A Win, Entertainment & Goals
Great relief at an unexpected victory that finally put some points on the board for West Ham and allowed them to climb to 16th place in the Premier League table. That’s one place higher than Avram Grant’s team managed during the entire 2010/11 season – the last time the Hammers lost the opening four games of a campaign. It was not just the win that was pleasing, however, but the manner in which it was achieved with some great all-round performances plus a spirit and tenacity that had been missing from previous games. What I had envisaged as being a scrappy Sunday afternoon affair turned out to be highly entertaining with plenty of incident at both ends and some excellent well-taken goals (and all from open play for a change).
We Were Good Or They Were Bad?
When any game is analysed these days there is invariably a binary debate as to whether the outcome was down to the superiority of the victors or the shortcomings of the defeated. Most (non-partisan) reports that I read look to have taken the position that the deciding factor yesterday was Everton’s deficiencies rather than West Ham’s performance. As a contrast, when Manchester City beat Fulham on Saturday, the consensus was this was due to City’s impeccability and flawlessness while Fulham’s suicidal tactics were largely ignored. In truth, most games are a mix of the two and we shouldn’t underestimate how, on the day, West Ham’s confident and energetic approach to the game served to rattle their opponents.
The Shape Of Things To Come
The number of changes announced in the West Ham starting eleven took most people by surprise and was seen by some as a sign of panic. It was a puzzle to see how they would eventually line up. Formations should, of course, be flexible but what we saw was something that looked like a 4-1-2-3 where Declan Rice was as close to being a third centre back as possible without becoming a back three. In the event it worked well and both Rice and Pedro Obiang had outstanding games in the centre of midfield and the front three were given an opportunity to flourish. Where the set-up didn’t work so well was in supporting the full-backs, an area where most of the Everton threat came from. Despite the Fabian Balbuena – Issa Diop partnership again being sound, Everton were still presented with three or four good chances from crosses into the box. With Obiang and Mark Noble playing narrow in midfield it looked as though the responsibility for tracking back rested with Andriy Armolenko and Felipe Anderson – a big ask if you also expect them to be the springboard for attacks. Most successful teams do not expect their most advanced players to defend deep (relying on them to press higher up the pitch). It is a problem that needs to be addressed as the next opponents may not be quite as profligate on crosses as Everton were.
It was a first chance this season to see Marko Arnautovic start a game supported by the two expensive summer recruits – Anderson and Yarmolenko. It was a pleasure to watch and to see passes being played into spaces that others were running into; rather than the static triangles that we have become used to. The first and third goals in particular were beautifully worked and featured the swift passing style that I love to see nestling in the back of the net – thirty yard thunderbolts are fine but team goals are football at its best. It was a dream full debut for Yarmolenko who can look somewhat ungainly but what a sweet left foot he has! It was a little worrying seeing Anderson stranded out wide on the left at the start but his influence grew as the game developed. Although not directly involved in any of the goals he showed excellent close control and an ability to retain possession that has eluded generations of West Ham players since Alan Devonshire (or maybe Yossi Benayoun). I am hoping we get to see some true Anderson end product soon rather than later but the prospect of these three having an extended run together is very exciting.
Having conceded late in the first half the initial reaction was that “West Ham’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” – but in fact they managed the second half very well and the expected Everton onslaught never materialised. The timing of the Arnautovic goal was perfect and went some way to settle the nerves; but long time Hammers supporters will never be fully confident of victory until the game is finally over. My biggest worry was that at the rate Martin Atkinson was handing out yellow cards to our players (four of them for their only foul of the match) we would end up a man down. At least he didn’t show a straight red for Arthur Masuaku’s boot ending up on Walcott’s ducked head as the idiot Clattenburg has been suggesting in the media. Even substitutes Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass acquitted themselves well, although there were flashbacks to Selhurst Park whenever Antonio took the ball to the corner flag. Carlos Sanchez on the other hand ………..what was he doing?