Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss?

Will we all get fooled again by a Board big on promises but low on delivery?

If there was any intention to keep David Moyes on the list of managerial options for next season (as suggested by David Gold) then it was handled in a typically ham-fisted way by his partner in crime, David Sullivan.  Perhaps tact and sensibilities do not come into play when you are casting for Saturday Night Beaver but trying to attract high calibre football managers is a totally different proposition.  It is no surprise that Moyes opted not to throw his hat into the ring.

Whether it is right to have parted company with Moyes will only become apparent in the longer term with the hindsight of ‘what happened next?’  He is not a particular exciting or progressive manager but then he was dropped into a less than exciting or progressive club; one that was already in crisis.  He inherited a lopsided, ageing, unfit and unmotivated squad (assembled with no thought as to how they might play together) and got them successfully, if stutteringly, across the finishing line.  Whether or not he was complicit in the stupidity of the January transfer window is difficult to know.  What is certain is that it was an awful season but he achieved the task he was set to do.

If anyone believes that by changing manager all of the problems at the club will disappear then there glass is not merely half full it is close to overflowing.  I have heard people argue that we have the nucleus of a good squad but the only way that can be said to be true is if a nucleus can be as small as three or four players.  With well below average training facilities, an under-performing academy, an amateur meddler as director of football and no discernible long term strategy the club requires major surgery.  What would a Guardiola or a Klopp make of it all?

Like it or not survival will continue to be the over-riding priority for the foreseeable future.  The holy grail of expansive football, cup runs and exciting youth prospects looks a long way off from where we now sit.  A knowledgeable and visionary manager can certainly be part of the solution but not in isolation.  Investment in the squad and facilities and keeping the Chairmen locked up in the Boardroom and away from the day to day action is a must,

The leading contenders at time of writing, at least according to the bookmakers, are Fonseca, Pellegrini, Benitez, Emery and Silva.  There is some debate as to whether Fonseca has already ruled himself out and there is also the fact that the same names are likely to feature on Everton’s shopping list as well.  Given a straight choice I wonder which employer most would choose?  Of the five names mentioned three (Pellegrini, Benitez and Silva) have the Premier League experience which, depending on which way the wind is blowing, is inexplicably raised as an essential criteria by our Board.

The problem is that any veteran of previous player transfer windows will immediately start to smell bullshit.  As Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young?) might have put it “we have all been here before”.  It is a path much travelled in Gold and Sullivan’s tenure, promising high and delivering low.  Stories will emerge of burning the midnight oil, working twenty four hours a day, leaving no stone unturned only to find that Newcastle won’t allow us to take Benitez on loan.

Experience suggests that one by one the targets will either sign new contracts at existing clubs or be tempted elsewhere by decisive boards with wads of cash.  By then it will be the World Cup and everything is put on hold while attention is focused on the violence in Russia.  Come July it will be back to pre-season training with the same squad (apart from those that have been sold) and with no new manager until the club reveal the return of Alan Pardew.  Even then there will be some mug on twitter explaining that he would take him back in a heartbeat because he has passion and a nice line in T shirts.  It would be miserable to go through all this and end up with another from the pragmatic manager’s stable that has given us Allardyce, Dyche, Hughes, Bruce, Pulis & Co in the past.

Perhaps cynicism is getting the better of me and that the turmoil of the past season will have been a ‘road to Damascus moment’ (without the chemical weapons) for our leadership.  Maybe they have listened to the gripes of supporters and are finally prepared to act.

Personally, I would be happy with any of the above mentioned names.  Whoever gets the nod deserves to be given a chance. I just hope that there is a quick resolution and not a repeat of the long drawn out transfer fiascoes that we have become so used to.

West Ham Face Everton In Season Finale Protect The Point Derby

West Ham and Everton meet up for a contractual obligation end of season encounter that is unlikely to be remembered much past closing time.

