West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium – what chance of a repeat of 2015 with a 2-0 away win?

West Ham began the final season at the Boleyn Ground (2015-16) with home games against Leicester (who would go on to become surprise winners of the Premier League, and Bournemouth. Both games were lost. Outfoxed by the foxes, and picked off by the cherries. But before then, in the season opener we travelled the short distance across North London to face an Arsenal side that had won virtually everything in pre-season, and were being strongly tipped to produce a stronger challenge for the Premier League title than they had for a while. Against the odds we came away with two goals, a clean sheet and three points from an excellent performance. That was the game where the phrase about Oxford having Ozil in his pocket was heard. Where is Oxford now? And come to think of it, what about Ozil? What a start to the season we had and sitting in a Champions League spot too! Of course we came down to earth in true West Ham style with the defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth, and then we went to Anfield and beat Liverpool 3-0!  

Of course that’s what supporting West Ham is all about. As Chuck Berry sang, you never can tell. It’s the West Ham way. This season we began with a defeat at home to Newcastle. Many thought that this was our best chance of three points in the first seven games with a daunting run of fixtures to follow. Five years ago we hoped to have six points from our first four fixtures, but we all thought that they would come from the home games against Leicester and Bournemouth. None of us expected anything from the visits to Arsenal and Liverpool. But that’s where we were successful, so what are the odds of repeating our victory in the first away fixture this time around with three points just as we did then?

If I’m honest I would have to admit the odds are massively against, but they were then, too. Bookmakers have Arsenal at 1/2 to win and we are priced at 5/1 which is not as generous as you might think given the starts that the two teams have made this season. League tables produced when four sides have yet to play a game are fairly meaningless of course, but even at this stage Arsenal sit at the top and we are in the bottom three. Interestingly, there were no draws in the Premier League last weekend, so can we perhaps get a point? The odds for this happening are about 10/3, once again not very generous. But then again the bookies aren’t known for their generosity are they?

My attempt at watching the Newcastle game after an evening out “as live” just like the Likely Lads attempted in the 1960s failed miserably when I accidentally found out that the score early in the second half was 0-0. So I ignored the first half and watched the last 45 minutes. Apparently we were unfortunate to hit the woodwork more than once in the opening half, but I saw little in the second half to make me think we were going to win. Somehow it was inevitable that Wilson would score against us, but was his foot dangerously high? Some referees might have thought so. Should we have been awarded a penalty when the ball struck a Newcastle arm in the penalty area. Again some might have thought so. But neither the referee nor VAR adjudged in our favour, and we ended up pointless after conceding a second goal close to the end.

At least we progressed in the League (Carabao) Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Charlton on Tuesday. Those are the type of fixtures we have lost in the past, but by all accounts the players that were given a run-out looked good, albeit against lower league opposition. So Hull in the next round, and then if we overcome that obstacle then Fleetwood or Everton. This is the easiest competition to win, but we have never done so, although we have come close. Perhaps this our year? We are around 15th favourites to lift this trophy with odds ranging from around 28/1 up to 66/1.

It’s all very depressing at the moment. I’ve lost count of the unrealistic transfer targets – with the Tarkowski story reminding me very much of stories from the past where we are supposedly chasing players well beyond our reach with no chance of it happening. I don’t know how many players we’ve been linked with but I still haven’t noticed anyone arriving. I see that the board have now allegedly taken vows of silence because of leaks from within the club. And what of all the takeover stories. Who will our new owners be? Chinese? Middle Eastern? American? I read some of this stuff but don’t believe a word of any of it until it happens. And hardly anything ever does.

I won’t speculate on the starting eleven, as last week for the first time ever I was spot on. I doubt that it can happen again. I’m sure that there will be some changes, but add the names of the players who played in the Carabao Cup tie to those who started last week, pick 4 or 5 who must start, and then perm any of the remainder into some kind of formation and hope for the best.

Almost certainly everyone is convinced that we are destined to lose to Arsenal by two or three goals at least. But I’m going to stick my neck out for an unlikely repeat of the score in August 2015. A top 4 UK hit by Napoleon XIV from the summer of 1966 comes to mind as I write this, but stranger things have happened. Well, not very often I’ll grant you, but I’m going for a 2-0 away win. Those not very generous bookmakers will only give me around a paltry 35/1 on that happening. What are the chances?     

