West Ham Seek Payback From Seaside Rendezvous With Bournemouth

A feel-good factor on the field and turmoil behind the scenes is just one more episode in the everyday tale of footballing folk that is the West Ham soap opera.

By chance I happened to watch a Premier League chat show on Fox Sports Asia in the week.  Ordinarily, the participants rarely stray from discussing the merits or otherwise of the big six clubs, but on this particular occasion there was a brief interlude on West Ham – featuring the reincarnation of Samir Nasri and the possible transfer of Marko Arnautovic to Shanghai.  During their chat, the show’s host commented that the goings on at the London Stadium often resemble a soap opera.  The reason I mention this is that, as fans, we are so eager to consume club news that it is easy to take events out of proportion.  Many of us will have come to the conclusion years ago that the Hammers  attract more than their fair share of turmoil and absurdity– a cross between pantomime and a soap opera – Cinderella meets Eastenders!  It was just interesting that outsiders also see it in the same way.

This weekend sees West Ham off to the seaside to face AFC Bournemouth and for the second week running they have the opportunity to get payback against a team involved in the early season losing streak.   The Cherries have fallen away somewhat in recent weeks having won just twice from the last twelve league games and now sit four points behind West Ham in 12th place.  They may be disappointed with this but are still well clear of the relegation worries that many predict for them at the start of each season.

Eddie Howe continues to work wonders at Dean Court.  Although it is a small field, he continues to be the brightest English manager in the top level – and one who doesn’t rely solely on bus parking, aerial bombardment and attrition to get results.  His is the type of  energetic and enterprising side that so frequently unsettle our boys.  That there are so few decent home-grown managers and/ or coaches continues to be a surprising reflection of our game; years of exposure to more enlightened overseas coaching methods has done nothing to inspire a new generation of former players to follow this path – easier to become a pundit I suppose!

West Ham’s preparation has once again been overshadowed by the Arnautovic saga.  As I write this he is still around and on that basis I expect him to start tomorrow.  In fact, I expect an unchanged team from the one that kicked-off against Arsenal.

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If all of the media speculation is to be believed there will be a winter clearance sale at the London Stadium with rumours of Pedro Obiang, Javier Hernandez and Lucas Perez all following Arnautovic out of the exit door.  Equally frenetic is the list of names slated to replace them – all of whom sound very exotic and have splendid Youtube compilations to support their causes.  It would still be a surprise to me if there is more than one in and one out.  And maybe all the Arnie bluster will turn out to be a negotiating ruse for a better contract.

One name mentioned as a possible Arnie replacement is Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, who has a fine scoring record against the Hammers.  Wilson has been absent through injury just recently but may be available to return for this game.  Definitely out for the Cherries are Francis, Cook and recent signing Solanke.  Having previously wasted big money on another Liverpool reject, Jordon Ibe, the signing of the injured, non-proven Solanke for £19 million looks like a major gamble to me.

Referee this week is Simon Hooper from Wiltshire.  Hooper is a rare visitor to the Premier League and, whereas, this is his first engagement with the Hammers he has already taken charge of two Bournemouth games this season.

Provided that the Hammers can keep the off-field shenanigans away from the pitch and aren’t caught napping by the host’s fast start, I will predict another three points this weekend courtesy of a fine 3-1 win.  This match always has goals in it so cannot see any clean sheets.  Our friend Lawro is going for a 2-1 Bournemouth win while Merson says 1-1.

Rice and Nasri Provide The West Ham Polish As Emery Papers Over The Arsenal Cracks: Five Weekend Takeaways!

A West Ham win against Arsenal, a clean sheet, record attendance and a first Declan Rice goal are just a few of the surprises served up at the London Stadium this weekend.

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.

I Might Not Be Back Says Arnie While West Ham Prepare To Outshoot The Gunners

Uncertainty over the future of the clubs only decent striker may overshadow the meeting of two of the Premier League’s leakiest defences at the London Stadium.

With a comfortable league position and a favourable route offered through to the 5th round of the FA Cup, everything was starting to take on a rosy complexion in the wonderful world of West Ham.  But then just as we are making ourselves comfy in this state of abnormal well-being we are hit with a double whammy: first it is announced that Fabian Balbuena has become the latest in a long list of players to discover the West Ham treatment room has no exit – you can check-out but you can never leave; and then Marko Arnautovic comes down with an unprecedented case of yellow fever.