If you were to go to the theatre in the West End or to see your favourite rock band it would be particularly irksome to discover that, as it was the end of a long run or tour, the participants were only going to go through the motions today; maybe mumble the words or cut back on the more arduous action parts.  Strange then that it has become regarded as almost expected and acceptable in top level football that, unless you are competing for a European football place, teams can start to take it easy once the survival target has been reached.  With all the television money sloshing around not even the prospect of a few extra million quid place money seems worth getting out of the metaphorical bed for.

Overlay that with the fact that today’s two teams have been prepared and motivated by a pair of the Premier League’s pragmatic ‘respect the point’ managers then it would be absurd to anticipate a carnival of expansive football in the season’s final act at the Londn Stadium.  Not that David Moyes and Fat Sam Allardyce are the league’s only pragmatists.  Outside of the top six almost all fall into this category (with the possible exceptions of Rafael Benitez and Eddie Howe) where survival trumps any pretence at entertainment.  Maybe it is acceptable at financial minnows such as Burnley, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Brighton where top flight football is a novelty but at relatively more wealthy clubs like Everton and West Ham supporters expect to see more.  There is nothing odd or deluded about it; these are rich and well supported clubs for whom year on year survival cannot be the extent of all ambition.

It is always laughable when the football pundit brotherhood leap to the defence of the old school managers extolling their expertise at getting the job done, achieving what they are paid for and guiding their teams over the forty point survival line.  For them it is a top six league only where the remainder of clubs is a homogeneous group existing only to fill the gaps on the fixture list.  Who knows what will happen in the boardrooms of West Ham and Everton during the summer but there are few supporters who would lose any sleep if a management change were to come about; although simply swapping one dinosaur for another is equally as pointless.  The problems on the footballing side at West Ham run particularly deep and a massive overhaul of the entire set up is required if any improvement is to be seen.  We appear in no better position than a recently promoted club and I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.

Head to Head

Everton are traditionally a West Ham bogey-team with the Hammers having one only once in the last twelve meetings (3-2 at Goodison in March 2016) and only once in the last twelve home encounters (Bobby Zamora in a 1-0 win in the April 2007 great escape run-in).

This year’s reverse fixture was a humbling 4-0 defeat for the Hammers in the last match of David Unsworth’s caretaker regime – although Allardyce likes to claim credit for this one when highlighting Everton’s improvement since he rode in to the rescue.

Team News

It would be a huge surprise if there were any unexpected changes in the West Ham lineup.  The usual uninspiring mix of the journeymen, the washed up, Marko Arnautovic and Declan Rice.

The good news for the Hammers is that both Rooney and Walcott could be missing from the Everton team; both must surely put West Ham close to the top of their most rewarding opponents lists.  Rooney is rumoured to have played his last game in English football as he prepares to terrorise the defences and glamorous grandmothers of Major League Soccer.

Man in the Middle

The man charged with bringing the curtain down on the 2017/18 season is Graham Scott from Oxfordshire.  West Ham have a 100% record under his control this term with wins at Stoke and at home to Watford.  His season record is 29 games, 79 yellows and 5 reds.

Predictions

Both Lawro and Merson predict a West Ham home win going for 2-0 and 1-0 respectively.  A tame draw is the most probable outcome but as a rallying call I am predicting our boys to overturn the Goodison result with a 4-0 rout of our own.

West Ham’s Real End Of Season Party With Manchester United

Will it be a big bang or a damp squib for West Ham as they face Manchester United free from relegation pressure

The Premier League season continues to fizzle out prior to what should have been its ultimate finale on Sunday requiring the assorted media and commentators to dig deep into the hyperbole to find a story of any significant interest.  With the title having been wrapped up months ago and the relegation places all but settled ( a hearty pat on the back to Huddersfield) there is only the jostling for positions in the top four still up for grabs – about as compelling as the third place play-off match at a World Cup.  It no longer really matters where you finish in the top four for the purposes of the Champion’s League money-go-round and so the only matter of consequence that remains unresolved is the unlikely prospect of Chelsea pipping Liverpool for the final qualification spot – unless, that is, Swansea can put ten past Stoke.

