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.

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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!

Sticky Toffee Pudding or Goodison Glory for West Ham on Sunday?

Game Five sees pointless West Ham visit Goodison Park to face unbeaten Everton. Will this be the game to get our season going?

If you are one of those supporters who like a bet on your team to win a game of football, then this season wouldn’t have been ideal if you are a fan of West Ham. If you placed, say, a tenner on each of our league games so far then you would now be £40 out of pocket. If West Ham had been as successful as Watford in the opening four league games then you would now be sitting on a pot of around £260. And if we had picked up four wins and you had been bold and reinvested your winnings each time then your original £10 would now be worth over £6000! But sadly that hasn’t happened.

Now of course this may seem a little far-fetched, but any Watford fans who had done this would have been looking at some very big gains. You have to remember that whilst bookmakers had West Ham finishing somewhere between 7th and 10th, their odds suggested that Elton John’s unfashionable North of London outfit were one of the favourites to be playing Championship football next season. And if you do like a bet then one of the games to consider this weekend is the very generous 7/2 being offered on Watford beating a poor Manchester United team who are at even money.

One sensationalist newspaper that I read suggested that West Ham were the only team in the top eleven leagues in the English football pyramid to have not earned a single point so far this season. But I’m not sure they did their homework correctly because Lancaster City were stuck at the bottom of Evostik North (see what I did there?) with a similar points tally after they had played five matches.

But joking aside, it has been an horrendous beginning to a season that began with high hopes. A few statistics: At the first international break we are the only team out of the 92 Football League sides without a single point. We have scored the least goals in the Premier League (2, tying with Cardiff and Huddersfield), have conceded the most (10, level with Huddersfield), and have the worst goal difference (-8, again the same as Huddersfield). Our manager is second favourite to be the first Premier League manager to depart the club this season (after Mourinho). And apparently our players have covered less distance on the pitch than every other team in the top flight bar Cardiff and Manchester United. But it is still early days and two or three wins on the bounce would soon wipe out the pessimism surrounding the club. But do we have the ability to do this?

Everton, under new manager Silva, are one of the five clubs in the Premier League who haven’t lost a game so far (one win and three draws), and currently sit 7th in the table, which is probably roughly where they are likely to finish at the end of the season according to most pundits. They are generally seen as the team most likely to challenge the established order of the top six so-called elite clubs. Their six points sees them six points off the top, as well as six points ahead of where we are.

Our record against them in history shows that in 138 meetings, Everton have won exactly half of the games (69), with the other 69 seeing 39 West Ham wins and 30 draws. Our record defeat in football was 7-0 at the hands of Everton (in 1927, before my time!). But, of course the last time we met was our final home game last season, when, with the pressure off, we gave them a good hiding with a very comfortable 3-1 victory, with England keeper Pickford conceding three goals from distance.

I’m not one of those who believe that football only began with the advent of the Premier League, but it does provide a convenient timeframe to examine results of the last 25 years or so. And our meetings with Everton do not make for good reading. In 44 matches we have won just 8, whilst Everton have come out on top 24 times. 5 of our 8 wins were at home meaning that we have won just 3 of our 22 league visits to Goodison Park in the Premier League era. Those wins were 1-0 on New Years Day 1994, 2-1 shortly before Christmas in 2005, and 3-2 in March 2016, when a Payet-inspired comeback saw us come from two down to win the game in the last 15 minutes. Those of you who like symmetry will anticipate that our next win there will be 4-3, so let us hope that is what happens on Sunday.

I won’t even begin to predict the team that our manager will select for this game as I have no idea how he will have reacted after the dismal showing against Wolves a fortnight ago. We were quite rightly universally castigated for that performance and we will need to have improved significantly to start to climb the table. Our four games leading up to the next international break are, in addition to the game at Everton, home games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and a trip to Brighton. We could theoretically have 12 points by that time, but I would be more than happy if we can amass 8, which would mean 2 wins and 2 draws. That would still leave us averaging just one point a game, which is still relegation form, but would nevertheless be a significant, although possibly unlikely scenario and much needed improvement. On paper at least the fixture list gets easier for a while after the end of the next half a dozen games, but by then, if results haven’t improved, we could be in a relegation battle with barely a quarter of the season gone.