There is no doubt that the loss of Arnautovic in the wake of a huge bid from a Chinese Premier League club, would be a major blow to Manuel Pellegrini’s plans.  Although he may not be the most prolific of goalscorers, his power, pace and mobility provides an important, almost exclusive, focus to the Hammer’s attack.  There is no-one else in the squad comparable and options from elsewhere in the January transfer window will be both limited and expensive.  I can understand that players might love to win trophies but going to China to do so is a desperate move – the equivalent of Rodney winning the Under 15 art competition in Only Fools And Horses!  If his intention to leave is genuine (rather than merely a negotiating tactic) it is unlikely to end well for a club hoping to get the best out of him.  It is a sad fact of modern football that keeping a player against their will is rarely successful.

This weekend, West Ham face Arsenal in the Premier League Saturday lunchtime kick-off at the London Stadium.  When the two clubs met back in August both were pointless and the Gunners rather fortunate and flattering 3-1 win, after being a goal down, saw them embark on a long undefeated run of games.  Since that run was brought to ignominious end at Southampton they have looked somewhat indifferent as they slip further behind in the race for lucrative Champion’s League qualification.  Arsenal may well run around a lot more under new manager Unai Emery but the sacrifice has been a loss of flair and the introduction of comedy defending.  If you had asked me a few days ago about the outcome of the game I would have said West Ham were firm favourites to record their first home victory over the Gunners since November 2006.  Now I am not so sure.

With Balbuena possibly playing little part in the remainder of the season there is a bare bones look to the central defence.  Whereas the Balbuena-Diop axis was solid, the Ogbonna-Diop one is erratic and prone to a collective loss of concentration.  With few viable alternatives, the only defensive conundrum is the ongoing battle between Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku for the left back berth, where I believe Cresswell will get the nod.

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Following an encouraging debut in the FA Cup, I expect Samir Nasri to get thrown into to a first league start alongside Declan Rice and Mark Noble in midfield while further forward Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio would hopefully support Arnautovic, if he is considered in the right frame of mind to play.  This would leave no room for Robert Snodgrass and Grady Diangana but both would likely feature from the bench.  Central midfield continues to be a worry and links to Jonjo Shelvey and Gary Medel do nothing to ease those concerns.  Experience prompts an adverse Pavlovian repsonse in me when any player who is currently playing in Turkey is linked to the club; and a 31 year old ex-Cardiff City player is hardly an exciting, forward looking prospect.

Arsenal have been running West Ham close in the most injuries achieved competition but may be able to welcome back Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal and Ozil this weekend – although Mkhitaryan, Holding and West Ham nemesis Welbeck remain sidelined.  Although Arsenal no longer have the traditional Wenger swagger in midfield (and what is the point of Iwobi?) the combined threat of Aubameyang and Lacazette can be as good as any in the league on their day.

Making his first refereeing appearance at a West Ham match this season is Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire.  Moss loves to flourish the cards and will be looking to add to his total of sixty seven yellows and four reds in what is often a fiercely contested London derby.

With two of the leakiest defences in the top half of the Premier League, this game is sure to have goals in it.  BBC pundit Lawro is predicting 1-2 while at time of writing former Gunner Merson is still wrestling with his conscious before declaring for an Arsenal success.  For me, a lot hinges on the Arnautovic situation – whether he is picked to play and, if he is, what his level of commitment will be.  Arnie in churlish mood will see him limping around the pitch in a sulk looking to be the first name in the referee’s notebook.  Nevertheless I am mysteriously in confident mood and can sense a Nasri inspired 3-2 Hammer’s bonanza.

Pellegrini Steers A Course Towards Cup Success

Jasper Carrott, Ozzy Osbourne, Simon Bates, Peaky Blinders, Bob Carolgees and Spit, Richard Hammond, Kiroy-Silk, Crossroads Motel, Mr Blue Sky, UB40. Your boys gonna take a hell of a beating!

It has become common over recent seasons to hear the term game management to describe the dull final twenty minutes or so of a match where the team in command ceases to press home the advantage while their opponents lack the ability to do anything about it.   When it comes to the third round of the FA Cup, which sits at the end of a packed holiday schedule, it has become a case of witnessing season management – managers looking to select a team with just enough quality to get through without the risk of further injury or fatigue.

In years gone by, the third round of the FA Cup was one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the football calendar; but it is now firmly in the shadow of Premier League money-go-round and the quest for final standing merit payments.  The cup now only really comes into its own, as far as managers and the media are concerned, in the later rounds with the final managing to retain a good part of its allure.