Football seasons are becoming increasingly like fireworks displays for me.  Despite all the lessons of history I still get excited by the prospect of a new one starting and yet all too quickly it becomes routinely predictable.  Unless you are a small child you have seen it all before and you can’t help but look at your watch hoping that it will all be over as soon as possible; and without any accidents.  For all the whizz, bangs and whistles the underlying product has become less interesting and more cynical each year.  Still if there is to be one final big bang it might as well be against Manchester United rather than the actual scheduled climax against Fat Sam’s Everton side which has all the appeal of a damp sparkler.

The visitors need one more point from either tonight’s game or at home to Watford on Sunday to claim second spot despite having been lapped some time ago by their City neighbours.  They also have the FA Cup Final to look forward to and thus it is difficult to gauge their level of commitment and motivation for this one, particularly after their defeat at Brighton last weekend.

Should the extraordinary happen and West Ham win their final two games, the record books will show a comfortable mid-table finish for the Hammers which, as we know, is a long way from what actually happened.  Now that our heroes have secured survival we can only speculate as to whether the reaction will be a performance lacking in fear or one lacking in effort.  Generally, the team makes an attempt to turn up against the Red Devils which can only be a good thing.

Head to Head

Two years ago today West Ham came from behind to beat Manchester United 3-2 in the very last competitive game at Upton Park.  Two short years but it could well have been a lifetime ago such has the mood changed around the club.  The Hammers have won three and lost five of the last twelve home games against the Manchester Reds, including last year’s defeat inspired by a piece of Phil Jones cheating to get Sofiane Feghouli sent off by hapless referee Mike Dean.  Which reminds me what happened to that new rule about retrospective red cards for players who deceive a referee?  Seems it was abandoned after Manuel Lanzini (and a Stoke player?) were banned – either that or there has been no cheating going on ever since!

Team News

Without a doubt David Moyes will name the same team that won at Leicester and will probably also make exactly the same substitutions at roughly the same stage of the game.  It seems that, thankfully, Marko Arnautovic has recovered from his injury which means there is at least some hope of making a game of it.

Manchester United are without Lukaku (we do not have to go into the game already a goal down) and also ‘elbows’ Fellaini, who might otherwise be trying out the home dressing room for size.  On the other hand Sanchez (who also likes to score against the Hammers) could make a return having missed the game at Brighton.

The really good news coming out of Manchester United is that Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be on the road to recovery.  If only their current manager were half as talented or half as good as he thinks he is.

The Man In The Middle

Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire takes charge of his fourth West Ham fixture of the season in which the Hammers are incredibly unbeaten.  These were a home draw with Arsenal, an away win at Huddersfield and the home win over Southampton.  In 33 games this season he has shown 118 yellow cards and 4 red ones.

Predictions

Merson is back on the case predicting a 2-1 away win while Lawro goes for safety and a 1-1 draw.  Whether the natural desire to want to beat Manchester United overcomes the normal end of season, nothing to play for stupor will be key for this game.  If Moyes can put up a rocket up the players, in support of his own personal vendetta against one of his old clubs, then I back West Ham for a surprise 3-1 win.

West Ham To Profit From Foxes On The Run?

Can a desperate West Ham take advantage of Leicester’s late season atrophy? Or will David Moyes overly cautious, softly softly approach once more fail to catchee monkey?

An end of season game against a side with nothing to play for, who have only won four of their last eighteen games and who have an injury list as long as a line of supporters streaming out of the stadium before the final whistle.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today the West Ham roadshow travels to the home of former champions Leicester City in search of the remaining precious points that will seal Premier League survival – at least for one more season.  David Moyes says that the mood in the camp is good despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s performance but I would take that very much with a pinch of salt.  In all probability today’s approach will be to try to contain Leicester, protect the point, and maybe hope to hit them on the break.  Recent history will already have taught most of us that containment is a risky strategy for a side with league’s worst defence but continuing to flog a dead horse has long been a favourite pastime for West Ham managers.