As someone who personally enjoys football at 3pm on a Saturday our next four games are an interesting mix of times, but they give everyone who has the necessary TV platforms the opportunity to watch us on TV. Coming up the games are at 4pm on Sunday, 1.30pm the following Sunday, 12.30pm the Saturday after, and then finally 8pm on Friday 5th October.

Bookmakers are not very generous with their correct score odds on football matches. The best that I could find for my unlikely “symmetrical” West Ham 4-3 win was just 175/1. A 6-0 West Ham victory was only 250/1, but how likely is that? Considering the relative starts to the season of both sides, the odds on the game are not quite what I expected either. You can generally get only 5/2 or perhaps 11/4 on a West Ham win. The correct odds should be much longer than that, surely? But nevertheless if you take them, and we do win, then you will go some way towards winning back the money you might have lost so far this season betting on West Ham.

Dances With Canis Lupus

Matchweek Four sees the visit of newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers to the London Stadium

If you had just landed in your spaceship after a long journey from another planet and looked at the Premier League table, then you might think to yourself that, despite West Ham sitting at the foot of the table with zero points, a match against a newly-promoted Wolves team sitting in fourteenth place, and without a win themselves, would be the ideal game for the Hammers to get off the mark for the season.

If you delved further into what has happened in their first three games, you might not think that West Ham’s task would be an easy one however, although in many respects, despite performing admirably in all three games, Wolves could just as easily be propping up the table themselves, alongside us, without a point.

In their opening fixture at home to Everton, they twice had to come from behind to draw the game with their second equaliser coming just a few minutes from time. However they were helped by a referee (Pawson) who (perhaps) controversially sent off Everton’s Jagielka just before half time. They did look quite impressive, but it is always easier to do so with a man advantage.

In their second game at Leicester they once again had a numerical advantage for the last half hour after Vardy had been sent off, but despite another good performance they failed to capitalise and lost the game 2-0.

Last weekend they were at home to champions Manchester City and after taking the lead were happy to settle for an unlikely draw. Once again they looked well organised; but if VAR had been in operation the Wolves goal would have been chalked off when the referee failed to spot Boly’s handball (and offside) goal. They gave City a bigger test than many sides do, but were fortunate in that they only conceded once, as their opponents hit the woodwork three times.

Our own performance against Arsenal last weekend was much improved, and in many respects we were unlucky to not get at least a point from the game, which could even have been three points if the players had remembered to pack their shooting boots. It was pleasing to see that Anderson began to show glimpses of why his transfer fee was as high as it was.

Against AFC Wimbledon in midweek most of our players had good games, and we ourselves were helped by the dismissal (a bit harsh I thought) of an opponent centre back after 17 minutes. We had gone behind in the second minute thanks to Ogbonna at a corner once again concentrating on trying to block the man he was marking, not watching the ball, and being beaten in the air. I also believe that Adrian would have been disappointed that he could not keep the header out. What I can’t understand is why nobody on the West Ham coaching staff is pointing out to our experienced Italian international the error of his method of defending at corners which was a copy of the Bournemouth winner just a fortnight ago.

For me there were excellent performances from many of the players, especially Snodgrass, Rice and Diop. Hernandez, known for his goalscoring as opposed to his general play, missed several chances to score by not even connecting cleanly with the ball, and even the goal he scored at the end was fortunate. For me he should be an impact substitute at best and certainly not a starter in our best eleven.

Bookmakers expect the game this weekend to be a close affair with 1-1 being the most likely score according to the odds they have set. We are marginal favourites at 6/4 to win the game, although our opponents are priced at around 9/5 with 12/5 for a draw. With my trusty optimistic hat once more on my head I’m predicting a 2-1 win which is priced at 8/1. With more difficult fixtures in the pipeline we could really do with three points from this game, otherwise we are likely to spend some time near the bottom of the table looking upwards, a similar situation to the past two seasons. Five of our next six games see us facing Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester. And even the easiest game of the six (on paper) against Brighton will not be one to look forward to if last season’s two games against them are anything to go by.

