A Winning Formula? Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Stunning Victory At Everton

It’s Werther’s Originals all round as Manuel Pellegrini celebrates his 65th birthday with a rare West Ham win at Goodison Park. What did we learn from the latest Hammers shape and improved performance?

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.

Unplayable

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.

Game Management

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?

West Ham Set To Dazzle Everton With Improved Tactical Stuff

Reports from the training ground are that West Ham spent the international break working on ‘tactical stuff’. What should we expect when battle re-commences in today’s Premier League encounter at Everton?

Part two of the weekend’s Merseyside versus London Premier League action sees pointless West Ham travel north to face unbeaten Everton at Goodison Park.  If the Hammers are as thoroughly outclassed as their itinerant North London neighbours were at Wembley on Saturday afternoon then we could be in for a painful afternoon.

Trips to the north-west have never come easy for West Ham with Everton representing a particular challenge, both home and away, in recent years.  In the last twenty visits to Goodison, the Hammers have only returned down the motorway with all three points on two occasions (in 2005/06 and 2015/16).  It is not a record that encourages optimism.  Another defeat would represent a worst ever start to a league season in the entire history of the club and heap even more pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini.  Unfortunately, it is all looking very Avram Grant at the moment.

It is difficult to know at what point the Board would take action should the bad run of results and performances continue but the season already has that feel of immense disappointment about it.  Even if Pellegrini does eventually turn it around as he did after slow starts at Villareal and Malaga it is much more likely to be a slow climb to mid table than a surge to Europa League qualification.  Perhaps we can be reassured by the words of Michail Antonio who told the Official Site that the squad had made good use of the international break by working on “shape and tactical stuff”.  You can’t have too much tactical stuff in my view and I look forward to witnessing the improvements this afternoon.  One assumes that it is a change of tactics that we are talking about rather than a case of having previously forgotten about having any!

On the evidence of the last time out, at home to Wolves, it is not only shape and tactics that are in need improvement but also the levels of effort, intensity, sharpness and tempo.  The performance against Wolves was widely criticised – and for good reason. So, are we likely to see any significant difference today?

I am still of the view that three at the back would suit the players available far better than a flat back four.  However, it would be a major departure to Pellegrini’s beliefs to countenance such a change.  Thus, I can see the defence being largely unchanged from that which started against Wolves and, with few options to choose from up front, all of the tinkering has to be in the midfield areas.

Everyone, apart, it seems, from those responsible for player recruitment, knew that West Ham had a major problem in defensive/ central midfield.  The late signing of Carlos Sanchez, as an afterthought, in the final hours of the transfer window was akin to buying your wife’s Christmas present at the petrol station just before it closed on Christmas Eve.  It is only going to end badly.  Not that Sanchez has been the stand-out worst performer in the games where he has featured; just that he is not good enough to fill this most necessary of positions.  Without a Fernandinho or Kante to call upon, West Ham need at least two bodies in this area of the pitch and, as things stand, it is a case of finding the least worst pairing out of Sanchez, Pedro Obiang, Mark Noble and Declan Rice to do the job.  For me, it would be Sanchez and Obiang but then I would also be starting Rice (in his proper position) as part of a back three.  Sadly, Noble is well past his best-before date and his lack of pace and his first instinct to go backwards is not a step in the right direction (as far as better tactical stuff is concerned!)  Neither am I convinced, despite his undoubted passion,that he provides so much in the way leadership on the pitch; although it is a worry where else this would come from.

The reluctance to start Andriy Yarmolenko continues to puzzle and maybe there has been a question over his match fitness.  If I was holding the purse strings I would want to see my expensively assembled squad in action right away.  I would feel short-changed (after spending £100 million) at having to yet again watch Robert Snodgrass plod around to little effect.  Apart from his short-lived purple patch while at Hull he has never been an effective Premier League player.  As he offers the greatest threat down any flank and is a useful outlet for under pressure defenders my choice for the left sided midfield role would be Arthur Masuaku.  At least he has the pace and trickery to run at, unsettle and get behind defenders.