Batten Down The Hatches: Trouble Ahead As West Ham’s Defence Put To The Test

Quick, incisive, attacking flair meets slow, disorganised, accident-prone defence. What could possibly go wrong? Moyes and the Hammers have their work cut out to avoid crushing defeat.

If, as they say, you are as good as your last game, then Arsenal are in for a torrid time against a rejuvenated West Ham at the The Emirates on Saturday evening. Alternatively, using the more realistic yardstick of how the two teams performed in their opening games of the season and the only conclusion reached is that the Hammers could be in deep, deep trouble.

With another week gone by where the east London arrivals lounge has been closed for business, there are few options available to freshen up the side this weekend. Reinforcements continue to be desperately needed for three or four starting positions.

There are more than two weeks remaining before the ceremonial slamming shut of the transfer window and the Hammers should be one of several clubs looking to get more business done. With a few exceptions it has been quite a relatively cagey window so far, as changing financial realities hit the game at all levels.

This uncertainty does not to give a free pass to the dithering Board regarding our own lack of transfer engagement, though, as they once again give the impression that the opening of the window has taken them by surprise. Any thought that they might have prepared a recruitment master plan with detailed plans and scouting dossiers on well researched targets would be simple flight of fancy.  As usual we have been drip fed the annual long running transfer pursuit saga (Tarkowski on this occasion) who will end up going elsewhere (Leicester) for twice what we were hoping to pay. At the same time, a succession of young, promising talent gets snaffled by more imaginative clubs while we are not looking.

The official club narrative (and their mouthpieces) tell us of frenetic behind the scenes activity involving gallons of midnight oil being burned as bids are prepared and deals hammered out. No doubt there will eventually be money spent on oven-ready deals as the clock ticks down and the Black Friday sales or liquidation sales become apparent. Like the man who doesn’t buy his presents until Christmas Eve, we will get what’s left rather than what we need.

The West Ham performance against Newcastle was bitterly disappointing but not that surprising. It reminded me of that first post lockdown effort back in June against Wolves – enough possession but not knowing what to do with it. Will we now see a similar level of improvement? Or was the change in fortune back then more the result of opponents lacking season end commitment?

Until the deep seated issues in the squad of defensive frailty, lack of pace and the absence of midfield creativity are addressed, it is difficult to break free of the pessimism. The only consolation from last weekend was how bad Fulham and West Bromwich Albion looked. appearing even more clueless than we were.

I have seen plenty of debate over the last few days regarding playing Sebastien Haller in a front two, supported either by Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko. In an ideal world that makes a lot of sense. Haller did his best work at Eintracht Frankfurt in a two and looks a fish out of water in the lone striker role. The fly in that particular ointment, however, are the consequences that removing a player from midfield would have on the rest of the team’s setup. If there was more mobility and athleticism in midfield and if the defence wasn’t so abysmal then it could be a decent plan. Failing that it is an open invitation for opponents to overrun us.

Arsenal may no longer be the title contenders that they were, but they have chosen well in appointing Mikel Arteta as manager – the kind of progressive appointment we can only dream about. They will believe a return to Champion’s League football is a real possibility next season. Although not the strongest defensively, they have attacking flair in spades. The worrying thing from a West Ham point of view is the pace at which they attack. Any two of Willian, Pepe and Bellerin marauding down the right wing promises to make it a disastrous evening on the left side of our defence – the weakest of our weak positions. With no other options than Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku to provide resistance, I’m glad it’s not me not picking the team!

The game has all the hallmarks of being a very long ninety minutes for Hammer’s supporters. David Moyes will make a few changes from last week but none of them will be inspiring or carry much hope with it. Maybe Haller, Yarmolenko or Robert Snodgrass are all in with a shout of a start, but with damage limitation likely at the forefront of the manager’s thinking, it might all be academic. The objective may be to play for a goalless draw (there were no draws in the last round of games) but that plan often falls to pieces once a goal is conceded, allowing the floodgates to open.

It pains me to say this, but West Ham will lose this game – and probably quite heavily!   

Going Through The Motions: West Ham Plot Carabao Cup Exit

Is it right to have a definition of Meaningless in the dictionary? If so, it could be tonight’s EFL game at the London Stadium.

“Name something that is completely pointless” asks host, Les Dennis, in an episode of Family Fortune’s Always Hiding. Of one hundred people surveyed, the second most popular answer is “West Ham after their first seven Premier League games of the season.” Top answer, though, is tonight’s 2nd round EFL cup game against Charlton Athletic – played in an empty stadium, where any pretence of winning is a distant second to damage limitation and the need to fulfil contractual obligations.  In a congested and compressed season, it is a puzzle that the competition is actually going ahead.

