The beginning to this season has been a far cry from the dizzy heights we became accustomed to under Slaven Bilic last season, but the turning point seems to have been the draw against Middlesbrough.
Granted a draw at home to Middlesbrough is not so much to shout about but it was the importance of stopping the rot and then building on that. ‘First, you have to stop losing’. Th at mindset has been stuck to, and we are now reaping the benefits of the growing confidence throughout the team. One man who came in for that Boro game, and has been in the starting XI since, is Pedro Obiang.
Noble and Kouyate looked lethargic and blunt in the early stages of the season but the dependable Spaniard has come in and freed both men up to flourish in their own respective games. Th is is good enough reason by itself to have him in the XI but he remains an extremely underrated player in my opinion.
His variety of passing, technique, defensive positioning, general ability on the ball, and his uncanny knack of popping up in those Frank Lampard (sorry!) positions on the edge of the box. We saw that again against Chelsea in the League Cup game where I genuinely thought he’d scored our goal of the season once the ball left his boot with his audacious attempt which Begovic did well to keep out. On that note, I’m sure one of his long range attempts will soon go in.
Without doubt he is a brilliant all-round defensive midfielder. Despite his disadvantage in terms of minutes played, he is only second behind Arthur Masuaku in terms of tackles per game. His passing more often than not is pin point, averaging a neat 83 per cent pass success rate, plus it’s the variety of passing which really strikes you. For his age and frame, you wouldn’t assume he’d be so confident on the ball in a still relatively new league to him.
But he exudes confidence and he is definitely one of the players if served a hospital pass, he’d rectify the mistake and get the team out of trouble calmly. In terms of what he brings other than his own attributes, his freeing up of Mark Noble has seen our captain start to return to the sort of form we know him. Cheikhou Kouyate, who was also having a similarly disappointing start to the campaign, is starting to flourish. Both in his defensive and offensive roles.
I’m by no means saying that our recent turnaround in fortunes is solely down to Obiang’s inclusion in the team but it cannot be understated how important a cog he is in our team. He benefits everyone. The defence have a player in front of them who will actually give them the protection they need. The midfield have someone behind them which allows them to go further forward whilst he ships the ball to them, meaning there’s a much more fluid transition out from the back for us.
This ultimately also benefits the man up top, as he knows that the midfield will be closer to him and actually be within earshot – rather than cutting an isolated figure by himself against four defenders. Obiang was one of the players who we had several enquiries for during the summer, so it is brilliant to see that not only did we rebuff these approaches but also that he is of the mentality to get his head down and fight for his place.
Having done that, and subsequently proven himself, Obiang is currently one of the first names on my team sheet. So not only will we see this impressive Spaniard more often but that will also mean it can’t be long for one of those outrageous long shots of his to go in either. Obiang provides us with the defensive protection we need, a naturally deeper lying midfielder and a player with some seriously neat technique.