Search Twitter for any combination of the following four words (Mark, Noble, legs, gone) and you’ll find a succession of tweets that tell you the West Ham captain is past it. There’s even some dating back to 2014.
It might be the football equivalent of ‘you always hurt the ones you love’, but Mr West Ham has often been a lightning rod for fan criticism.
Perhaps ‘his legs have gone’ is just an easy insult to throw his way, but it’s pretty far from the truth. From the 2014/15 season onwards, Noble has made 28 or more Premier League starts in each campaign.
If his legs have gone somewhere, there’ll be a queue of midfielder’s approaching 30 that would love to know their destination. Because the most telling contribution is how much better the Hammers look with their captain on the team sheet.
This season feels like the past few in microcosm, when it comes to what might one day be called the ‘Noble Cycle’. A few games without the captain and West Ham start to look like a rudderless ship, then he comes back and silences a lot of the keyboard-armed boo boys crying out for a mutiny.
Two games Without Noble
Manchester City are an unstoppable force, but West Ham could have made themselves a little more of an immovable object in their Premier League opener. Time and again, City’s pace on the flanks caused West Ham problems and, in particular, Kyle Walker getting behind Aaron Cresswell.
There was a nagging feeling that if Noble had been in the team, he might have instructed his wingers to offer a little more protection. But with just 25 minutes on the clock, that exact duel down West Ham’s left led to City’s opening goal. The theme continued throughout the game, as the Hammers’ back four was pulled around by slick passing and lightning pace.
A 5-0 defeat isn’t the ideal start to the season – especially at home.
Fast forward a week to Brighton away and West Ham’s blushes were saved by a VAR decision, as they took a unique and, frankly, bemusing approach to defending a set piece. Luckily
As a free kick was whipped in, two defenders attacked the same ball as three watched on from the edge of the box. With half of the outfield players not doing the basics and defenders outnumbered in the box, West Ham were crying out for some discipline and organisation.
Two Games Since Noble’s return
Three minutes into his first game of the season and exactly 15 years since he made his debut for West Ham, Noble slotted home a penalty to give his boyhood club the lead.
Whether that added a spring is his step or he was just ready to make the team tick once again, Noble finished the game with 92% passing accuracy, as West Ham were comfortable victors over the the struggling Hornets.
When Norwich visited the London Stadium for Noble’s first home game of the season, there was plenty of talk about Teemu Pukki and the Canaries’ goal threat.
Noble was once again his calm and collected self, completing 46 of his 55 attempted passes – registering an 84% pass completion rate.
If Manuel Pellegrini is able to take West Ham to another level this season and push for the top six or seven, then Noble will surely play a significant role in bringing European football back to the London Stadium.