Current Form Resurgence
At the risk of cherry picking statistics in order to prove a particular point, West Ham’s form over the past nine games gives every reason for supporters to breathe a little easier right now. Disregarding David Moyes’ first three games in charge, as an opportunity to get his feet under the table, the Hammers have since taken fifteen points from nine games; a return that if repeated for the remainder of the season would deliver a comfortable fifty-five points. At the same time, the goal difference (although still in debit) is starting to look much more reasonable in comparison with the rest of the relegation threatened pack. Three points are welcome at any time but on Saturday there was something of a recent rarity where victory was backed up with a fine dominant performance that demonstrated some of the most enterprising football witnessed for some time.
Team Selection Vindicated
It would be preposterous to question team selection following such an emphatic win but there was plenty of online negativity when the lineup was first announced; mainly centred on a defensive looking midfield and the absence of a recognised striker. The central midfield continues to be a problem area for West Ham and putting three bodies in it was a belt and braces solution for the respective shortcomings of the three individuals involved. In the context of the game it worked very well with Mark Noble getting more freedom and Cheikhou Kouyate being able to make himself a nuisance (Fellaini style without the elbows) in more forward positions. The one player who was unlucky to miss out was Declan Rice but I suspect that the management are keen to manage the youngster’s game time. I do not really see Rice as a midfield alternative and, for me, it would have been a toss-up between him and Aaron Cresswell for the final back three berth. Cresswell is doing OK but his lack of stature is a vulnerability that more wily opponents than Huddersfield will seek to exploit.
There has been a lot of talk about West Ham’s strikers and their respective attributes with the probability that none of the existing crop is a good fit to the way that Moyes wants to play. Despite stating at his press conference that he didn’t want to lose any of his four main strikers (and that he wasn’t looking for any new ones) it was interesting that he plumped for Marko Arnautovic in the striking role for Saturday’s game, just as he had previously shown a preference to use Michail Antonio for that task in earlier games. Arnautovic revelled in his new found freedom and gave the Huddersfield defence a torrid time. It was a match winning performance and his transformation over recent weeks has been a revelation. He has a reputation for being moody and we must hope that he can continue to be motivated to show was a superb player he can be. The link up play between himself and Manuel Lanzini was a joy and particularly effective when the team is looking to break quickly. How this might translate against a team coming to the London Stadium to defend is another question altogether.
Understandably it was Arnautovic and Lanzini who received the plaudits following the weekend’s game but this was truly a tremendous all-round team effort. I don’t think any player let the side down although one or two could have done better before Lolley popped up to net with his excellent equaliser. It has become fashionable in recent weeks to target the performances of Kouyate and Pedro Obiang for any deficiencies in West Ham’s play; and although neither of them has been at the top of their game they haven’t played as consistently poorly as some have claimed. One of the many player ratings I saw over the weekend (I think it was from Claret & Hugh) singled out Kouyate as the worst performing Hammer, this despite his telling involvement in three of the Hammer’s four goals. It is probably time to get off the bandwagon when you can no longer be objective.
The West Ham Enigma
As West Ham fans our long experience of false dawns make us suspicious and ensures that we do not get carried away too easily by a few good results. However, we can be quietly encouraged by the improved performances that Moyes and the coaching team have managed to get from the players in a relatively short space of time. Naysayers will still point to cup performances as a reason to criticise but as much as we all love a cup run the club will see preserving Premier League status as the much bigger (if not exclusive) priority. Do you think that if West Ham won the FA Cup but were relegated the manager would still be in a job come the summer? So despite the recent turnaround in form the official stance from all concerned or associated with the club is to emphasise that there is still much work to be done before we can think of ourselves as safe. I am certain, however, that the more agreeable league position will put a different complexion on transfer window dealings, where signings can be made not just through panic but with longer term improvement in mind.