Leciester for their part have continued to wallow through the afterglow of their never to be repeated Premier League crown; but at least they have done it once which is more than most.  In appointing Claude Puel they seem to have accepted that mediocrity is their place in the world and it is a measure of own incompetence that mediocre looks a mighty fine place to be from right down here –even though a fine run of 5 or 6 – nil wins could still see us overhaul the Foxes.  Despite a lacklustre season for the club, Jamie Vardy has still managed to plunder seventeen goals and if there is one team who are not yet wise to the ball over the top of the defence ploy then it will be ours.  I suspect that the Hammers have spent all week practising how to defend against it but, even so, a collective amnesia will once again strike once they leave the tunnel.

 Head to Head

The home fixture against Leicester was Moyes first West Ham point back in November last year.  In the last twelve away fixtures with the Foxes, West Ham have won three, lost five and drawn three.  The last Premier League away win was in January 2000, a 3-1 success courtesy of Wanchope (2) and Di Canio – Emile Heskey scoring for the home side.

Team News

Moyes must look at his squad in much the same way that a woman rifles through her wardrobe prior to a night out and declares she has nothing to wear!  There are only the same tired unimaginative combinations to choose from while the expensive mistakes (that seemed like a good idea at the time), the ones that have seen better days and those that no longer fit are quickly discarded.  Hopefully there will be no place for Patrice Evra (whatever was he thinking last week) or Edmilson Fernandes but is there anything better available?  I don’t see anything special in Josh Cullen but could he do any worse than Mark Noble or Cheikhou Kouyate have performed of late?  Andy Carroll spent time during the week on the naughty step and his now back in contention for a place on the bench.

The West Ham academy continues to disappoint and offers no exciting alternatives. Apart from Declan Rice, the only other player who has impressed (admittedly from only brief online glimpses) is Nathan Holland.  Reece Oxford appears not to want to return to the east end and the other youngsters out on loan rarely get a game at their struggling clubs.

As mentioned Leicester have a long injury list but they still have Vardy and Mahrez available to taunt West Hams.  Also a likely starter is Iheanacho, one of the many apparent failed targets for the Board during last summer’s smoke and mirrors transfer window.  As well as those missing through injury, Leicester are also without the suspended Albrighton.

Man in the Middle

When the referee appointments are made each week there is one website that routinely proclaims ‘Referees are announced and it’s bad news for Moyes’; the logic being the existence of lucky or unlucky referees.  In truth we lose so frequently that any referee can be proved to be unlucky.  Today’s candidate is Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire and, indeed, his one and only ever West Ham game was this season’s cup defeat at Wigan – where he sent of Arthur Masuaku for spitting.

Predictions

It seems that Paul Merson couldn’t be bothered to make any predictions this week (at least not at time of writing) while Lawro goes for a 2-1 Leicester win.  I would be more confident had the Foxes not been so humiliated last week but I believe this game has a draw written all over it.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Tame Surrender To Manchester City

Defeat to runaway champions may have been predictable but the manner of West Ham’s capitulation once again causes frustration, concern and disappointment.

An Expected Result

Getting a score prediction correct is rare for me but I was spot on with this one although, in part, that was thanks to Manchester City for taking it easy and playing at half pace.  The outcome was pretty much as expected and so probably changes very little in the scheme of things except making the Hammer’s goal difference even more desperate than it was before.  Right from the start there was a general air of resignation around the ground that West Ham were sure to lose this one.  The players did their best to reinforce this belief by only putting up a token effort of resistance, as if they had mentally written off the game.  The only brief period of optimism was that short spell before half time when Aaron Cresswell pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, but the half time pep talks quickly restored equilibrium; the Hammers not even having a sniff at the City goal in the second period.