EVEWHU-LIneup

Felipe Anderson needs to start earning his keep and to be played in the freer attacking midfield role that we saw against Arsenal.  He has a big price tag to live up to and needs to deliver sooner rather than later.  There have been a few promising signs and I have to remain hopeful that he can build a useful understanding with, and provide much needed support to, Marko Arnautovic.  I can imagine Arnie quickly losing patience if he is left abandoned up front on his own for much longer.

This week’s straw to clutch is that opponents Everton have a long list of injuries in defence and without the suspended Richarlison ‘look’ rather light in attack.  On the other hand, games against West Ham always seem to bring out the best in Walcott and Sigurdsson.

Today’s match referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire who officiated several of last season’s best forgotten matches away at Manchester United and Swansea and at home to Brighton.

As for the pundits, Lawro is plumping for a 2-1 Everton win while Merson is being kinder by going for a 1-1 draw.  I can see us breaking our duck today but with just the single point from a scrappy draw.  More importantly some clear signs that the players do actually care, are committed to the cause and appear to know what they are doing would be most welcome.  That is the beauty of tactical stuff!

It’s A Perfect Time To Panic: Five Takeaways From This Week’s Horror Show

A lethargic and lacklustre West Ham limp to a fourth consecutive Premier League defeat after a schoolboy error hands a last minute winner to a determined Wolves. What are the takeaways for the disgruntled Hammer’s fan?

You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know what they are doing – but I’m quite not yet sure whether it is the manager or the players.  Accepting that change is difficult, and that a new manager, new ideas, new style and an almost completely new set of players would make a storming start to the season unlikely I had expected better than this.  Leaving aside the time needed to create optimum cohesion and understanding it is surely not unrealistic that the basics of organisation and commitment should be in place by now in such an expensively assembled squad.    Does the manager have a plan, do the players not know what that plan is, or do they know but are unable to put it into action?  I think we all knew that champagne football might take a while to flow freely but the low energy, low tempo, low intensity fare being served up at the moment carries no promise of fizz tomorrow.  A few games into the season and many of the players look ready for a holiday just to take the lead out of their boots.

Is There A Man With A Plan?

The way that West Ham have been set up with the players that are available is a massive concern.  I am sure Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t believe he is back at Manchester City with players of superior class who can boss possession and pass their way to success.  Very few teams can do that – even if some of our players stroll around as if they believe they can.  For all the rest it is matter of hard work, organisation and application.  Either you work like fury to regain possession once it is lost it, or else you employ a compact shape allowing quick retreat and denying space for the opposition to exploit.  From the evidence to date, the new look West Ham are happy to concede both possession and space.  It is not rocket science that teams need to attack and defend as a team but this hasn’t sunk in for Pellegrini’s West Ham yet. In yesterday’s game, there were four players who offered little or nothing defensively which allowed Wolves numerical advantage whenever they attacked.  As with Arthur Masuaku before him, Aaron Cresswell was hung out to dry as time and again opposition runners were given the freedom to swarm forward unimpeded – what makes it even worse is that the full backs look to be under instruction to tuck in close to the central defenders.  It makes no sense whatsoever to give opponents such a free pass to the wide areas.   Contrast that with West Ham’s inability to create any space themselves down either flank – for either the wide midfielders or full-backs to run into.  Overall the game demonstrated very poor tactical awareness both at outset and as events unfolded.

Individual Mistakes

As the game looked to be petering out with both teams settled on a scoreless draw, it was ultimately an individual mistake that threw the game away and prevented the Hammers getting a first point on the board.  Having demonstrated a lack of penetration during the previous ninety minutes, and having been unable to fashion much in the way of clear cut chances, why they thought a slow build up for a short free kick was a good idea is beyond me.  Surely at that stage of the game, with time almost up, a percentage play knock down from the long ball would have been the sensible and safer option.  Surely any manager would have gone along with that, regardless of footballing philosophy.  If the initial decision was stupid then Carlos Sanchez giving away possession constituted diabolical schoolboy defending.  It was a shame because Sanchez was far from the worst of the Hammers in a performance where few came out with any credit – with the honourable exception of Fabianski (again), Diop and maybe Balbuena (although his distribution was generally erratic).  For me, Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass were particularly ineffective in their respective roles.

