Take the current shortcomings of West Ham, and add the brilliance of Arsenal, and you have the recipe for a heavy defeat. And that is exactly what we got. The speed and touch of Arsenal as they attacked gave us a lesson in how to play the game. Sanchez in particular was awesome. He produced one of the best individual performances that I have seen for a long time, and Arsenal were undoubtedly one of the best teams that we are likely to face this season. Having said that, I watched Bournemouth play Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, and both teams would have inflicted a heavy defeat on us if they replicated that kind of attacking football.
I’m afraid that for much of the game our attacking ideas were based upon slow, ponderous passing, and although I suspect the possession statistics for the game would have showed that we had as much of the ball as they did, we were just not in the same league when it came to creating opportunities to score goals.
So where are we going wrong? Well, where do I start? Perhaps it is worth looking to see if any of our players did themselves justice on the day? For a start, Randolph, despite conceding five goals, was not to blame for any of them in my opinion, and even saved us from getting even more of a hiding. I thought that Reid had a decent game and showed great commitment, and Masuaku, for all his critics, isn’t too bad for a squad left back. Arbeloa was understandably rusty, and I thought at first that the enforced substitution to take Collins place would benefit us.
I just could not understand why Bilic started with the three at the back formation when our two best wing-backs, Cresswell and Antonio, were ruled out of the game. Surely he had to see that we needed to play with two full backs when facing the attacking threat of the Gunners. I could not work out when Arbeloa came on if we had indeed changed the formation. If we had, then somebody should have told Fernandes, because for the whole game Arbeloa and Fernandes played as if they had never met each other before. Perhaps they hadn’t? Neither seemed to know exactly what they should be doing. And with the pacy threat of Monreal down the Arsenal left, this was a big mistake.
Bilic’s nonsensical revelations after the game, that the players weren’t working well in training, was another indicator that the preparation for the match was poor. And who is to blame for that? Well, the players to an extent yes, but surely the manager and coaching staff have the responsibility to ensure that the team are fully prepared for the opposition that they will be facing. Haven’t they seen how Arsenal play? It didn’t come as a surprise to me, and shouldn’t have been a surprise to them either.
Payet showed one or two touches of skill, but nothing like what we saw last season, and he continues to look disinterested for much of the game. Perhaps he really doesn’t want to be here? It’s not his role, but in any defensive sense he is a liability, and whilst we can perhaps accept one luxury player in the team, others have to cover for this.
Mark Noble is coming in for massive criticism and just looks totally out of sorts. He really seems to be running in treacle throughout the game, and whilst he has never been the fastest, he has somehow got away with it in the past. But at the moment he has probably never looked so poor in his whole career, and is another liability with his tendency to dwell on the ball, pass sideways and backwards, and generally slow down our whole momentum.
Lanzini looked lively enough and showed some neat touches, and Obiang played well again in the middle, but from what I have seen so far, it seems incredible that we paid £20 million for Ayew. I guess he hasn’t played much so far, and is playing in a struggling team lacking in confidence, but he has done nothing to suggest to me that we have a good buy there. Fletcher will, I believe, be a good player for us in the future, but despite some good movement and control, was so far isolated to have any real effect.
Carroll looked lively when he came on. I hope he didn’t pick up an injury in his twenty minute cameo. He took the goal well, but another tactical error in my opinion was not playing him from the start, especially considering the opposition on the day. It is well documented how he scared the living daylights out of Arsenal last season, and even though Bilic felt he would not (understandably) last ninety minutes, surely to play him from the beginning of the game would have unsettled the opposition more, and at least put us on the front foot from the outset. But no, it seems we wanted to hand the initial momentum to our opponents, who took full advantage.
So where do we go from here? Bilic looked beleaguered in his post-match interview, and didn’t say anything to instil confidence in his ability to lift the team. We really are in a fight now, and the next five games to take us up to the middle of the season are crucial. Bournemouth showed us how Liverpool can be vulnerable at the back, but I’m not convinced that we have the weapons to attack them at Anfield, and get anything out of the game. Swansea and Sunderland are playing each other next weekend and Hull are at home to Palace. We could well be in the bottom three by the time we face Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.
We then have four easier games (on paper), but anything less than at least eight points from those (and it’s hard to see us achieving this on current form), then I suspect the board will be contemplating a managerial change by the end of 2016. That is if they are not already in the process of doing so.