Things: Evra back to his best, Arsenal boo, Darron Gibson’s role and more…

Authors: Doron, Nik and Rob

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Despite being a website with content about Man United written by Man United fans – we all happen to not only enjoy football in general, but watch a lot of it. Therefore, we’re trying something new – a weekly column looking at a few learnings and observations from the weekend’s football and not necessarily just in England. A new scribe shall be joining us on this column, Trinidad & Tobago’s finest, Rob. We’ll make no attempt to be neutral and we’ll attempt to link back to United where possible but otherwise enjoy our thoughts and ramblings.

Michael Oliver’s star is rising fast

Newly promoted to the Fifa list of referees this year, Michael Oliver is making exuberant progress in only his second full season on the Premier League. Given plenty of time on the sidelines (at the highest level) as fourth official last season and at the start of this, Oliver has been learning his trade vicariously, much in the same way as Ole Solskjaer did as a United legend from the bench. Referee bosses have been cautious in handling what looks like the hottest British talent in many years, gradually easing him in to pressure cooker of top-flight football. In a turbulent period for referees in this country, Oliver has stood out as the jewel in the proverbial crown. His fitness is exemplary, his positioning improving by the game and his calm demeanour and management of hot-headed ‘superstars’ unimaginably superlative given his age. In recent weeks his appointments have been more high profile too; Swansea v Arsenal last week, a West Midlands derby this (drafted in as Atkinson’s replacement on his ‘week off’). Nothing typified Oliver’s confident and no-nonsense approach than his dismissal of Karl Henry on Saturday for a stamp on Albrighton. In the right position as always, the 26 year old calmly surveyed the scene whilst approaching Henry, turned in behind the midfielder allowing a greater control of the situation and showed him the red card. You know you’re doing a good job when Mick McCarthy doesn’t even complain about your decision. Oliver is no longer one ‘for the future’, his star is rising fast, but he has already arrived.

Patrice Evra is still the best left-back in the Premier League

United captain Patrice Evra now seems well and truly out of the rut that saw him lose his swashbuckling form in and around the disastrous French World Cup campaign. In the months following the summer of 2010, Evra’s usual defensive domineering displays turned into placid, error-prone offerings; Last season there was a distinct change in emphasis, Evra instructed not to be so cavalier, and when he did venture into the final third his delivery was often very poor. Yet he remained in a successful side, and importantly, Fergie’s most trusted asset. This season has seen him gradually re-find his mojo and attacking acumen, with Smalling’s and Jones’ presence at right fullback crucial – their natural tendency as a centre half to form a three-man centre when the fullback is high gives Evra the confidence to attack with verve. Whilst it is true that Evra’s forays forward have often left United short down the left side, Ferdinand’s switch to left centre-half has aided the defensive shape. As has Young’s defensive work on that side, often in tandem with Carrick’s ubiquitous presence in the midfield sweeper role that he has made his own.

In fact, it has been the inverted wing play of both Young and Nani down United’s left side that has accidentally on purpose re-enlivened Evra’s spirit. Their movement inside as part of a fluid front four approach, has allowed the Frenchman the opportunity exploit the space, and he is a constant threat when in the mood he displayed at the Emirates – whether it was assisting Park’s opener versus Wigan or doing the same for Hernandez in the crucial game at Everton, or simply starting the moves with an interception that led to both the openers versus Arsenal and City away, Patrice is once again proving why the modern-day fullback is of vital importance to the team’s potency. He has also improved his general defensive outlay, particularly evident in the bigger games; notably more considered in his positioning in these games, he has worked hard to track his opponent as we saw with Walcott’s anonymity yesterday, and he has also helped out in central areas. Man of the match performances against Chelsea and Arsenal were the reward for his diligence, and his output versus City in the Cup, Totenham at home and Liverpool away should not go unnoticed.

With Cole struggling, many will point towards Jose Enrique’s progression at Liverpool or Baines’ work ethic and crossing ability as proof that there are better left sided fullbacks in the league. But both are far from the finished article and lack the ‘completeness’ of the Evra package. Not 31 until May this year, the left back is at his peak for a defender, and worryingly for United’s closest rivals, he seems to be finding consistency just at the right time.