Record Breakers

Manchester City already have or are about to break all sorts of Premier League records this season as far as wins, points and goals scored are concerned.  Not to be left out, West Ham themselves have managed to snatch the baton for worst defence in the league by allowing the goals against tally to rocket to a whopping 67.  Having leaked three goals or more six times in the last ten games does not bode well for the remainder of the relegation threatened season.  The Hammers are also closing in on the record for all time Premier League defeats and currently sit just two behind Everton (350 to 348).  Ironically, if they manage to claim top spot it is likely to mean relegation and an inability to retain the title next season!

Selection Headaches

Once again the Hammers find themselves with a situation of limited competition for places which so often leads to complacency.  Strangely the exception is with strikers where the strategy of playing none is really keeping them on their toes.  In truth the problem is that the team is so poor defensively and in midfield that playing with more than one striker is regarded as a huge risk.  That each of the recognised strikers are ill-equipped to play a lone role means that Marko Arnautovic (brought to the club as a midfielder) has become the obvious choice to play up front.  Arnautovic is in a one-horse race in the Hammer of The Year stakes and it would be no surprise if he wanted out in the summer.  Despite these selection limitations why anyone would believe that Patrice Evra would be the answer to the defensive frailties against the runaway champions is beyond me.  The recruitment of Evra and Jordan Hugill in the winter transfer window was the icing on the shambolic, muddled, ill-judged and short term cake of boardroom thinking.

Lazy and Unacceptable Performance

In last week’s defeat to Arsenal there was at least an attempt to make a game of it until the late capitulation intervened.  This week the players offered nothing!  David Moyes would not have been my choice as manager but I was prepared to give him a chance because I believed he would get the team fitter and better organised.  For a while it looked to be working but now we are back to where Slaven Bilic left off.  How can a side still battling for Premier League survival put in that type of disinterested performance even if they were outclassed?  Where is the leadership both on and off the field?  What is the downside for simply going through the motions as opposed to earning those huge pay packets?  Out of yesterday’s game maybe Arnautovic and Angelo Ogbonna were close to adequate but the rest were dreadful; with special mention for dreadfulness going to the woeful central midfield pairing of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate.

A Sorry Squad

Moyes cannot take full responsibility for all of the weaknesses in the squad.  I have no insight to what attempts were made to strengthen in January but my guess is that the Board thought they could muddle through without having to dig into their pockets – a survival at minimum cost strategy.  It was already known that Obiang would be out for the season and the failure to bring in a replacement was mindbogglingly negligent. Further, why the two Reece’s and Fonte were allowed to leave when numbers were already short is a major puzzle.  I am sure Declan Rice will go on to have a great career in football but he could be severely damaged by the recent experience of too many games too soon in such a difficult and high pressure position.  The running of the club (at least on the football side) remains completely amateurish.  West Ham are  going backwards without any pretence of a strategy for progress.  Filling the squad with past their best, ageing players is penny pinching short-termism posing as a policy of acquiring Premier League experience.  Putting up with an under-performing academy and sub-standard training facilities will do nothing to attract and retain the type of players who have other offers on the table.  From the current squad I see Arnautovic, Rice and Manual Lanzini as the only real assets and each of these could easily leave in the summer.  Of the remainder I wouldn’t lose any sleep if the lot were shipped out – they are either too old, too fragile or don’t care.

Will West Ham Set A Lack Of Possession Record Against Manchester City?