In recent years successive of West Ham managers have, for whatever reasons, failed to treat the competition seriously – and even when we did, being on the wrong end of a lower league giant-killing was not unheard of. It is a footballing conundrum. The League Cup is surely the easiest of the three major trophies to win for the Premier League also-rans – yet many make no real effort to compete. While in the past twenty years, the names of Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea have all been etched onto the not so famous trophy, risk averse managers continue to consider giving it a go as a distraction from the real business of not being relegated. It’s enough to make you wonder what the point of following football is?

In a further downgrade to the League Cup’s  status, this season’s winners no longer qualify for the Europa League, but will instead have to make do with the unimaginatively named third-tier Europa Conference League – an Auto Windscreens/ Sinod Cup affair designed to prevent smaller clubs and countries clogging up the more illustrious televised competitions.

This evening’s match provides the opportunity for our former tenants from south-east London to inflict an early round embarrassing defeat on the Hammers. Although newly relegated to League 1, manager and ex- Hammer, Lee Bowyer, will be confident his side can pull off an apparent upset. That no-one would be particularly surprised, or even really care, is a sad reflection of where we find ourselves.  After all, there is plenty of transfer speculation and the excitement of a potential US consortium takeover to tweet about.

Tonight will see the fourth meeting between the two clubs in the 61 year history of the League Cup, an exchange in which West Ham boast a 100% success rate. For the record, these were: 3-1 in 1960 (Moore, Dick, Musgrove); 1-0 in 1976 (Alan Taylor) and 2-1 in 1980 (Cross 2). That win in 1980 came in a run that took the Hammers all the way to their last major final appearance, where they lost to Liverpool in a replay in April 1981.

Despite never having won the competition, there are two West Ham related entries in the League Cup record books. The first, a 10-0 win over Bury in 1983 which stands as the biggest ever winning margin (equalled by Liverpool v Fulham in 1986) and notable in that so impressive was the performance of the Bury centre-half (Paul Hilton) that he was subsequently signed for the Hammers by John Lyall. The second, Geoff Hurst’s career total of 50 League Cup goals which remains a competition record (shared with Ian Rush), although some of Hurst’s goals were scored after he had moved to Stoke. An extra side-note is that Rush’s first League Cup appearance for Liverpool was in that 1981 final replay, although he failed to score on that occasion.

It is quite difficult to imagine what would represent a weakened West Ham side these days  – one that doesn’t include Rice, Soucek, Bowen and Antonio I suppose. Otherwise we might not be able to tell the difference. Perhaps we will be surprised, who knows? I will probably check the score in the morning paper.

Whistling A Happy Toon: West Ham To Make Winning Start To Season

When a new football season is about to begin then I am normally full of excitement, looking forward to going along to the London Stadium for the first game. If the opening game is away from home it is still exciting to watch the progress of the matches being played on Sports Saturday on Sky. But this time around I can’t really get as interested as I normally do, which considering I’ve been following West Ham since season 1958-59 may be surprising, and perhaps disappointing. Am I losing my enthusiasm for football? Of course last season was probably the strangest one of all time for reasons that we are all aware of, and this one may well be the same. Following the lockdown we began slowly, but then ended the season on a high, securing our place in the top division for another season with some excellent performances. Perhaps once the games get underway again I’ll regain my enthusiasm, but at the moment it’s not there yet.

The interval before the new season would start was obviously much shorter than usual, but I guess we were looking forward to seeing some departures and new arrivals in readiness for the new campaign. The friendly games against lower league opposition went well enough, although by all accounts the Betway Cup performance against Bournemouth (also lower league!) highlighted our defensive deficiencies. Of course some of our players were away on international duty, but the return of Fabianski, Rice, Yarmolenko, and Soucek will undoubtedly strengthen the team. But apart from confirming the permanent transfer of Soucek there is a distinct lack of new faces. All other Premier League clubs seem to have been active in the transfer market, but the eighteenth richest club in the world has been pleading poverty, much to the annoyance of the fans, who were looking forward to some new faces, in particular to strengthen the defensive positions, especially at full back.

