It is difficult to believe that the West Ham team we have seen over the course of the last three games is made up of the same players that were stumbling around the park during the earlier part of the season. This applies to no-one more than Marko Arnautovic who returns to his old Potteries stomping ground on Saturday to face Stoke City. That Arnautovic arrived at the London Stadium as West Ham’s record signing (with a certain level of enthusiasm and something to prove I imagine) and so quickly fell into the malaise surrounding the club says much about the previous regime. To see him still putting in the yards and chasing down the ball in the closing stages of Wednesday’s game against Arsenal was eye-opening. A player returning to his old club often proves to be influential and Arnie will be keen to show his former supporters that as far as performances are concerned that he is definitely back!
Having come out of Premier League equivalent of the group of death with four more points than expected, we are nicely positioned use the new found confidence as a springboard to challenge Manchester City’s record of fifteen consecutive wins. On a more realistic note, what is now required is to preserve this defensive resilience while at the same time overlaying better ball retention and greater goal threat. In a run of games where West Ham come up against teams that they should, and must, be capable of beating it is crucial to collect the points that will secure a more comfortable league position. The next six or so matches will be very revealing as to where the club’s medium term fortunes lie!
Stoke City are one of a group of ten Premier League clubs who will be looking downwards rather than up. They have had the look of doom about them in recent weeks and it would be no surprise if Mark Hughes receives a P45 in his Christmas stocking to become the latest in the line of managerial casualties.
Head to Head
This has been an evenly contested fixture in history with West Ham leading the victory stakes by thirty-four to thirty-three with twenty-five draws. Recent form, however, favours Stoke who have won four of the last twelve to West Ham’s two.
On the road, Stoke is just edging close enough to the north-west for West Ham’s travel sickness curse to kick in. The Hammers can only boast thirteen victories in forty-six visits although five of these have these have come in the last twelve with the last success in March 2013 when Jack Collison scored the only goal of the game.
Winston Reid is suspended and it will be a choice between James Collins and Declan Rice as his replacement. I can see Collins getting the nod against a side who still rely significantly on height in terms of goal threat.
There must be a strong argument to otherwise stick with the side that started against Arsenal even though it may be limiting in the desire to impose greater attacking intent into the game. Assuming the keeper, back five (apart from Reid) and Pedro Obiang, as defensive shield, remain the same then Moyes has to craft an offensive threat out of the Arsenal starters plus Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate (if fit). Moyes seemed to favour the look of Kouyate as nuisance value before his injury but this responsibility may now have passed to Michail Antonio and Arnautovic. Getting Manuel Lanzinin into more useful possession will be vital and the attacking four will need to work on improving both with and without the ball.
Stoke may be without Kurt Zouma but probably have another donkey waiting in reserve. Martins Indi remains sidelined but former Hammer Glen Johnson could return.
Man in The Middle
A rare sighting at a West Ham game of referee Graham Scott from Oxfordshire. Scott was last seen at the away win against Southampton in February 2017. This season he has taken charge of twelve games awarding twenty-six yellow cards and one red.
The two TV pundits are sticking to form for this one with Merson betting against West Ham with a 1-0 defeat and Lawro staying firmly on the fence with his third 1-1 prediction in a row. This game is going to provide a lot of pointers as to how West Ham will approach these can-win games under Moyes and I will keep the faith and back him to pick up his first away League points in an Arnautovic inspired 2-0 win.