A pivotal weekend in the Premier League survival stakes where West Ham may need to pin their hopes on events away from the London Stadium

As a schoolboy I used to spend my Sunday’s checking coupons for Zetter’s Pools as a way of supporting my extravagant lifestyle; following West Ham, watching live bands at Dagenham Roundhouse and drinking light and bitter.  The pools was not just about Treble Chance and score draws and punters were also able to seek their fortune by predicting five matches that were likely to result in away wins.  If anyone had been looking for an away banker from this weekend’s matches then they wouldn’t need to look much further than the uneven contest scheduled to be played out at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The rationale for drinking light and bitter back then was that in the days before electronic measures (and with the assistance of a friendly barmaid) you could end up with close to a pint and a half for your two shilling’s worth.  It seemed like a bargain (it probably wasn’t) but for a cheapskate it ticked all the boxes in the same way that the West Ham board approach the business of football – cheap and cheerful at the expense of quality and class.  The Hammers are the light and bitter to Manchester City’s cellar of fine wine.  They are the Zetters to City’s Littlewoods – for people who can’t really afford to compete and who wouldn’t win anything worthwhile anyway.

Without doubt today’s visitors are worthy champions and manager Pep Guardiola has (at great expense) assembled a fine team that plays attractive and inventive football.  I can’t help feeling, however, that managing is rather more straightforward where money is no object; where if you sign a few £50 million duds (normally the English ones) you simply throw them away and sign some more.  The inequality caused by money is slowly but surely ruining the game for the regular paying customer and City are the worst of the current culprits.  Being owned by a small middle eastern country with a questionable record on human rights just plain seems wrong but it is amazing how a blind eye can be turned when money is involved and it is in one’s own interests.  Maybe I would be just the same if it were to happen at West Ham and perhaps the Supreme Leader will be wanting to invest a few billion in a Premier League club now that he is making overtures to rejoin the international community.

By the time our game kicks off on Sunday the Hammers could have slipped to fourth from bottom just three points outside the bottom three.  By the end of the weekend we cannot have sunk any lower but there is a good chance that goal difference could be considerably worse if recent encounters with City are anything to go by.

Head to Head

Victories over City are rarer than a blue moon with the Hammers winning just two of their last twelve home games against the visitors; in 2009 and 2014.  We can but hope that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Team News

With the news of Abba reforming after 35 years I wonder if there is any possibility of including Brooking and Devonshire in tomorrow’s starting eleven?  Could they do any worse?

I have read that David Moyes has been using training sessions to teach the West Ham players how to play without the ball.  It seems to me that we have already had plenty of practice with that during the course of the season. Time might have been better spent on practising not giving the ball immediately back to the opposition once possession has been gained.

I don’t see many changes in lineup (apart from Adrain returning in goal in place of the ineligible Joe Hart) from that which tried hard but were ultimately left wanting at Arsenal last week.  It will be painful to watch Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate floundering against City’s quick and slick midfield interplay.

City will field an array of talent each of whom will have cost more than our entire squad (probably!)

The Man in the Middle

Making his fourth Hammers appearance of the season is Neil Swarbrick from Lancashire, near Manchester.  His previous associations saw West Ham defeats away at Newcastle and home to Liverpool plus the home draw with Palace.  In 23 games this season he has shown 65 yellow cards but has yet to see red.

Predictions

Reinforcing the banker away win claims, Lawro says 2-0 to City while Merson plumps for 4-0 to the visitors.  The most desperate of straw clutching leads us to the hope  that City might take their foot off the pedal now that the league title is sewn up – a shame that they are still not playing in Europe.  Damage limitation will be the name of the game and, given that we do normally score in a game, I am predicting a 1-4 away win.  Naturally, I am hopeful that I will be sensationally wrong. The games played elsewhere this weekend are likely to have more bearing on the potential for survival than our own game.

West Ham Prepare To Poop The Wenger Boys Farewell Party?

West Ham look to add to their collection of survival points as Arsenal balance Europa League glory against the ignominy falling out of the top six.

Earlier in the week I had planned to begin my review on the assertion that surely this would be West Ham’s last encounter with an Arsene Wenger Arsenal side.  That speculation has been subsequently overtaken by events as the Frenchman announced that he would jump rather than wait to be pushed from his long running position as Gunner’s manager.  It has been a reign that has had many highs but one which, in recent years, has seen his team fall away from pace setters to also rans in the top six stakes.