Boo sucks to Arsenal “fans”

I’ll put this simply: Arsenal fans do not deserve a manager as good as Arsene Wenger. Before a season starts, “In Arsene We Trust” is the motto, but when the footy gets going, they mumble songs, murmur and whinge despite the excellent home form of their players and the surroundings of their brilliant new stadium. Booing when Wenger, one of the great youth developers of the Premier League, subbed a tiring 18-year old off? It was a truly cringe-worthy moment.

Their reaction could’ve been to give a standing ovation for a coruscating performance by a great young talent. But they decided to negate all that, by booing both a substitute and the manager, shattering the confidence of an already demoralised player, and killing the very significant tide of momentum their team had at that point in the game. They couldn’t do anything about the substitution being made or not, but they certainly did something to the morale of the team. Credit them, not Arshavin, with the assist for United’s winner.

Things that Arsenal fans should’ve been more concerned about:
1. Djourou.
2. The most overrated player in the Premier League playing at left back for them.
3. Ramsey getting tired after playing a hell of a lot of games this season… hmm, young player fitness issues? NAH.
4. Ignasi Miquel. He didn’t play, but I just find he has a weird face.

I’d love to see Arshavin come to United on a free, and smash a hat trick past them next season. Also, Arsene, could you resign from AFC and come manage the Trinidad and Tobago national team? We’ve got some good young players! Anyway, Arsenal “fans” are rubbish.

On the road… to a great away record

Few things in life can beat an away win over Arsenal. But one thing that’s been quietly overlooked is the amazing turnaround in our team’s away form. This campaign, United have the best away record in the league – albeit with some extremely taxing trips to come. What exactly has changed?

For one, aggression in midfield has been key. The mauling at Newcastle aside, United haven’t been overrun as often or as severely as they were last season, where Villa, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Wolves can each claim to have dominated United in central areas.

The side has been pressing and controlling the middle third with more authority, showing renewed vigour away from home *insert Giggsy pun*. Last season, United were 17th in the league at tackles per game (with 18.3), and 16th in terms of interceptions (14.6) away from home. This season’s away record sees the side jump to 6th in tackling (20.8) and 7th in interceptions (16.9). When the energy of Cleverley and Anderson was used earlier in the season, the attacking tailspin it created was too much for opposition defences to handle. The Jones-Carrick combo against Villa and QPR showed a pleasing mix of steel and silk, and could feature again when The Greatest Man in the Universe returns from injury in a few weeks.

When Giggs and Carrick have played together, they’ve relied on the finer arts of passing and dribbling to tire the opposition, and that’s helped to put teams like Fulham to bed by halftime. The Arsenal game demonstrated this very well, and if the first-half finishing from Danny and Nani had been better, it could’ve been a very comfy win. Even with Carrick carrying Giggs on a feathered palanquin (until Scholesy came on), and nursing a hamstring injury for 45 minutes, United dominated possession and dictated the tempo in the first half, while retaining the shape and fortitude in the second to repel a stirring Arsenal comeback, snatch a fine winner, and see out the game.

P.S. I could’ve named this bit “Best away record in the league? Blame Michael Carrick.” Since coming back from injury, he’s been sensational. According to WhoScored’s average player ratings, the Geordie Guardiola has been the 6th best player in the Premier League this season. Caveat: WhoScored also has Nasri in 10th place, so take this ranking with a pinch or an industrial silo full of salt, as appropriate.

Darron Gibson’s role at Everton

Since moving to Everton, Gibson has started in both league games away to Villa and home to Blackburn but what’s his role been and how’s he done?

Given plenty of responsibility, Gibson’s been used centrally as a link-man between Cahill and Fellaini. Whilst often found as the deepest of the three, he’s by no means played far back for Everton, he has license to push on. He’s certainly benefited from playing as part of a three and having players who move a lot around him – it’s given him freedom to play some nice attacking passes.