Great Expectations

If West Ham had played and lost four games but had competed well then there would be reason to cut the team some slack; after all it is still early doors, as Big Ron would say.  As things stand though there is little to be positive about and, having lost two winnable home games in a lethargic manner, the alarm bells should at least be tested even if it is not yet a full-on alert.  If we get to the end of September still with ‘nil points’ on the board it will be interesting to see how the Board react.  What started as a season of high expectations is now taking on the look of a typical slog where we are impatient for the season to end before the daffodils are out.  The table makes grim reading (even at this early stage of the season) – not just for the absence of points but also for only two goals scored and ten conceded.  I had predicted pre-season that Marko Arnautovic could become the first Hammer to score twenty in a Premier League season but now I wonder if the whole team can reach that milestone.  It will not help Arnie’s cause if he keeps having to drop so deep in order to spot the ball.  I wonder what the opposite of ‘The Invincibles’ is – ‘The Destructibles’ perhaps?

Feast and Famine

We have to hope that Pellegrini can manage, in the not too distant future, to create a functioning unit from the resources he has available.  The worst case scenario is limping to the halfway stage of the season and having to parachute in another salvage operator such as Allardyce or Moyes.  What the club needs is to be set on a path to improvement that blends hard work, organisation and a touch of flair.  Alternating years of feast and famine will take us nowhere.  For many years it was White Hart Lane that laid claim to the title of the players graveyard – where expensive players with big reputations came to do nothing more than pick up their pay cheques.   There is a very big fear that this is what the future holds for West Ham.  When Pellegrini was appointed at West Ham I read some criticism about how unfit the Manchester City players had become by the end of his reign.  At the time I had dismissed it as a convenient re-writing of history but, right now, there is just a flicker of a concern that it might ring true.

How Can West Ham Make Their Point And Spoil The Wanderers’ Return?

West Ham host Wolverhampton Wanderers at the London Stadium with both team’s seeking a first win of the season. With a tough run of fixtures on the horizon can the Hammers settle their nerves and pick up the points?

Tomorrow sees West Ham’s first meeting of the campaign against one of last season’s three promoted clubs.  In normal circumstances this would be seen as a great opportunity to put some points on the board but Wolves, along with Fulham, have a level of financial backing that would suggest something more than attritional backs-to-the-wall survival is on the radar.

Wolves have, to date, bucked the trend of Chinese investment in English football by embarking on an impressive run of success while for the others its has all gone lychee shaped.  Owners, Fosun International (“creating happier lives for families worldwide”), are a multinational investment conglomerate headed by one of the wealthiest men in China with interests ranging from asset management, insurance, real estate and entertainment.  With the company earning over a billion US dollars in profit every six months, shortage of funds is not going to be an issue should the owners wish to invest even further.

Under the guidance of magnificently bearded Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves record this season is two home draws, against Everton and Manchester City, and one, reportedly unlucky, away defeat to Leicester.  Like the Hammers they are seeking their first league win of the season this weekend.  I watched much of the Wolves – Manchester City match last week in which the hosts played a compact 3-4-3 formation; worked hard for each other and were quick and dangerous on the break.  The did get the rub of the refereeing decisions (their goal looked both offside and hand-ball) but on the evidence it will certainly be another stiff test for Manuel Pellegrini’s team.

The West Ham versus Wolves rivalry extends beyond sixty matches but this will be only the fifth meeting in the Premier League.  On the last occasion the two teams met it in a league it was a bottom of the table clash on New Year’s Day, 2011 when a Freddie Sears goal sealed a 2-0 victory that dumped Wolves into bottom spot and took the Hammers to a season high 15th.  As we all know to well, by the end of the season fortunes had been reversed as the Hammers bid their most recent farewell to the top flight.