The timing of the announcement was unusual and I will admit, to borrow from Arsene’s repertoire, that “I didn’t see it” coming!  What effect it will have on the afternoon’s proceedings and Arsenal’s priorities is now a puzzle.  My hope was that Wenger was prepared to put all the Arsenal ‘ouefs’ into the Europa League basket as he went all out in search of the rear entry into next season’s Champion’s League qualification.  Now the conundrum is whether to go out with one last trophy or failure to finish in the top six as Burnley remain hot on their heels.  At the same time those Arsenal fans who have been vociferously calling for his head are now able to get back behind him and create an emotional afternoon at the Emirates Stadium.  My original theory that the Hammers could take sneaky advantage of a half-hearted Arsenal is now up in the air.

West Ham’s failure to beat Stoke last Monday leaves them with a bit a work to do before any lingering thoughts of relegation can be entirely dismissed – at least we cannot now finish bottom of table.  The chances of either Stoke or Southampton collecting enough points to overhaul the Hammers are slim but it is still possible and  it will be as well for the health of all concerned to gather those additional two or three points sooner rather than later.  Then we can get down to the messy business of a World Cup year transfer window where our hopes can once again be dashed by a raft of over-aged, underwhelming panic signings that do little to resolve the underlying weaknesses in the squad.

Head to Head

Today will be the 42nd West Ham fixture in all competitions against an Arsene Wenger managed Arsenal. Of those past encounters the Hammers have won just five, drawn ten and lost twenty six.  Three of those wins came in a period of just over a year between February 2006 and April 2007 while the most recent was the famous season opener in August 2015 (the only win in the last 21).  The remaining victory (and most memorable for me) was in October 1999 courtesy of a Paolo Di Canio brace in an incident packed 2-1 win at Upton Park.

Team News

By all accounts, apart from the long term injured, the only other player not available for selection is James Collins.  It is probable that David Moyes will remain in safety first mode to reach the survival target one point at a time.  His dilemma being that although Arsenal are now very suspect at the back they still have more than enough flair and movement in forward positions to dazzle West Ham if they do not have sufficient bodies as well as organisation and concentration in their defensive ranks. Thus I believe Moyes will stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation with Marko Arnautovic once again given the free lone striker role.  The only uncertainty for me is who the two immediately behind him will be – quite possibly the returning Manuel Lanzini alongside Joao Mario.

Many supporters will be hoping to see a start for Javier Hernandez but I expect to see him once again a little pea’d off on the bench.  Likewise Andy Carroll will be used as an impact substitute as needed.

It will be interesting to see whether Joe Hart keeps his place following his gaffe on Monday and the newspaper talk of the Hammers wanting to keep him (for some reason) beyond the expiry of his loan.  I can’t help thinking that if it had been Adrian that fumbled the ball leading to the Stoke goal he would be straight back to the bench.

Difficult to judge the Arsenal approach to the game.  In recent Premier League games in the lead up to European action they put out weakened sides and looked below par despite (fortunately) seeing off both Southampton and Stoke.  The players that always worry me in exposing West Ham weaknesses are Ozil and Bellerin while Welbeck is in a rare run of goal-scoring form.

The Man In The Middle

Lee Mason from Lancashire is today’s referee.  The Hammers have had little luck with Mason this term recording defeats away at Southampton and at home to Newcastle and Burnley.  In his 23 outings this season he has shown 61 red and 4 yellow cards.

Predictions

A rare alignment between Larwo and Merson who both believe that Arsenal will stroll to a leisurely 2-0 win.  I think we have a chance as no matter what is said in the dressing room the Gunners will either have a weakened team out or else the players will have at least one eye on Thursday’s semi-final.  I can see us sneaking that odd goal win but would be happy to settle for a draw.