At the old Wembley stadium, there were famously 39 steps from the pitch up to the royal box where both Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds climbed to receive the challenge cup trophy.  This season marks the 39th anniversary of the last of those memorable victories.  Is it be a step too far to imagine Mark Noble raising the cup aloft with a claret ribbon when May comes around?  Can Manuel Pellegrini manage his depleted resources and navigate a course all the way to the Wembley Arch?

The majority of supporters love a good cup run although the definition of what would constitute good is uncertain.  While going all the way is fantastic, elimination before the sixth round doesn’t really carry much of a distinction or merit even a footnote in history – personally, I even have mixed feelings about the 2006 final; a great day out at the time but I have never been able to relive the experience by watching the highlights ever again!

Even under Avram Grant (the second worst West Ham manager ever) there were two barnstorming cup runs – reaching the sixth round of the FA Cup before losing to Stoke City and going one step further in the League where the Hammers lost in a two leg semi final – to Birmingham City!  It is perhaps easy to look back with the knowledge of hindsight and say that the experience of the cup runs trumped eventual relegation but that could easily have turned out a lot worse for the club.  In financial terms winning the cup is only worth a league place or two but the memories for supporters last a lifetime.  It is a difficult balance for managers to handle.  At least the manager has the cushion of a comfortable league position as his backstop.

Pellegrini says that the cup is important to him and it certainly represents a more realistic route to winning a trophy than league success.  But winning the cup has still been dominated by the big six during the Premier League era and, more than ever, requires good fortune and a lucky draw – providing both an easy path forward for us and allowing the bigger teams to eliminate each other on the way.

Pellegrini will be wanting to give a break to key players this afternoon, particularly those that have played almost every minute; such as Felipe Anderson, Declan Rice and Issa Diop – although it may not be possible in every case.  Who, for instance, is available to cover for Diop?  New recruit Samir Nasri will play some part but probably no more than a half.  With such a long injury list there is not too much on the fringes of the squad to get very excited about and it may well mean another outing for the odd striking couple of Andy Carroll and Lucas Perez.  Apart from Gray Diangana and Xand Silva there has been little indication that the manager is seriously considering others from the  academy as first team players right now.  Conor Coventry and hopefully Nathan Holland will make it onto the bench alongside Anderson and Marko Arnautovic who are likely to be held in reserve.

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The Two Daves will be keen to welcome their former club to the London Stadium, like a man trying to impress on his ex-wife how well he has been doing since the divorce.  It is strange not to have a club from England’s second city in the Premier League and with Birmingham (as well as Villa) just off the pace in the Championship, perhaps their minds and priorities will also be somewhere other than the FA Cup.

Manager Gary Monk who had a bright start to his managerial career at Swansea City, but subsequently struggled at Leeds and Middlesbrough, appears to be finally getting some consistency at St Andrew’s.  From what I have seen and read about Che Adams, he is just the type of player to give the Hammers the runaround and will need to get kept on a tight rein.

I was never one to attend many away games outside of the capital but, courtesy of a friend giving me some Persil tickets, I did travel to Birmingham to see the fifth round tie in 1984.  It was quite possibly the most miserable footballing experience of my life where the fighting started in the bar at Euston and remained a real and constant threat throughout the day.  A tepid West Ham performance and a 3-0 defeat did nothing to improve matters for the long depressing ride home.

The referee today is Roger East from Wiltshire who was last at the London Stadium for the win against Burnley.

As much as I would love to see West Ham sweep aside their lower league opposition, game management and season management will not allow that to happen.  This will be no Macclesfield (or Tranmere!).  It is even too tight even to be viewed as an upset – a banana skin without much potential, in fact. Keeping the faith, however, I will rely on the Hammers putting in a spirited performance and securing a single goal victory.

West Ham Ready To Bounce Back And Bury The Brighton Bogey

There might not be nine ladies dancing on this ninth day of Christmas but it could be league win number nine as West Ham look to return to winning ways in their first game of 2019.

For those still counting, today is the ninth day of Christmas and the notion of nine ladies dancing might bring back nostalgic memories of the Hammerettes strutting their half-time stuff to MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This at Upton Park.  But that is all in the past whereas today is about new beginnings as West Ham welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to the London Stadium for the opening game of 2019.  A new year brings with it renewed feelings of optimism; the opening of the transfer window has us dreaming of exciting new recruits to bolster the squad; and a reset of the yellow card count allows players added scope to hack, lunge, tug and dive knowing that the spectre of suspension no longer hangs over their head.

