Professional And Efficient Performance
A first home win against Arsenal since 2006 was earned through an efficient, professional and controlled performance. In front of a record home crowd West Ham triumphed in a match that never reached the levels of passion, excitement and entertainment often associated with this encounter. It is fair to say that the threat from the visitors lacked any edge and it appears that their long unbeaten run earlier in the season has hidden some deep seated problems – at least as far as top four ambitions are concerned. Until the introduction of Ramsey Arsenal offered little energy or urgency and neither Aubameyang nor Lacazette really bothered the Hammers defence. West Ham were deserved winners and, at times, played some delightful football – only failing to remember that not all of their players are accomplished enough to execute intricate, quick passing movements. It was a little disappointed that Lucas Perez was considered more deserving of a place on the bench than Xande Silva; all clubs make mistakes with transfers and the sooner that Manuel Pellegrini files the recruitment of Perez as an unfortunate blooper the better.
Rice Opens His Goalscoring Account
In an early draft of my match preview I had included a comment to the effect that, if Declan Rice wanted to be considered as a top level midfield player, he needed to start scoring goals. Fortunately, I removed it before publication. I did have an inward smirk when he missed a presentable headed chance in the first period but there was ample compensation when he swept home the only goal of the game early in the second half. The delight on Declan’s face after the goal was a priceless momnet. Like most Hammers I am a huge fan of Rice but admit to being in the camp that felt his future would be as a central defender rather than in midfield. His ability to read the game, his stamina, agility, the deftness of his passing and the quickness of his feet have both surprised and amazed me. Undoubtedly he is a top talent who will want to go on and play at the top level of the game – which begs the question: can the club’s ambition ever match his own?
The Reincarnation Of Nasri
It may only have been three-quarters of a match – and with the added incentive of it being against one of his former clubs – but Samir Nasri’s contribution to the West Ham cause on Saturday was outstanding. He brought an intelligence, touch and degree of inspiration to the middle of the park that has been missing for much of the season in the absence of Manuel Lanzini. He has that rare knack of creating space and time for himself and for picking out the right pass at the right time. On Saturday, all this was backed with the effort of putting in the hard yards and it was fitting that he provided the assist for Rice’s goal. If Nasri can repeat this level of commitment and performance it will have been a recruitment masterpiece by Pellegrini and co. The prospect of Nasri linking up with Felipe Anderson for the remainder of the season is a mouth-watering one. It was also great to see him playing with a broad smile on his face – clearly elated at being given another chance in a top league.
A Rare Clean Sheet
The other rarity of the weekend (other than a home win against the Gunners) was a West Ham clean sheet – and one that didn’t need to rely heavily on the heroics of Lucasz Fabianski. Apart from a near miss by Iwobi, Arsenal rarely threatened and, although that was in part due to the visitor’s lack of guile, the West Ham defence did everything that was asked of them. Each of the defenders had a sound game and deserve a firm pat on the back, including the much maligned Angelo Ogbonna. The problem with Ogbonna is that he can be at the top of his game for long periods only to let himself down by inexplicably switching off at a vital moment. The Hammers are short of defensive options and, even if backup is secured during the transfer window, it is probable that Ogbonna and Diop will now be the main partnership for much of the remainder of the season.
Will He Or Won’t He Be Back?
There has been plenty of speculation concerning the future of Marko Arnautovic and how to interpret his body language during the match. Did he try, was he still injured, was he sulking, did he wave a long good-bye? I think it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions given that he is prone to spending much of the game complaining to team-mates. Based on the comments made by Michail Antonio on TV, it is apparent that Arnie is more than tempted by the Chinese millions and would be keen on the opportunity to finally have something to put into his empty trophy cabinet. Ironically, the presence of Nasri and adoption of a more measured attacking approach may not suit the Arnautovic style, where he is at his most effective using pace and power to chase down longer balls and hassle defenders. His departure would, nonetheless, be a huge loss even though keeping a player whose mind is elsewhere is a risk. Surely a £35 million price tag is way below market value and we should have learned a lesson from the Payet episode. That sort of money cannot buy an established replacement and in the current market the fee is not a good deal for West Ham.