Maybe the biggest asset Gibson’s brought so far is his reading of the game, something he maybe wasn’t appreciated for at United or never got the chance to show. He’s made numerous interceptions in his first two games and has been key to ball retention. Whether Gibson is a bit too one-dimensional remains to be seen but he certainly provides a nice foil for those around him. If though Moyes does at some point decide to play two in the middle it’ll be interesting to see if he keeps his place – for now the early signs are solid and encouraging.

Fulham’s (mini) revival

Impressive wins over Arsenal and Newcastle in recent league games have seen something of the Fulham that Martin Jol envisaged when he took over. Make no mistake about it, two men in particular have been central to it.

Zamora’s recall to the side has served to prove just how important a player he is both for club and potentially for country with Euro 2012 looming. His link-up with Dempsey has been intriguing to say the least. The Newcastle game in particular, where Dempsey scored a hat-trick was fascinating. Despite playing as a striker, Zamora regularly dropped deep and was on the ball over twice as much as Dempsey, who, as soon as Zamora was in possession, set off on a forward run. One might have expected it to be the other way round but with Dempsey being direct and all-rounded, and Johnson fast, Zamora’s physical presence deeper is unnerving for opposition players and he ends up winning the ball on numerous occasions.

Murphy’s contribution also can’t be overlooked. As a deep playmaker he’s still one of the best passers in the league and is regularly spotting opportunities to float delightfully weighted forward passes.

Whilst Fulham are starting to tick at home they are just one of four sides who’ve only won once away from home – their seven goals scored in eleven away games is the worst record in the league and maybe Jol needs to have faith in the attacking football that’s recently been so successful at Craven Cottage.

The weekend’s unsung hero: David Luiz

Having been the subject of a lot of criticism this season, David Luiz turned in a really excellent performance away to Norwich. Up against physical and bullying strikers Morison and Holt this game had trouble written all over it.

However, it was Luiz’s partner, Terry, who appeared to be the one who struggled. Luiz was assured, confident and strong, Refusing to allow Holt or Morison get the better of him, Luiz for once used his physical presence to win battles and the signs that he appears to be learning are starting to show. Whilst in the past he’s committed to tackles too early and has been turned, this time he perfectly judged when to get tight and when to allow space between himself and the strikers.

Chelsea’s defending has been questionable at times this season but Luiz was crucial to a really impressive clean sheet.

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17 Comments on Things: Evra back to his best, Arsenal boo, Darron Gibson’s role and more…

  1. As an Arsenal fan I cannot but agree with what you have written about our club and its fans. I was utterly ashamed at the behaviour exhibited by many at the Grove on Sunday. The effect it had on a team which was very much in the ascendancy with 16 mins+ to play could not have been more apparent, not to mention the effect it will have on poor Arshavin.

    Regarding a the ‘things we should have been more concerned about’, as you put it:

    – Djourou can’t really be judged properly whilst playing out of position, you could see him throughout the game drifting to a more central position but christ are your wide players scary! Evra was simply outstanding, as you have said.
    – I agree that Vermaelen is a little overrated (nothing he can do about that), but most overrated player in the league is a bit of a push and ignores the fact that he is still a very good player, if a little haphazard at times. Robin van Persie is probably overrated as well, it’s a bit of a weightless criticism to throw around (imho).
    – Ramsey does look very tired but such is the state of our squad we can’t really afford to give him any time to recuperate. Ho hum.
    – Miquel does indeed have a funny face which isn’t helped at all by his floppy hair. In any case he looks to have a lot of potential and it bears noting that before we signed him Barcelona approached him to try and tempt him back to La Masia having realised they’d probably got it wrong. He duly told them where to stick it!

    Anyway, a refreshing read from you at the Stretford End!

  2. Vermaelen: I don’t think he’s the most overrated player in the league. Not sure who is but I don’t think it’s him.

    Evra: Is definitely playing better again, which is a relief. Dunno whether he’s the best left-back in the league at the moment, but then who’s the competition in terms of form? Assou-Ekotto and Enrique maybe?