The departure of Diangana to West Brom, where he spent last season on loan has caused much consternation on social media, but once Mark Noble and others had joined in with their disappointment at seeing him leave it became an issue for the national broadcast and newspaper media. Although the furore has died down a little, there still seems to be a lot of anger around still, and this will increase if we fail to get off to a good start in this game.

I’m not really sure how many times we’ve faced the Geordies in our opening game of the season. It makes a change in recent times to not be facing top-six opposition, although games against top sides come thick and fast after the opener. I do remember one season in particular, and that was back in 1973-74. We had ended the previous season in sixth place, one of our best ever top division finishing positions, and hopes were high for the new campaign. But that first game at Upton Park was a massive disappointment, which was exacerbated by a friend from Newcastle joining me at the game. We went down 2-1 with ex-Newcastle player Pop Robson scoring our goal.

From that point it didn’t get any better and a succession of draws and defeats in the first eleven matches left us at the bottom of the table. Eventually we won a game (1-0 at Coventry thanks to a John McDowell goal), but we remained at the foot of the table until we won our second game of the season beating Manchester City 2-1 on December 8th. Two 4-2 victories at Chelsea on Boxing Day and then at home to Norwich on New Years Day still left us in the relegation zone (21st), before a run of wins and draws from the beginning of January through to the middle of March eased the pressure slightly and we eventually stayed up by one point in 18th. Manchester United were one of the teams relegated. I’m hoping that we don’t replicate that season, which also included an ignominious defeat at the hands of Hereford in the FA Cup.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everything can look rosy before a season begins and then it all goes wrong. I can also remember pre-seasons where we have looked good in the friendly games and then performed badly once the league games have begun. The reverse has also happened at times with a disastrous pre-season leading to doom and gloom amongst the fans followed by some excellent performances. It just highlights the Forrest Gump box of chocolates story – with West Ham you never know what you are going to get. That applies from one season to another, one game to another, and frequently to the first half and second half of a game.

I’m not especially confident with everything about the club at the moment, but hopeful that David Moyes can continue where he left off at the end of the last campaign, despite the difficulties that he faces. He knows that the model of recent seasons has to change and he wants to build for the future. He doesn’t want players coming here for a good pay day in London, and if he can unearth more gems like Bowen and Soucek we will have a chance. People forget that when he arrived at Everton in 2002 they were a bit like us, often fighting the drop. When he left there eleven years later they had finished in the top eight for seven consecutive seasons. Whether he will be given the time, and even some of the resources that should be available to the eighteenth richest club in the world only time will tell.  

The game kicks off at 8pm and is available to view on TV. That’s some consolation for not being able to be at the stadium. How will we line up? I expect Fabianski to be behind a back four of Fredericks (or Johnson?), Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell. I fear that Saint-Maximin can run our defence ragged as he did at the London Stadium last season and wonder if Masuaku will be included to provide extra cover for Cresswell? It wouldn’t be my choice but it may happen. Rice, Soucek and Noble may start in midfield, with Bowen, Fornals and Antonio providing the main attacking options at the start. But will there perhaps be a place for the in-form Yarmolenko, or a hopefully rejuvenated Haller, Lanzini or Anderson? Will any of the youngsters get a chance? Who knows? What we do know is that there won’t be any new faces to bolster a defence that had one of the worst goals-against records in the Premier League last season. I’m confident that we can score goals, but can we improve defensively? Perhaps David Moyes and his coaches can work wonders on this aspect of our team, but has he got the raw materials to work with?

The bookmakers have us at around 23/20 to win the game, with Newcastle and the draw both at around 5/2. If you fancy us to win then West Ham to win and both teams to score is on offer at around 7/2. My fun bet for this game is for West Ham to win 2-1 with Tomas Soucek scoring the last goal in the game – this is priced at 60/1. Without any great degree of confidence I’m just hoping for a decent performance and three points. What are the chances?

It’s traditional for me to forecast (before a ball is kicked) how the Premier League will look at the end of the season. So here goes: 1.Manchester City, 2.Liverpool, 3.Manchester United, 4.Chelsea, 5.Arsenal, 6.Wolves, 7.Everton, 8.Tottenham, 9.Leicester, 10.West Ham, 11.Southampton, 12.Newcastle, 13.Leeds, 14.Aston Villa, 15.Sheffield United, 16.Crystal Palace, 17.Brighton, 18.Burnley, 19.West Brom, 20.Fulham. There’s optimism for you! Enjoy the game

West Ham Disunited: Where the Calamity Never Ends

Years of delusion, unprofessionalism and poor decision making at West Ham have shown the next level promises to be a shambolic farce. If ever a club has been ill-prepared for a new season it is West Ham in 2020/21

I can’t remember a time when I have had less enthusiasm for the start of a new football season. Although partly due to the unusual circumstances that we are living through – forcing a foreshortened break and the absence of that slow build pre-season anticipation – the primary reason is undoubtedly the continued chaos and calamity that the club conjures up  for itself out of nowhere.

