Manchester United drew with Arsenal 1-1 at Old Trafford today. Though the Red Devils dominated the match, Giroud’s late finish left a bad taste in the mouth of Man U supporters. Though the club objectively outperformed Arsenal, the range of opinions on the performance of the star Paul Pogba vs. Arsenal is so confusing.
In general, accurately assessing or predicting football is more difficult than it is in most sports. A player’s or club’s form can disappear as quickly as it came about with very little provocation. For a recent example, look at Eden Hazard’s transition from the 2014-15 Premier League season to the 2015-16 season. In May 2015 he was crowned PFA Player of the Year, and in September of the same year he was Chelsea’s most underwhelming performer.
It’s also harder in football to bring on new individuals to a team and expect them to perform at their best right away. Roles on the pitch can be drastically different from club to club, even in the same position, depending on the manager. A central midfielder on a Pep Guardiola team is going to do something markedly different from a central midfielder on a Jose Mourinho team, for instance. Basketball is similar in how individuals can see their importance on a team sharply rise or fall when they move (i.e. Kevin Love to Cleveland, Dwight Howard to Atlanta). But football is an entirely different animal.
With too many recent examples to draw from, let’s bring it back to today’s Man U/Arsenal bout and talk about Paul Pogba. At 22 years old, he made FIFA’s World XI. He’s France’s best player, and was undoubtedly the best player in Italy on a powerhouse Juventus side. His historic transfer fee, plus the expectations of a club such as Man U, have drawn a lot of sharp criticisms about his inability to find his comfort zone early on in the PL season.
That being said, Pogba vs. Arsenal today has given supporters enough to chew on while critics continue to berate him. Reading the feed of Pogba-related tweets was irritating, and I’m here to show you what that looked like.
Pogba vs. Arsenal was convincing
Pogba has bossed that lot today. He rarely loses the ball, always wants it and isn’t afraid to try things. He’s gonna be superb for us.
— Doc Joshi (@Doc_Joshi) November 19, 2016
He won’t get plaudits from rival fans because of who he is and the cost of him, but Pogba’s now settled in at Utd and has been very good.
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) November 19, 2016
Pogba didn’t do what he was bought for
Giroud been on the pitch for 5 minutes and done more than Pogba the entire game 😂😂
— Sagna Boy (@SagnaBoy) November 19, 2016
Pogba can’t even control the ball smh
— Wachira. (@Thee_mavERIC) November 19, 2016
Pogba: Haven’t been playing well recently I should focus in training
Inner Pogba: It’s been 15 hours since your last haircut bro pic.twitter.com/xgf7MkQ2ex
— Kermit (@InnerKermit) November 18, 2016
And comparable veteran midfielder Yaya Touré returning to Man City’s lineup and scoring two goals today didn’t help:
Yaya Toure has now scored more goals in 85min than Pogba in over 1000 minutes.
— BlueCityZen (@BlueCitizen007) November 19, 2016
Though Paul Pogba is an exceptional talent and popular character, this level of dissonance between fans regarding a star player’s performance is not reserved solely for the flashy, easy-to-hate world class players. Debates about player performance are particularly messy amongst football fans because of the lack of quantifiable aspects of the game. Sure, you can talk about pass accuracy, tackles, and shit like that. But when a key attacking player doesn’t have goals or assists to their name, none of that other stuff matters. Their public perception goes from accurately well-rounded to doubtful and out-of-focus. It makes for good drama, but makes a lot of fans look impulsive, and frankly, stupid.
I think Pogba has slowly but surely established himself at United, and is soon going to experience the kind of free-flowing dominance he had at Juventus more consistently. He has shown flashes of it, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s comfortable enough to unleash his full creative influence.
On a semi-related note, it seems like Arsenal fans (at least on Twitter) are simply more relentless in their trolling than other Premier League fans. In what was definitely one of Pogba’s best performances so far this season, they refused to put any kind of respect on his name. But maybe that’s just the nature of haters in the sporting world.
This Premier League season has been exciting. I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll be writing about Pogba, Arsenal trolls, and related drama across the Atlantic.