Brighton have become something of a bogey team for West Ham and will be looking to claim their fourth successive Premier League victory against the Hammers.  In fact, West Ham have only won one of the six top flight games against the Seagulls – a 2-1 victory (Cottee, Dickens) back in March 1983.  It was the consequences of the demonstrations at last season’s home fixture with Brighton, however, that prompted the Board to extend their previously short arms deeper into their pockets during the summer, finally employ a decent manager and take a welcome step away from Twitter.

Depending how you want to look at it, West Ham have won an in-form five from the last seven or are on the slide with two defeats in the last three.  The common denominator in those two defeats was an opposition playing with aggression and intensity; it would be no surprise to see the same approach from Brighton tonight.  Manuel Pellegrini suggested that fatigue was the major contributor to the disappointing showing at Burnley but it seemed as much about poor attitude and a lack of desire to me.  Not that the effects of the festive programme with a squad badly hit by injuries didn’t play a part – just that it was not the whole story.

West Ham will hope to welcome back Pablo Zabaleta in defence but, with few other alternatives available, the rest of the back-line will be as you were.   That leaves Angelo Ogbonna once again standing-in for the missing Fabian Balbuena and it will be fingers crossed that he will is more alert than he was at Turf Moor.  I had an old computer that was like Ogbonna.  It was fine when you first started it up but gradually over time its performance became slow and erratic until the only option was to re-boot.  Hopefully, he has been cleared down, reformatted and had a firmware upgrade installed over the last few days to increase power.  Issa Diop’s performances have also suffered in Balbuena’s absence and both will need to be on their toes tonight.

In midfield, Pedro Obiang must surely return as a replacement for the struggling Mark Noble, who is looking well past his best before date right now.  Assuming Robert Snodgrass has recovered from his knock, the rest of the midfield should be unchanged.  The wild card is Samir Nasri who is reported to be available for the game following his signing for the Hammers at the expiration of his doping ban.  It would be a stretch to expect him starting the game (he has only played eight times since the start of the 2017 season) but can see him getting twenty minutes or so from the bench. At least he shouldn’t be tired!

Marko Arnautovic will lead the attack again and his presence is essential to take some of the spotlight (and attention) from opposition defenders away from Felipe Anderson.  If other teams decide to double up on Anderson then it is up to the other players to exploit the extra space made available.  My preferred choice as a partner for Arnie would be Michail Antonio who looks to have regained much of his appetite in recent weeks.  Ideally, it will be Andy Carroll and Xande Silva on the bench with Lucas Perez safely at home watching the new season of Luther.

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Brighton are at completely the other end of the injury league table to West Ham.  Their only reported injury is Colombian bogeyman, Jose Izquierdo, and even then he may be available for selection today.  They will, however, be missing Mat Ryan and Alireza Jahanbakhsh who are both on international duty at the AFC Asian Cup.  In addition to Izquierdo, ageing striker Glenn Murray also revels in his games against the Hammers.

Referee Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire makes his second West Ham appearance of the season – the first was in the drawn game at Huddersfield in November.  He has his fair share of yellow cards this term but just the one red – Maddison of Leicester against Brighton.

I heard West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini’s comments about the scheduling during the festive period – if that’s a problem then he shouldn’t have taken the job.

Lawro on Pellegrini

Despite having a dig at Pellegrini concerning the busy festive schedule, Lawro expects West Ham to return to winning ways with a 2-0 win.  Paul Merson is going for exactly the same result and score.  I am expecting to see a positive reaction following the disappointment at Burnley.  Brighton will be well organised as usual and even though they are not good travellers this will be another stern test.  Apparently, January is West Ham’s worst performing month for Premier League wins but having watched a poor Everton – Leicester game yesterday there is every reason to keep our sights on the ‘best of the rest’ title.  It might ultimately turn out to be unrealistic but there is nothing wrong with setting challenging and ambitious targets.  West Ham to win 2-1.

Five Takeaways From West Ham’s Humbling At Turf Moor

Injuries, fixture congestion, travel difficulties and invisible grey shirts? West Ham surrender the points to Burnley because they just didn’t want them enough.

