek in January only exaggerating this further. Unable to put in the same lung-busting midfield displays, some have begun to notice the waning level of his performances. Although, against Norwich City, that could not have been further from the truth.
Noble was back to his brilliant best, having not started since June 23, the veteran was raring to go and comfortably proved his worth in this Hammers side. Deployed in an advanced midfield role the 33-year-old flourished, playing his teammates through with a stratospheric eight key passes, only one fewer than the rest of the squad combined. With no defensive duties to concern him, Noble could focus on creating, and that is precisely what he did by doubling his assists this term setting up Michail Antonio’s second goal, which killed the game.
Ever reliable in possession, the English midfielder recorded the second-highest pass accuracy of any starter for West Ham, 89.3 per cent, from 51 passes. Not only was Noble adventurous with his build-up play, slicing through the Canaries’ defence at will, but he managed to do so without sloppily conceding the ball.
Furthermore, Noble mixed up his attacking influence to keep Norwich City guessing, by playing three successful crosses and five long balls. His unpredictability in possession made it impossible for the Canaries to know what was coming when the Hammers’ captain had control of the ball.
Daniel Farke’s side have propped up the Premier League table for months, and Noble may not be afforded quite so much time and space against the best the division has to offer. However, what the Englishman did prove with his outstanding display is that he still has value to offer this side. Having had a little break from the pressure of captaining the Hammers appears to have worked wonders for Noble, and proved he is not just living off past glories in East London.
Soucek has been a stellar loan signing and providing all goes well, should be one of the first names on the team sheet next term with an option to buy for £13m, but that does not mean he is an outright Noble replacement. Against Norwich the 33-year-old proved that he can still put in match-winning performances; meanwhile, no other player in the squad comes close to his 379 matches of Premier League experience.
Rumours have suggested that next seasons 125 anniversary of the club could be Noble’s last, though his display against the Canaries suggests he may have more in the tank.