One table where we often find ourselves near the top in recent times is the one where they work out how many points teams drop in a season from a winning position. After just three games this time around we find ourselves at the top once again having already dropped six points from being in the lead in two of our matches. Let us hope that this time we can score first and retain the advantage to pick up the much-needed three points and begin to climb the table.

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.

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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.

West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal

Nineteenth Plays Seventeenth – Our first relegation six-pointer this season

In the middle of June when I first saw the Premier League fixture list for this season, how many points did I think that we would have by the end of August? The optimist in me, balanced against the realist, thought that after our first three games, two tough away fixtures at Liverpool and Arsenal, and an easier (on paper) game at home to Bournemouth, that we would have three points. An average of roughly one point per game for 38 games is what is needed to achieve the first target; that is survival to play in the top flight for a further season, and reap the rich financial rewards for doing so. Of course I hoped for nine points, but even the world’s most optimistic West Ham fan wouldn’t have dreamt of a start like that. We could, of course, still reach three points from three games, but that will require a victory at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, and realistically how likely is that?

Many will point to the fact that if you look at the league table then getting something out of the game is very possible. After all, although we rose from the bottom into nineteenth place on Sunday, thanks to Manchester City’s (expected) demolition of Huddersfield, Arsenal only sit in seventeenth place themselves, level on zero points but with a goal difference superior to our own. Gunners fans would argue that you could hardly get two much tougher opening fixtures than facing Manchester City and Chelsea, and their realistic supporters probably also expected to have three points after three games when they realised that the Hammers were third game up. History will tell you that we don’t often win away games at Arsenal, although they are not as rare as wins at Anfield. I have witnessed it more than once, the most memorable being the “I was there” 2-0 victory at Highbury in the quarter-final of the FA Cup in 1975, one of the times we went on to lift the trophy at Wembley. But at that time Arsenal weren’t the force that they have been over the last couple of decades or more. Even though we finished in the bottom half of Division One in that “cup-winning” season, Arsenal were three places below us.

My first visit of this season to the London Stadium last weekend was a big disappointment. I fully expected us to beat the Cherries, especially so at half-time when we led 1-0, although the lead was perhaps more than we deserved. As the first half wore on Bournemouth began to realise that their attacks down the flanks behind our full backs were not bearing fruit, and that there might be a simpler way through the gaping hole right in the middle of our defence. The lack of a competent defensive midfielder (such as Pedro Obiang, inexplicably in my view left on the bench), and two centre backs lacking real pace, unused to playing together, too far apart, prone to switching off, and perhaps better suited to facing bigger (in stature) strikers of years gone by, was a godsend to a Bournemouth attack which had both the pace and skill to exploit the situation. It was only poor finishing and the fine reflexes of Fabianski that stopped them being at least level at the break.

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However, I can just picture the Bournemouth dressing room at the interval, and their fine young astute manager, Eddie Howe, pointing out the frailties of the West Ham defence, and how they could benefit from it. And whilst I could admire the Callum Wilson goal where he left five defenders in his wake (even though I had left him out of my fantasy football team that weekend!), I was disappointed to say the least in the abject defending that allowed him to do so. And the second goal was just as bad. Ogbonna, who I am afraid has never been my favourite centre back, was solely to blame in my view, firstly for losing his marker and getting on the wrong side when he should easily have won possession if he had been concentrating properly, secondly for conceding the foul in a dangerous position, thirdly for not watching the ball as the free kick was being taken (being more interested in obstructing the man he was facing), and finally allowing the header which ultimately won the match. The introduction of Rice to play as a central defender, and given the opportunity of a long run in the team, cannot come too soon from my point of view.

I have written more than once in these blog articles about the timing of football matches with regard to time wasting. I have championed (and will continue to do so) the simple method of having a clock in the stadium controlled by a timekeeper behind the scenes, who every time the ball the ball is out of play stops the clock, and starts it again when play resumes. The whole concept of time wasting would be totally eliminated with this simple procedure, plus everyone in the stadium would know exactly how long there was to go. Goal celebrations are a big thing in football these days (it is amusing to look back in time to see how they have changed), and as each of the Bournemouth goals went in I looked at my watch to time how long it would take for the game to be re-started. On each occasion it was almost two minutes. If you add to this the time taken for the second half substitutions to take place (especially the Bournemouth ones), and the lengthy (but understandable if you can get away with it!) time-wasting of the Bournemouth players, the feigning of injuries, and time taken to take goal kicks, then I fail to see how a referee can deem that only four minutes should be added.

