It seems difficult to remember now, but December and January were good months for us as a club. David Moyes had got to know his squad and found a formation that had led to an impressive display against runaway league leaders Manchester City. In that game we played 3-5-1-1, with Aaron Cresswell playing as a left sided centre back and Arthur Masuaku as a left wing back for the first time.
Whilst it ended in a plucky, well-contested 2-1 defeat, there were signs of promise that this new set up made us more solid, whilst still off ering some threat. As such Moyes persisted with the same set up for the following visit from Chelsea, and we put in our best performance of the season thus far earning a well-deserved 1-0 win.
During the nine games, from the Chelsea win on December 9 and our final league game in January, we won four and lost just once in the league. And throughout that time the same basic line up played. Then, in the FA Cup game against Wigan on January 27, Masuaku decided to lose his head and any sense of professionalism and spat at Nicky Powell. He would serve a entirely justified six game ban, during which time we lost four and won only once.
His re-emergence against Southampton was both timely in terms of the season but also acted as a reminder of what it is that he brings to the side. It also begs the question – would we be out of spitting distance of the relegation battle had the Congolese international not been unavailable for nearly two months?
Of course there are other factors at play in our loss of form over those six games. The disastrous January transfer window that weakened our squad undoubtedly affected performances. It was also the spark that lit the fuse of fan unrest that so destructively exploded against Burnley, which likewise affected the performances of the players and hastened our demise on that torrid day.
But the way in which his return to the line up against Southampton coincided with our best display since his ban, at least gives cause for a further look. If we examine his statistics in comparison to two of the best in the league in similar roles, as well as our other wingback Pablo Zabaleta, he stacks up favourably in many areas.
Whilst he is often accused of lacking defensive work rate, he has made 29 successful tackles which puts him on par with both Marcos Alonso and Kyle Walker. Arthur also has over double the number of successful take ons as all three, with a whopping 66 against 13 for Alonso and 24 for Walker, the latter largely considered one of the best attacking full-backs in the league if not Europe.
Arthur also has four assists, has created 15 chances and played 12 key passes. All which suggests as an attacking outlet at least, he is up there with some of the best wing-backs in the Premiership. In truth his defensive stats don’t measure up quite as well to either the aforementioned full backs or to our own Pablo Zabaleta.
The Argentine has recorded over double the number of tackles, interceptions, blocks and clearances as Masuaku, so it is reasonable to argue that Arthur playing in the games he missed, such as Brighton, Swansea and Burnley, would have done little to shore up the leaky defence that conceded 15 goals in his absence.