Crisis, Dilemma, Emergency, Disaster, Mess
That’s 21 games played in all competitions this season with just one good performance (Chelsea in the EFP Cup) and one decent performance (away to Palace). Even for the most optimistic supporter the alarm bells must be ringing loud and clear. Sure Arsenal are, on their day, an excellent side but it was the manner of defeat rather than defeat itself that is the most worrying. Watching the TV pictures of the players in the tunnel before the game and they looked petrified, like a deer caught in headlights, and when the game started it looked no different. From the off you sensed it was only a matter of time before Arsenal scored and then having steadied the ship a little we gifted them another very soft goal; the rest is history. This is not a team that is simply going through a bad patch or a loss of form and confidence. It is shades of Roeder, Grant and Pardew’s last season all rolled into one. A desperate situation in the club that needs desperate measures in response before it is too late. Hoping that is will all sort itself out is the height of foolishness.
It is astonishing to think that following a buoyant first season that we are four months into a new season and manager, Slaven Bilic, looks broken, lost and devoid of ideas. We may have had a bad transfer window but the core of the squad is the same as the one that performed so admirably last season. They have not all suddenly become bad players but now look unmotivated, unfit, disorganised and careless. It is almost impossible to articulate what our style of play is supposed to be; there is no plan and no structure in our play. While managers such as Klopp, Pochettino, Conte and even Eddie Howe have built momentum based on intensity, pace, movement and pressing, West Ham fumble and stumble around haphazardly hoping that they might eventually get a free kick close enough to goal. These problems lie squarely at the door of the manager and the coaching staff. To bemoan a lack of intensity in training is a ridiculous comment when you are the one with the responsibility to make sure it happens. A thin squad in terms of quality (caused in part by poor recruitment by Bilic) and an unwillingness to risk young players means there is largely no competition for places and this breeds complacency, as it has done in the past. In a situation where a club doesn’t look to be heading in any particular direction it is the guy asleep at the wheel who needs to be changed. Bilic says he will not walk away but that is a financial stance more than anything.
Case for the Defence
For starters, I’m not sure you could fault Randolph with any of the goals and he made a few decent saves to keep the score in single figures. With the athletic Kouyate missing it was disappointing that we stuck with the suspect 3 at the back against a team like Arsenal who are typically so strong down the flanks. In some respects I was quite pleased when Ginge went off and was replaced by Arbeloa (rather than Nordtveit) as it suggested a change to 4 at the back. The problem was that Arbeloa and Fernandes both seemed unsure as to what formation we were now playing and decided to compete for the right wing back spot. Mainly through Arsenal’s profligacy we settled a little after the early storm only to self-destruct by gifting them what was a deserved lead. The main culprit was Ogbonna who during one of his daydreaming moments gave the ball away sloppilyin a dangerous position. Reid was one of few players to earn his wages and gave another committed display and it is time he was given the captain’s armband full-time. Masuaku had some good moments going forward but was later exposed by the excellent Sanchez. Masuaku is OK as cover for Cresswell but not much more. Arbeloa is a stop gap and we really do need a proper right back. It is perplexing that West Ham is the only club that doesn’t seem to believe that having specialist full-backs is important.
Stuck in the Middle
Payet and Noble were shocking. Payet wasn’t even interested enough to audition for Arsene Wenger who, according to that morning’s newspapers, was interested in his signature. Regardless he still seems wasted marooned on the left wing. Noble looked completely lost; apart from going back to exchange passes with his own defenders the game mostly passed him by. He was like a little kid playing piggy-in-the-middle with his much bigger brothers. Obiang put in another good performance and Lanzini was one of a few West Ham players playing with energy and at least trying to make things happen. What was a disorderly midfield setup was turned into farce when Carroll and Ayew replaced Noble and Fernandes leaving a massive gap between defence and the attack minded players. This led directly to the 3 goals in the last 10 minutes which even if it didn’t affect the result will have a further detrimental effect on confidence. I would take your calculator to Anfield next week.
Ashley Fletcher tried hard as the lone striker. Better than Zaza but not as effective as Sakho in creating space and closing down defenders. He can potentially become a good player. Carroll came on, scored a consolation and didn’t get injured; what more could you ask. Ayew didn’t look anything like a £20 million player. After looking sharp in his brief cameo at Old Trafford he was back to languid and ineffectual.