I Can Take The Despair, It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand

We wanted a return to the West Ham Way and that is what we’ve got.  Periods of exciting, free-flowing football, purple patches of form and heightened expectations – only for it all to come tumbling down just as a tantalising glimpse of glory is beckoning.  In reality, the return from the December fixture list is more than acceptable and the club appears to be in much better shape than it has been for some time.  That hardly softens the blow, though, of what was a massive disappointment in Sunday’s performance.  That the final score wasn’t by a margin of five or six goals in the host’s favour was due to the Clarets wayward finishing rather than the efforts of the Hammer’s defence.  At the other end the threat was so lame that even Joe Hart could have kept a clean sheet.

They Don’t Like It Up ‘Em

Various mitigating circumstances have been put forward to explain the inadequacies of West Ham’s performance: the lengthy injury list; a day less to recover than Burnley since their previous matches; and travel difficulties associated with the timing of the return flight (!) from Southampton.   Had the Hammers began proceedings with a fighting display, but faded in the last half hour, then a claim of tiredness could be more acceptable.  The fact of the matter was that West Ham were never at the races and gave the impression that in the aftermath of the hosts capitulation to Everton, they only had to turn up in order to snaffle the points.  As with the Watford game, Burnley bullied the Hammers out of it.  The Clarets were superior all over the pitch as our boys were out-thought, out-fought and out-played.  It must be a worry that many other teams will come to realise that the way to beat West Ham is to rough them up a bit.  Something I haven’t seen mentioned is that perhaps it was the light grey 3rd kit that was to blame – making our players invisible to each other as it had done for Ferguson’s Manchester United back in 1995.

Unnatural Selection

Manuel Pellegrini made two changes from the team that started against Southampton.  Mark Noble replaced Pedro Obiang in the centre of midfield and Marko Arnautovic returned in attack in place of Grady Diangana.  The return of Arnie was eagerly anticipated although, with his most effective work done as a lone striker, would he struggled to adapt to a role alongside Lucas Perez?   The Noble for Obiang switch came as a surprise.  With Pablo Zabaleta still absent through illness, Obiang would have been a more solid option and better suited to supporting stand-in right back, Michail Antonio – as he had at St Mary’s.  At least, we managed to fill all the seats on the bench this time.

Past Performance and Future Success

With the exception of Declan Rice and Lucasz Fabianski few came out of the game with any credit.  Perez, Noble and Angelo Ogbonna were particularly poor with Noble even trying a repeat of the tackle that got him a red card at Leicester.  Robert Snodgrass looked totally spent while Felipe Anderson rarely got a kick under the close supervision of the Burnley defence.  Antonio had some decent moments going forward in the second half but Cresswell was mostly anonymous.  Ogbonna had one of those games where his attention is mysteriously elsewhere and that lack of focus also crept into Issa Diop’s display.  Arnie was off-the-pace and possibly a start came too early for him.  The net effect was that, despite plenty of the ball, there were few cohesive passing movements, no penetration and minimal goal threat.  At the other end Burnley opened up the Hammer’s defence at will.  Of the substitutes: Diangana showed enterprise during the brief period of the game where West Ham applied late pressure; Andy Carroll did at least test the Burnley keeper with one header; and debutant Xande Silva also had a decent attempt on goal.

Looking Through The Transfer Window

The majority of the long term injured will not make any contribution to the remainder of this season and so, with the January transfer window about to open, it will be telling whether any new recruits make their way to the London Stadium.  With the manager wanting to play a passing game, attack with pace and defend narrow and high, there are several pieces of the jigsaw that are missing.  The team is badly deficient in central midfield where no-one has the necessary pace, vision and passing range to orchestrate play.  Better alternatives at full-back and other mobile striker options are also needed.  The recruitment of Samir Nasri seems to be a done deal but will there be any more than that?  Will it be a case of muddle through to the summer with what you’ve got, or will there be further recruitment to push-on during the second half of the season?  The conundrum is that if the season fizzles out then some of the better players will start to look elsewhere.  Contracts really are no guarantee once a players head is turned.

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas: Six West Ham Wins In December Please

Never mind geese-a-laying, it’s a sixth win in December, three more points and seventh place in the table that are the numbers on offer from today’s visit to Burnley. Can West Ham also manage to get seven bottoms on the bench?

