It would be incredibly easy to boil yesterday’s game down to a single moment, or the fact that David Vaughan is not good enough to play in a two man midfield. There was something, or someone, completely different who stood out in our 1-3 defeat against Arsenal. Charis Mavrias for me was only rivalled by Kieren Westwood for our man of the match.
The system that Paolo Di Canio has stringently adopted relies unerringly on our inverted wingers being the men who link everything together. That is, link with the frontmen, the midfield, the full backs and helping out to defend in almost every opposition attack. They are the balance. In recent games, our creative spark was reliant on Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini buzzing around wherever they deemed fit to provide the killer pass, run or even effort on goal. Mavrias, however, added a different dimension to this tactic.
It was not so much a spectacular performance, but Mavrias was as big an influence to our excellent second half display as anyone – not that you would have noticed. He adopted a much, much wider position throughout yesterday’s game and to great effect. This gave the Arsenal defence far too much to think about and stretched them across the pitch - leaving the frontmen and Johnson with more space than maybe they would have had in previous games. For the first thirty minutes or so of that second half you felt we could score at any time and it was that space which allowed us to assert ourselves going forward for the first time since the Fulham game.
Arsenal spent a lot of the game squeezing and squeezing us into our own penalty area, if you are going to escape, you can’t resort to hacking it clear in most circumstances. Generally Mavrias had excellent close control and it was often this which helped break down Arsenal attacks and begin a counter. His passing was accurate, misplacing just two, without being disposed throughout the match and generally looked very competent.
The Greek international was also defensively fairly astute in supporting Jack Colback for a lot of the game during Arsenal’s slow build up play, winning the ball at every attempt as well as chipping in with a clearance and a few interceptions. Colback has spent a lot of the season watching Giaccherini rather than contributing in the attacking half, but he looked so much more comfortable playing with Mavrias there seemed a genuine understanding between the two.
We found out a little about his set piece excellence here, and Mavrias certainly showed this in the few chances he had to do so. Three corners, every one of them in the perfect spot – just inside the six yard box. This almost led to a goal as Modibo Diakité’s header clattered the crossbar. A talent not to be underrated, especially as we should really continue dropping Sebastian Larsson (although not in favour of David Vaughan!)
Judging from Saturday, I don't think it is just a co-incidence that his two introductions prior to yesterday both led to a comeback – although we all know what ended up happening at Crystal Palace after our equaliser!
He definitely is not the finished article, still rough and let’s face it – I am only focussing around one match. So I am not trying to indicate he will be the next big thing on Wearside, especially given he will spend a lot of it playing second fiddle to Giaccherini. But he is 19, already an international with well over fifty competitive games to his name already. Certainly one to watch and potentially a snip if the reported £2.5 million fee is accurate.