Having finished the post lockdown phase of the season in a relatively positive manner there should have been grounds for optimism in the face of a new campaign. All that was required was careful grown-up stewardship to address the obvious critical deficiencies in the squad, and then building on the hard work and collective team spirit that had been growing during the closing run of games.  What we got instead was the worst of all possible worlds – a malignant disharmony that has quickly spread throughout the club alienating owners, chief executive, manager, skipper, players and supporters. What could possibly go wrong with that as a preparation for a new season?

In days gone by, we might have laughed off supporting West Ham as a character building roller-coaster ride – but it is now a curious roller-coaster that travels only downwards. Starting a new season in turmoil; selecting from an even smaller squad of players; glaring weaknesses in defence left unaddressed; and a tough opening set of fixtures leads to only one conclusion. We are faced with yet another season of backs-to-the-wall attrition, where the only hope is there being three even more incompetent sides in division – it is difficult to see who these might be!

This will be West Ham’s ninth consecutive season in the top flight of English football. During that period the club have signed close to 75 players at a combined outlay of over £420 million (in transfer fees) and goodness knows how many millions frittered away in wages. That we have a squad that is little better in depth and quality than a promoted club is damning evidence of a club with no strategy and poor leadership. A board obsessed with short-term vanity signings at the expense of building for the future. As one newspaper article described the recruitment policy:

“And when age finally takes its toll, when the world stops waiting for you to become what it seemed you once could be, when you are written off with a dismissive shrug as a could-have-been then, in England at least, there are really only two places you can go: West Ham or Everton.”

In isolation I was ambivalent about the sale of Grady Diangana. I was not convinced that he would become a consistent Premier League performer but, on the other hand, he is an academy product (which we all love) and he could do no worse than several other of our very highly paid squad members. In a well run club he would have been given time to prove his worth but sadly West Ham is now a make do and mend operation, crippled by knee-jerk decision making and arrogance at Board level. Throwing money at Pellegrini and allowing him to appoint his mate as Director of Football was astonishingly foolish and will take years to recover from without a further injection of funds. The owners have created the chaos and we look to them to repair the damage. Either by shelling out or selling up.

Any pretence of building for another level is laughable. We can all see the king has got no clothes, so please stop telling us he has. It is clear that Gold and Sullivan do not have the competence to run a progressive football club and if they intend to stick around then they must bring in someone who understands what it takes to run a modern football – someone who knows the importance of scouting, recruitment, player development and training facilities – and is not just focused on shifting merchandise.

As for the season opener, West Ham entertain a Newcastle side who had hoped to be starting their own campaign under new ownership. Even so they have been busier in the transfer market than the Hammers (who hasn’t) and will be approaching the game in the more positive frame of mind.

The good news for David Moyes is that both Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek are available to start but beyond that he has no fresh options to call on. The famously leaky defence has not been reinforced and it is bare bones right across the backline – West Ham being the only club in the league who regard full-backs as optional extras.

Strangely, for a club that boasts only one recognised striker and little midfield creativity, scoring goals has not been a major problem in the recent past. Much will depend on the tireless endeavours of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio to keep that record going. Maybe we will be surprised and Moyes will find a way to deploy the likes of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko that will justify at least part of their phenomenal wages.

Newcastle can now boast two players in Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson who traditionally thrive in games against West Ham. Throw Saint-Maximin and Almiron into the mix and they carry more than enough threat to cause serious headaches to the West Ham rearguard – even at the best of times. In the current toxic atmosphere surrounding the London Stadium any outcome more positive than a draw is difficult to predict.

This weekend’s game is meant to be the easiest (on paper) of the opening sequence of Premier League games. If West Ham extend their opening day of the season losing streak to five games, then it is no leap of the imagination to suggest that we might find ourselves rock bottom after the first seven games on zero points.  Perhaps a late flurry in the transfer window can lighten the gloom but right now there is little cause for optimism. A season of real struggle awaits!