It was a welcome midweek EFL cup win for West Ham (and defeat would have been a further shock to confidence levels) but it is impossible to read too much into a performance against hard-working but ordinary League 1 opposition, who spent much of the game a man down.  I doubt that the manager learned anything new as far as this weekend’s team selection is concerned, except that those who might have been hoping to stake a claim for selection (Obiang, Perez and Ogbonna) were unable to take advantage.

From a defensive viewpoint, the only certainty is that Lukasz Fabianski will return to the keeper’s jersey.  Beyond that I suspect that Pellegrini will stick with Fabian Belbuena and Issa Diop as centre backs.  The Declan Rice situation is a puzzles that to me he looks every inch a central defender and, even though he may have done OK (as a defensive midfielder) against AFC Wimbledon and in a handful of meaningless friendlies for the Republic of Ireland, he has tended to look lost there against more capable and dynamic opposition.   The only upside is that he is well placed to drop back into a back three as required – but, then again, that is where I would start him in the first place.

It is a toss-up with the choice of full-backs between the attack minded Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku or the more defensive Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell.  There may even be a case to play both Cresswell and Masuaku (not both as left backs, obviously) bearing in mind the probable threat down that wing from either Costa or Traore.  At times, Arthur has looked by far the most likely player to get behind an opposition defence.

In midfield, I am sure Pellegrini will again allow Felipe Anderson the freedom of a central attacking role following the clear improvement at Arsenal last week.  This would mean Jack Wilshere (if selected) needing to drop deeper to partner Carlos Sanchez in front of the backline.  I am not yet ready to jump onto the second coming Robert Snodgrass bandwagon although I am sure he will start on Saturday – getting the nod over Andriy Yarmolenko who, it seems, needs more work to achieve match fitness.  Players need to do more than run around a lot and look busy, and Snodgrass has yet to deliver much in the way of true end product during his Hammer’s career.

WHUWOL

West Ham’s fortunes may well end up resting on the fitness of Marko Arnautovic.  Seeing him in the starting lineup would be a massive boost to confidence rather than having to rely on his understudy, Javier Hernandez.  Perhaps, one day, Hernandez will surprise me but I still struggle to see how he can be used beyond being an impact substitution.  If it is any consolation his compatriot, Jimenez, who will be leading the Wolves line carries little more threat – creating the prospect of a Mexican stand-off.  Hopefully, the magic sponge man can work his wonders on Arnie’s knee.

The match referee has been announced as Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire.  The website that likes to tells us each week whether this is good or bad news for West Ham, calls it as bad news on the basis that he was in charge of the FA Cup defeat at Wigan last season– ignoring the fact that he also ref’d the away league win at Leicester that finally confirmed Premier League survival.

Sky’s Paul Merson felt the Hammer’s played well at Arsenal last week and is predicting a 2-2 draw.  At time of writing that lazy git Lawro has yet to share his views but I am guessing he will say 1-1.   Given what has gone before and that run of still to come tough September fixtures then Saturday’s fixture takes on an added tension filled significance.  Another defeat would leave us traumatised over the international break.  I have to believe and keep the faith, both in Pellegrini’s abilities and in Arnie’s knee.  I think that we can shade this one by the odd goal in three.  Two of Wolves three league opponents this season have been reduced to ten men; a warning, perhaps, that discipline is required all round.

Overground or Underground: West Ham Face A Challenging Cross Town Journey To Wimbledon

The second round of EFL Cup sees the not-so-big boys enter the fray. Can Manuel Pellegrini’s shell-shocked Hammers cast off their Premier League woes to record a moral boosting victory against League One Wimbledon?

Watching our game on TV at the weekend I heard the commentator mention how Arsenal had lost each of their opening three league matches in the 1992/93 season but subsequently went on to win both the FA and Football League Cups – beating Sheffield Wednesday in both finals.  An omen, maybe, that the Hammers take inspiration from history as they yet again set off hopefully on that elusive road to Wembley.