But having said that, having just witnessed one of the poorest displays of refereeing that I have seen in years from Mr. Atwell, then perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The loss of the match was in no way attributable to his poor performance, but the total lack of respect / confidence in him by the players, the way he kept stopping the game for silly things, his lack of using the advantage rule even once, his inconsistency in approach, in addition to the poor time-keeping, was a reflection of a bad day at the office for this official. I hope not to see him spoil a game of football again. Having witnessed the (generally) excellent refereeing in the World Cup tournament in the summer, it was a shame to see a domestic game handled so poorly.

Few of the West Ham players had impressive games and collectively we just do not look like a team yet. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later. A third straight defeat this weekend would leave us playing catch-up in the league, a similar situation to the past two seasons. For me, Fabianski, Wilshere, Snodgrass, Arnie, and Masuaku (when he was attacking only) had OK games, as did the three substitutes, Yarmolenko, Perez and Sanchez who all gave brief glimpses in their cameos of why they should become good acquisitions. I have to say I was expecting to see more from a player that supposedly cost over £40 million, and hope that he will begin to demonstrate this soon. I haven’t got a clue as to the manager’s thinking on team selection for this game, but for me, Rice in central defence, and Obiang in midfield would be my first two names on the teamsheet. For this game perhaps Sanchez could be selected alongside Obiang to provide even more defensive cover, with Wilshere pushed further forward into the so-called number 10 role.

My team selection for this game in a 4-2-3-1 formation would be: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Rice, Balbuena, Cresswell; Obiang, Sanchez; Anderson, Wilshere, Snodgrass: Arnautavic. If we played with three centre backs, Rice, Balbuena and Diop, then I would be more than happy for Fredericks and Masuaku to occupy wing-back roles as opposed to Zabaleta and Cresswell. Yarmolenko may not be 100% yet, but he will certainly be pushing for a starting place along with Perez. For me, Ogbonna, Noble, Antonio and Hernandez would just be squad players with places on the bench at best, but it is all about opinions and some would disagree.

The bookmakers’ odds for the game tell you what they believe will happen. The odds on a 4-0 Arsenal victory (14/1) are shorter than the price of a West Ham 1-0 win (17/1). Aubameyang is priced at only 10/1 to score a hat-trick, only slightly longer than the West Ham odds to win the game (8/1). Jack Wilshere has been quoted in the London papers as saying that it is “a good time to play Arsenal.” If you believe that he will score the first goal of the game, and that West Ham will win 2-0 (as they did on the opening day of the season at Arsenal just three years ago), then you can get a return of £3500 from a £10 stake. A £10 bet on Lucas Perez inflicting the same first goal on his previous employers in a 2-0 win would yield £2100.

Idris Elba (a Gunners fan) is up against Lawrenson this week and predicts a 6-0 victory as opposed to Lawrenson’s more conservative 2-0. “Football expert” Lawrenson trails his guests (not football experts!) after two weeks of the season with his predictions so far, which just goes to show that you don’t need to be a so-called “expert” to have a view on what will happen in football, and that the opinions of fans can be just as valid as those of pundits who have played the game at the highest level. For no logical reason based on past performances away at Arsenal, or our form this season to date, I will however don my optimistic hat once again and forecast a 2-0 victory for West Ham to kick-start our season and get us back on track to my thinking of three points after three games.

Stranger things have happened. Just three seasons ago, in the final season at Upton Park, our opening four games were (on paper) easy home games against Bournemouth and Leicester, and tough away fixtures at Arsenal and Liverpool. I thought then that we would hopefully have six points after the four matches and that is exactly what we had. But not in the way that I thought! We lost the home fixtures to Bournemouth and Leicester, but beat both Arsenal and Liverpool away from home scoring five goals without conceding at all. You never know quite what you are going to get when you follow West Ham, and perhaps that is part of the beauty of supporting them.

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!