  3. You’ve completely missed the point of the reaction to the Chamberlain sub.

    Replacing our most positive player in the game for Arshavin, who has lost all semblance of form over the past 18 months was an obvious mistake. As it proved 10 minutes later with Arhshavin’s non existent tackle leading up to the goal.

    The fact that our captain had the same reaction as the fans should say it all. And blaming the fans for killing the momentum of the team rather than the substitution is simply idiotic.

    Chamberlain was indeed given a standing ovation as he walked of the pitch.

    Labelling Vermaelen as anything but one of the best center backs in the league is laughable..

    And a United fan talking about another clubs home atmosphere is the height of irony.

    How does the song go, ‘Fergie’s right, your fans are shite.’ Is that it?

  4. @Luke – thanks for your comments.

    On the non-tackle by Arshavin – what’s to say Chamberlain would have done any better?! Not only that but Vermaelen was sucked into the middle by Park which left Valencia vs. Arshavin… only going to be one winner really.

    Chamberlain sub was odd I think but was he tired? Did he signal to the bench to say that he was shattered? Maybe Wenger wanted more experience on the pitch to help see out the game… is it possible he’d settled for a draw?

    Quite right that Chamberlain was well received, it was a very promising performance.

    On Vermaelen – it’s an odd one because he’s really not played enough in the past two seasons to really assertively say he’s amongst the best in the league. Indeed he had a good first season but I think the fact he scored goals that season served to slant opinion on him. People were judging him as much for scoring goals than for stopping them. I think he is a decent defender but by no means amongst the best in the league – not yet anyway.

    No one claims the atmosphere at Old Trafford is good on your average game – however, in the big games it still becomes electric. Considering it was United at the Emirates, the atmosphere was, as ever, poor.

  5. It’s impressive how we’ve improved away from home in terms of results, of course, because I don’t think we were playing poorly last season. Were just moments of carelessness or complacency if you like. So I’m absolutely chuffed with our away record so far this season. One more ground to win at and it will be a perfect season away record wise, it’s Chelsea. Can’t really remember the last time we won there in the league, it was ages ago and looking at our current form and Chelsea’s and with Clevz, Youngy and Rio being expected to be back for Stoke, we should win there.

    Evra has been immense recently. He got lot of stick for his form, or defensive form to be exact, over the past few seasons and the start of this one. And rightly so. He had been disappoinig and we for once thought he’s aging and will never discover form again. The disappointment of the 2010 season and the national team issues in the world cup after that had without a doubt affected him mentally. But thankfully much better from him this season and the racism thing seems to have sparked him which saw him lead the team for some good resutls and performances.

  6. Most over rated player should be a contest between Jones and erm…Jones! Vermaelen, when he has played center this season, has been nothing but dominating, he is even in Goal’s team of d 1st half of season!

    I will probably choose Ekotto as best 3 dis year. But so can I choose Evra, both fantastic!

    As for the reaction to substitution, it was like removing Nani and putting on Obertan when Man Utd is chasing a game, and Nani is the chief instigator..even RVP was sad!

  7. @nedox – thanks for your comment.

    Harsh on Jones, clearly he’s not ready to be a centre back yet but when he’s played at RB or CM he’s done well.

    As for the sub, maybe Wenger wanted more experience on the pitch? Maybe he’d settled for a draw?

  8. Hey guys,

    Thanks for the comments.

    On Vermaelen, the “most overrated” point I made was over the top, sure, but it was a bit of fun more than anything – it’s meant to be light and opinionated.

    I just think people like Vermaelen because he does very “visible” things – booming headers, tackles, scoring goals… but is positionally suspect and gets sucked towards the ball way way way too easily. Both of the goals came from his side – OK, he was playing out of position at LB – but he got no heat whatsoever for the nonsense that he did. It also irks me that non-Arsenal fans don’t rate Koscielny above Vermaelen, because not only do I think he’s one of Arsenal’s best defenders, to my mind LK’s been one of the best defenders in the league this season.

    Also, Phil Jones is 19, and he’s also the Greatest Man In the Universe, so it’s impossible for him to be overrated [joke].