The only time I have ever read anything negative about Sir Trevor Brooking was the account of a fan who encountered the entire West Ham team on the London bound platform of Southampton Central station after a game at The Dell back in December 1971.  Perhaps disillusioned after scoring but then being substituted by Dave Llewellyn in a 3-3 draw, Brooking was the only player who refused to autograph the then 12-year-old’s match programme.  I don’t suppose, for a minute, that the team still travel by train to Southampton but was speculating as to whether the reason for only six substitutes on Thursday night was because Karen Brady had not bought enough Supersaver tickets (or collected enough Persil tokens) to get seats for the whole squad.    Surely, even with the club’s lengthy injury list, there were other young players available who would have benefited from a first team match-day experience!

The decision to bounce the West Ham match at St Mary’s to the day after Boxing Day means that the Hammers continue to bat second during the holiday round of games.  With the dust having settled on all of the Saturday matches there is now an opportunity for our boys to leap into seventh spot of the Premier League going into the New Year; a state of affairs that would have seemed fanciful in the first few weeks of the season.  The ‘best of the rest’ tussle is usually an ever changing competition but ourselves, Wolves, Everton and, maybe, Leicester look to be the most likely contenders.  Hopefully, any ambition that exists will have more staying power than a Tottenham title challenge.

Ironically, today’s opponents, Burnley, were the best of the rest from last season but in a complete reversal of fortunes now find themselves as the weakest but one link in the Premier League table.  It was always destined to be difficult for a club of Burnley’s limited resources to sustain any momentum but the speed of their decline has been surprising.  With Sean Dyche a graduate of the Fat Sam School Of Dour Percentage Football it is odd to see Burnley so porous in defence.  After a run of poor results, Dyche will be looking to get his players fired up for today’s game while ensuring that defensive discipline is maintained.  Today’s tasks for the Hammers will be to match Burnley physically, effectively repel their set piece aerial threat and find a way through or around a crowded defence.

Of the ten first team players who were absent in midweek, Pablo Zabaleta and Marko Arnautovic are reportedly to be assessed in late fitness tests, while Javier Hernandez is regarded as a major doubt.  All the other invalids are said to be definitely unavailable.

If Zabaleta has recovered from illness he will most probably be the one defensive change from the Southampton game in place of Michail Antonio.  Elsewhere, Felipe Anderson, Declan Rice and Robert Snodgrass are certain starters but after that selection becomes more problematic – either due to uncertainty over availability or failure to impress.  Antonio deserves to keep a starting berth but where is it best to slot him in?  Will Manuel Pellegrini want to start with both or only one out of Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang – each have their particular strengths but neither are able to fully orchestrate play, pull the midfield strings or switch play intelligently on a consistent basis.  None of Lucas Perez, Grady Diangana or Andy Carroll did anything on Thursday that would stake a claim for a starting place: Perez doesn’t work hard enough; Carroll looked out of control; and Diangana needs to develop far greater strength before he can be considered for anything other than cameo roles.

In an ideal world, I would love to see the return of Arnautovic but fear it is too soon for him to be risked.  There has been a lot of talk about Anderson being the new Payet but we do not need to become a one-man team once again; Arnie is well placed to divert some of that pressure.  Perhaps a front three of Anderson, Arnautovic and Antonio would be a fearsome combination – at least the triple A’s shouldn’t run out of energy!

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Burnley are likely to be without Brady, Lennon, Defour (all injured) and Lowton, who is serving a one match suspension.  They will select two from their range of identikit strikers in an attempt to intimidate the West Ham defence.

By the time the next Hammer’s game comes around, West Ham may well have added Samir Nasri to their squad.  If that happens it will be interesting to see how he is deployed – more likely as a deep lying playmaker rather than in an attacking wide midfield role which was more typical at Arsenal and Manchester City.  Nasri is not a long term solution but he could be a short-term fix to an obvious gap in the make-up of the team.

Today’s referee is David Coote from Nottingham.  He is a new one on me although he was, apparently, the fourth official at St Mary’s in the week.  This will be only his fifth Premier League appointment of the season.

Lawro appears to have got stuck in a loop predicting 2-0 defeats for West Ham whereas Merson continues to be generally supportive, going for 3-1 away win.  In a table based on Lawro’s predictions to date, West Ham would be in 15th place with 18 points, below both Fulham and Burnley.  The Hammers have already broken their own record for most Premier League points in December and a sixth win of the month would extend that tally even further.  I don’t see this be a free-flowing open game but if/ when West Ham get their noses in front anything could happen.  A 2-0 win, first double of the season and sitting proudly in seventh place would make for a very happy new year in my world.