At the start of the season, the League or EFL Cup (in its many guises) is considered the piece of silverware that is most closely within the grasp of the smaller clubs; this despite the fact that the big six have won fifteen out of the last twenty competitions.  On paper, a second round fixture against League One opposition should be a routine victory; and then all we need is the continued luck of the Carabao draw and, hey prstoo, we are all the way to the final, for the first time since 1981.  Consider though the Hammer’s capacity for shock exits before pencilling the date of 24 February into your diary!

Today’s opponents are AFC Wimbledon whose remarkable rise through the football pyramid since their formation in 2002 sees them compete in the second round of the League Cup for the very first time.  It is debatable whether football historians should regard this as our first encounter with the Dons or whether the previous twenty-seven meetings with the former Wimbledon FC should also be taken into account – a sequence that included a fourth round League Cup victory for West Ham in 1989 courtesy of a Martin Allen thunderbolt (and a Julian Dicks red card).

These days, AFC Wimbledon temporarily strut their stuff at Kingsmeadow stadium pending a return to their neighbourhood roots at New Plough Lane in 2019.  The new stadium will be built on the site of the old Wimbledon dog/ stock car/ speedway arena, where I assume they will not be leaving the old track in place.  For those travelling, it is likely to be a tight squeeze into the 4,850 capacity Kingsmeadow for tonight’s game – I believe the smallest stadium, by capacity, in the entire football league.  For the less adventurous the game is being shown on Sky Sports.  A sign of how football on TV has changed over the years is that one of earliest televised games I can remember watching (it may only have been the second half) featured former Kingsmeadow ground share partners, Kingstonian, in a live FA Amateur Cup Final – such were the restrictions on the broadcast of live games back then.

It has been customary for Premier League clubs to put out a second string in the early rounds of the League Cup.  I can’t decide whether this is because two games in a week is too much for players in the modern game or whether you will be ceremoniously mocked as not being a proper top club should you put out your first team.  Understandably, risking injuries against what could turn out to be agricultural opposition, would be a concern but such bad luck can also occur in training.  Not that I am suggesting AFC Wimbledon will be employing crude tactics, I know nothing of their style of play, but their manager did feature, as a player, for both the old crazy gang and for Millwall.

With Manuel Pellegrini still looking to discover his best team it would seem the perfect low risk opportunity to treat this game as any other in his pursuit of the holy grail.  Sure, bring in a few who are realistically on the cusp of a Premier League first team slot, but don’t give games to total fringe players who would only otherwise get the call in the event of a major flu epidemic or bout of lasagne poisoning.  I think it is fair to give Adrian a run out and I would also like to see Declan Rice, in central defence and Pedro Obiang in central midfield.  I don’t know what the fitness situation is with Andriy Yarmolenko (given that Robert Snodgrass repeatedly gets the nod in his stead) but some more game time for the Ukrainian would be useful.  Marko Arnautovic will certainly not play any part, which will mean probable outings for Javier Hernandez and/ or Lucas Perez.  If Pellegrini is inclined to ‘unleash’ any youngsters in his lineup then he could do worse than allowing Nathan Holland or Xande Silva to show what they can offer.

The Hammers badly need a confidence boosting victory from the game and the prospect of defeat before a tough run of league games is unthinkable.  I have to believe that we have the talent to prevail but do we have the attitude and organisation?  I am hoping so, and will predict a comfortable 3-0 positive outcome.

Cold Comfort: Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Mini Improvement At Arsenal

What did we learn as slightly improved West Ham flatter to deceive at The Emirates leaving a disjointed Arsenal flattered by the final score?

That Was Just a Dream, Just A Dream.

If you had read my match preview you will have seen that in my dream West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal.  As the other details of the dream – the order and nature of the goals – turned out to be wrong, I think we can put this down to a coincidence; or else, I have developed the psychic powers of Paul The Octopus.  I’m not sure there is such a thing as luck in football but the score-line certainly flattered Arsenal, who themselves are struggling to come to terms with a new regime.  At least they now have a confidence boost, something that continues to be elusive for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.  It was particularly annoying to concede yet another Welbeck goal, just as we did a Sturridge one a few weeks back – these two strikers appear to be on standby just to play against West Ham.  Three consecutive defeats means that we now sit proudly at the top of the most Premier League defeats (351) ever table alongside Everton – a feat that has been achieved from 150 fewer games than the Toffees.

Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For.

Although the bar is fairly low, this was by far the best West Ham performance of the season.  With a touch more composure the Hammers might have added several more to their solitary goal tally.  There were signs of some understanding developing in certain areas of the pitch although much more work remains to be done – conceding an average of three goals per game is only going to result in one outcome. Strange then, that one of the successes of the season to date has been the performance of Lukasz Fabianski in goal, the last (and sometimes only) line of defence.  He has looked assured both as a shot stopper and in the air and I have been impressed.  Elsewhere, Felipe Anderson upped his game in a freer central role and provided a teaser of what he can bring to the party by injecting speed and wizardry into our counter-attacks.  It was also a competent full debut by Carlos Sanchez who kept busy and was efficient with the ball.  As Pellegrini searches for his best team and formation, he may have taken some small steps in the right direction – but he is still some way from finding what he is looking for.

In My Defence

It was a big surprise to see the selected central defensive partnership of Fabian Belbuena and Issa Diop as I had anticipated a Diop/ Angelo Ogbonna pairing.  Not that I felt Ogbonna deserved to keep his place and his tendency to switch off, which gifted Bournemouth their winner a week previously, has always concerned me.  It was just that throwing two inexperienced Premier League defenders into the mix seemed like a massive gamble.  Diop’s debut will be forever associated with the second Arsenal goal where he can rightly claim both the score and the assist.  It was unfortunate because he appeared to have brought some much needed athleticism to the task even if he looked somewhat raw.  If Diop and Declan Rice are to develop they are going to need an older head supporting them at the back.  I don’t know where this is going to come from unless we are banking on a rapid Winston Reid return.  Going to three at the back still seems the sensible solution to me based on the resources that are available – and that applies to both the central defenders and the full/ wing backs.

Waiting In The Wings

None of us are completely objective when it comes to judging players and I will admit that I would love it (love it) were Arthur Masuaku to go on and become a Hammer’s legend.  According to Whoscored, Masuaku was our top rated player yesterday and, although I am not sure that this is strictly true, he is always exciting when in possession – just not the greatest defender.  In many ways he is a budget version of Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City but while City adapt to Mendy’s defensive deficiencies and create space for him to exploit, Masuaku is left exposed.  Everyone knows that Bellerin can be a major threat for Arsenal but there seemed no plan to track his runs.  The gap between Masuaku and Michail Antonio was often a big one and neither of the central midfielders were available to plug it – it was difficult to know whether Antonio was meant to have any defensive responsibilities.  It was a similar story on the other flank where Ryan Fredericks’ strengths are his speed going forward and in providing assists.  As yet, there have been few opportunities to demonstrate these.

I’m A One Man Band

Marko Arnautovic weighed in with another goal to make it two in three games in his mission to become the Hammer’s first ever Premier League twenty-goals a season striker.  Maybe on another day he could have come away with a match-ball hat-trick, despite limping off injured just before the hour mark.  It is generally accepted that a striker needs to be single minded and a little bit greedy but, once again, there were occasions where a pass to a colleague would have been the intelligent option.  Keeping Arnautovic fit is going to be crucial as the season progresses as there is no obvious replacement at this point in time.  West Ham’s threat as an attacking force was significantly diminished on his departure.

I Had A Dream – And It Is Bad News For West Ham And Manuel Pellegrini

An unwelcome dream predicts a third consecutive defeat in West Ham’s first London derby of the season against Arsenal. Can Manuel Pellegrini and his Hammers finally blow some bubbles or will our hopes once again simply fade and die?

It is very rare for me to dream about a football match but that is exactly what happened last night.  Set in the present day but in the kitchen of my childhood home, I was attempting to multi-task by checking the score of our game against Arsenal while, at the same time, booking a cab to Heathrow Airport.  For an unexplained and irrelevant reason, the taxi dispatcher needed to come to our house before he could arrange for a cab.  Not only was this most crap ride hailing service ever, but the only other app available on my phone happened to be Viewdata.