    On the Arsenal fans’ reaction, I have to take the blame for the way I wrote it… I meant that they negated the cheers for AOC’s performance by booing Arshavin. Regarding home support… well yeah, the Old Trafford crowd can be pretty mousey at times, but given all the givens about Sunday’s match, the Emirates crowd was utterly pathetic. I’m sorry if this offends you. Wait, no I’m not.

  9. Hey nameonthetrophy and rob..cheeers! Maybe I was a lil bit harsh on Jones too, that was just me getting back at the Verm squabble. Jones is clearly one with huge talent maybe Lucio or Pique-esque?

    The problem with Wenger, as a gunner, is maybe man management skills! He is very good at it and then maybe to a fault! He is too slow to flog a player who is not performing over a period. Arshavin has clearly being on d decline since the beginning of last 2seasons buh he chose to persist..cos he is Russia captain? WTF???

    And Rob you aint alone in thinking that Koscielny had been our most dependable defenderr this season, top class or close! Next season will be his year in prem, hopefully..but he hasn’t been forgiving for his part in denying Arsenal’s first trophy in 7years.

    Mor of the same from u guys here..I like d cool nature of making points here..I’ll bookmark

  10. Don’t tar all Gooners at the Emirates with the same brush; the majority did not boo the sub of the Ox with Meerkat, but the idiots who did (yep, just because you have a season ticket/bought yours off a scum tout) does not give you the right to boo because you think that your two years of playing football manager makes you more qualified than Wenger – what it does oblige you to do is get behind the players while they’re on the pitch) we’re likely the cretins who greeted Djourou’s half-time sub with cheers. Proper c***s to a man.

    Don’t agree that Tom V is the most over-rated, I’d point to your Mickey who took umbrage every time one of our lads’ shadows crossed him and beseeched the ref to intervene. Cat amongst the pigeons completed. I’d also go for racist scum Terry, mainly because I detest him as one would a Hackney Carriage driver.

    Otherwise, your blog stands out amongst other ManU blogs for a bit of balanced perspective; nice one and all the best.

  11. @ Luke: “Labelling Vermaelen as anything but one of the best center backs in the league is laughable..”

    Saying somebody’s overrated isn’t the same as saying somebody’s not good or even very good. Vermaelen is a very good player. He’s not the second coming as some folks would have you believe.

    “And a United fan talking about another clubs home atmosphere is the height of irony.”

    Doesn’t make sense unless the reaction to that substitution had added that the OT support is excellent. It’d be like me saying you’re not allowed to criticise a Premier League footballer because you’re not better at football than they are.

    Regarding Phil Jones, I’d say overhyped rather than overrated. A few surging runs has got people thinking he’s going to be all things to all men. Haven’t seen many saying he’s actually one of the best in the league yet. Or nobody who’s not to be immediately dismissed as an idiot anyway.

  12. Another good article. Have enjoyed reading this site since I found it.

    Interesting point on Ferdinand moving to left side of defence. I noticed this earlier in the season and thought of two reasons, that Ferdinand is better at reading the game and could sweep better, and that Fergie would prefer Vidic in the box instead of blocking the cross at the edge of the box.

    Do ye reckon there’s any more to it than that?

  13. @Gubbins94 – thanks for the kind words.

    I’m not sure really. There’ve been a few suggestions such as providing more cover for Evra when he surges forward or similarly to allow Vidic to help whoever was covering at right back. Rio’s stayed there when playing with Evans too although that seems likely to be because Evans is much stronger on the right than the left.

    There’s likely to be some good reason for it but it’s never been disclosed.

  14. S’what I was getting at, aye.

    Your predictions for tomorrow lads?
    As good a chance as ever to win at Anfield, if Nani and Rooney start I’ll be confident. They’re missing their 2 most important outfield players as well, and haven’t really replaced them well enough like we have with Vidic and our other injured players.

    Add to that Bellamy may not be fit enough to start and they played a very intense 90 minutes during the week.

    Feeling more confident than I would ahead of a normal Anfield visit anyway!

  15. @Gubbins94 – almost impossible to predict as no one seems to know who’s fit. The press report Rooney will be lucky to make the bench.

    I can see this going to a replay to be honest

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