We All Pull Together
The team performance against Watford was a perfect reaction to the disappointment of half-hearted effort on show at Brighton last week. In David Sullivan’s attempt at a damage limitation video (that was posted on the official West Ham website) he repeated, in a style reminiscent of Theresa May’s much ridiculed strong and stable slogan, the mantra as to how we all needed to pull together to drag the club out of its current plight. I am all for unity but for it to be achieved everyone has to see that striving for it is to their advantage. Donating my time, effort and money simply to line someone else’s pocket is just not tempting enough to earn my unquestioning support unfortunately. Still the players responded well and they ably demonstrated the spirit, determination and togetherness required to earn a valuable three points from what looked to be a troublesome fixture against a confident Watford side.
Arnie Is Back
In my match preview I predicted a point at best and that we would be lucky to see Marko Arnautovic on the bench. The inaccuracy of that latter expectation had a direct impact on the imprecision and negativity of the former. While I am in confession mode, I will admit to having been ambivalent about the signing of Arnautovic. Not that I was a huge Stoke City watcher but the impression I had was of an inconsistent, fair-weather, sun-on-his-back type of player who would pick and choose which matches he would contribute to at the best of his ability. His early outings in claret and blue did little to dispel that assessment. He looked moody and disinterested and added an early blot to his copybook with a needless sending off at Southampton. Then suddenly, after thirteen goalless outings, he was given a more attacking role by David Moyes, free from tracking back along the wing, and goes on to score seven times in the next eleven games. And it is not only in goals that he is contributing to the cause as his overall effort, strength and impressive close control have made him into a defender’s nightmare. It is difficult for me to remember ever being so completely wrong about a player in the past. When the new golden age of player recruitment, as promised by the Board, becomes a reality let’s hope there are a few more Arnies up their sleeves.
The Legendary Game Of Two Halves
In many ways it was an unusual game. The first half West Ham were very much on the front foot with great movement and invention on show. Cheikhou Kouyate was a midfield driving force demonstrating a power and energy that has largely been missing from his game in recent times, and with the ball at their feet the combination of Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Joao Mario and Javier Hernandez always looked threatening and capable of opening up the Watford defence. A goal disallowed for the thinnest of offside margins, a denied penalty appeal and a spurned Arnautovic chance all preceded the opening goal. When Hernandez headed home after a fine Antonio run and cross it felt like we were on a roll. The second half was a very different animal and it was difficult to tell whether this was because Watford had upped their game or whether West Ham had decided the best tactic was to defend deep and deny the visitors any chance of a quick counter attack. The inability of West Ham to keep the ball for more than a few touches and the tendency to go for the long ball was a concern but for all of Watford’s possession they created little. Watching live it seemed a very long second half that was all Watford, but watching the highlights later it was apparent that, apart from a free kick well saved by Adrian, it was West Ham who enjoyed the clear cut chances. Ultimately it was the Hammers who secured a further (rather scrappy) goal to seal the match and claim the points.
Initially the starting line-up puzzled me when it was first announced. I was sure it was going to be a back four and when it was apparent that this was not the case I was concerned about how well the Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell threesome would deal with Watford’s creative players. Cresswell has performed adequately in his new role but I am yet to be convinced that his lack of height will not be exploited by more astute opponents. For all of Collins limitations against more mobile adversaries there are few better when the opposition decide to rely on the lofted cross as their main form of attack. Similarly the aerial assault plays to one of Ogbonna’s main strengths; the other being wrestling with opponents at corners. Much was made of Watford’s 64% possession but it should be obvious to most by now that possession does not equate to dominance.
Canny Jock Or Dour Scot?
It remains tight at the bottom end of the Premier League table but the thirty point milestone is a good one to have crossed with still more than ten games to go. When Moyes took control of the team, West Ham had recorded nine points from eleven games and were sitting in eighteenth place. In the sixteen matches since he took charge his team have amassed twenty one points and now sit in twelfth place. It is a decent achievement and current trajectory should ensure a safe end to the season and even eyes on a top ten finish. The likelihood that at least six out of the eight teams sitting below West Ham in the table outperform them by a sufficient margin in the remaining eleven games is a slim one. What happens at the end of the season though is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think Moyes should be given the opportunity to show what he can do (both in terms of success and style) after a sensibly planned transfer window. Whether he wants to, or will be allowed to, depends very much on what the new strategy of pulling together actually means in reality.