Try as I might, I was unable to reach the right page for the score when suddenly my brother, who had been watching the game live on TV in the sitting room (or front room as we knew it back then), poked his head around the door to tell me that we had lost 3-1.  Apparently, the Gunners raced into a commanding 3-0 lead, assisted by the award of two penalties, with West Ham scoring a consolation late on.  What is doubly annoying is that I have never liked people telling me the score of our games before I have had the chance to find it myself.

If there is a recurring theme to my dreams it is one of frustration where I am in a hurry but unable to perform even the most simple task, such as tying shoe laces or pulling something from my pocket.  I am assuming that this is a normal dream scenario for any long-time West Ham supporter.

Like anyone else who has had a premonition of impending disaster, the question I ask myself is “how can I use this information?”   The first thought being “can I make any money out of it?” while the second is “can I do anything to prevent it?”  With the former, the odds of a 3-1 Arsenal win are a mere 11–1 but maybe I can double it up with a two penalties bet.  For the latter, I have attempted to send a subliminal message to Manuel Pellegrini to “play three at the back” but don’t hold out much hope that he is open to changing the habit of a lifetime.

Perhaps the root cause of the dream was that I had been reminiscing earlier in the day about the style of play that John Lyall had employed during the famous 1985/86 season.  What today would be described by Sky commentators as “delicious movement” based around the tactics of third man running, defence splitting passes and setting up chances for Frankie and Tony.   A stark contrast with today’s flat footed heroes who appear reluctant to move until the ball is delivered to their feet and then either get tangled up in pointless three man clusters or run into dead-ends.  But even those Boys of 86 only managed to collect one point out of six against the Gunners.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day where we can once again hope that the new look West Ham finally bursts into life.  The first relegation six-pointer of the season in this Under New Management derby at The Emirates Stadium.  I watched a bit of Arsenal’s game at Chelsea last weekend and, although they are clearly still adapting to Emery’s tactical way of thinking, they weren’t at all bad – especially going forward where but for wayward finishing might have doubled their goal tally.  The Hammers, on the other hand, have yet to show any new shoots of the Pelligrini revolution.

ARSWHU-Lineup

There are certain to be changes in the West Ham lineup this week and my guess is that Pellegrini will be back to a 4-2-3-1 formation.  It would be no surprise to see Issa Diop making his league debut and Aaron Cresswell coming in for Arthur Masuaku. With Mark Noble reported to have picked up a mystery back injury, there could well be a new look to central midfield, with first starts of the season for Pedro Obiang and Carlos Sanchez.  Whether that will serve to create greater defensive stability remains to be seen.  Jack Wilshere will want to shine against his former club; surely Andriy Yarmolenko is finally a starter this week; and time for Felipe Anderson to repay an initial instalment on his huge transfer fee.  Arnie will once again plough a lone furrow up front allowing Chicharito to reclaim his rightful position on the bench.  It is often said that a good manager should be able to accommodate a proven goal-scorer like Hernandez in their plans.  It still looks to be a challenge to me, however, in the hurly burly of modern Premier League football to find a place for a player who contributes little to overall team play.

A vast improvement in tactics, energy levels, concentration, intensity and tempo is needed if West Ham are to prevent Arsenal recording their first post Wenger victory.

This week’s referee is Graham Scott from Oxfordshire – an appointment, I have read, that won’t please Gunner’s fans after he left Arsene Wenger fuming with his performance in an away game at Leicester last term.  By contrast West Ham won all three games where he officiated last season.  I am hoping that my revelation of the 3-1 scoreline and the two penalties does not unduly influence him.

As for the pundits, Paul Merson is opting for 3-0 to the Arsenal while Lawro sees a more conservative 2-0 (Lawro’s guest this week, Idris Elba, suggests a 6-0 hammering).  I would love to think my dream was just a dream that will fade and die, but it is difficult to see beyond a third consecutive defeat.  Yet we live in hope!