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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can West Ham end their run of consecutive defeats away from home?

The game against Southampton last Saturday was one of the most enjoyable visits to the London Stadium this season. The 3-1 victory was well deserved and a fair reflection of the game despite the visitors having the lion’s share of possession which can be a very misleading statistic. No points are awarded for having the ball; only the result counts. We had more shots, plus more shots on target, and this led to more goals and a very welcome three points. With some of the other teams at the foot of the table also picking up points the relegation battle is intensifying with just ten games of the season to play (Villa have eleven).

It still seems likely to me that the three relegation slots will be occupied by three of the six teams currently propping up the table, although Newcastle, who are just above the bottom half dozen, could still play a part with a poor run, especially if some of the lower teams collect more than a point a game average in the run-in.

It is at this stage of a season when you are involved in the skirmish to avoid the drop into the Championship that you start to look at the remaining fixtures for your club, and also for the others in contention, to assess your chances of staying up. I keep hearing pundits saying that West Ham have a tough set of fixtures until the end of the season so I thought I’d compare them to those of our competitors at the foot of the table.

Of course there is no scientific way to work out what will happen, and there are so many variables. But for a bit of fun the first assessment I made was to look at the current league positions of all the clubs that we still have to face and give each match a score based upon the degree of difficulty. So, for example, a fixture v Liverpool would score 1, Man. City 2 etc., down to Norwich 20. Therefore based on current league positions it would give an indicator of the difficulty of matches outstanding. This made interesting reading. The score for Villa had a proportional adjustment as they have 11 games remaining.

Newcastle 116, West Ham 111, Norwich 105, Watford 103, Brighton 83, Villa 82, Bournemouth 74.

Using this formula, it would suggest that Bournemouth, Villa and Brighton have the toughest run-in. Bournemouth and Villa already occupy relegation slots so would appear to be in the greatest danger, along with Norwich who still have points to make up. However this doesn’t take into account fixtures against teams who may be in a prominent league position but have little to play for. These may be easier games than those against clubs at the bottom fighting for their lives.

So, how many games do the bottom seven clubs have against teams who are also in the bottom seven? Are these games tougher or easier? Certainly getting three points in these games in some ways is more important because it means that the opposition (who are the key rivals) don’t get any.

Newcastle 5, West Ham 4, Norwich 3, Watford 3, Brighton 2, Villa 2, Bournemouth 1

And will the FA Cup have any influence? Both Norwich and Newcastle are still involved at this stage. Will their involvement hinder or improve their chances of avoiding the drop?

Liverpool and Manchester City are way ahead of the rest of the league, so games against those two sides might be the toughest of all. But they might not if those teams relax because of positions already certain or involvement in Europe. Newcastle, Brighton, and Bournemouth still have to face both clubs. Watford, Villa and Norwich still have an outstanding fixture against one of them, whereas West Ham don’t have to face either in their final ten games. Sometimes, fixtures against mid-table sides with little to play for are the ones that you want in the last few games of the season.

So what does all this prove? Well, nothing really I just had a look for a bit of fun. Of course, as I said there are still so many variables in the remainder of the season and I haven’t even mentioned coronavirus yet.

One interesting fact is that the bottom 7 all have away games this weekend, and I believe the following weekend they will all be at home. Based on league positions alone then Bournemouth would appear to have the hardest game at Liverpool (1st), Villa are at Leicester (3rd), Brighton are at Wolves (6th), Norwich at Sheffield United (8th), West Ham at Arsenal (10th), Watford at Palace (12th), and Newcastle at Southampton (13th). I guess that we would all be happy with one point, and any team that picks up a win would gain an important advantage over the others.

The current form table (last 5 matches) has Bournemouth 7pts, West Ham, Watford, Villa and Norwich all 4 points, Newcastle and Brighton 3 points. Newcastle and Brighton are the only teams not to have won at least one game in the last five, but conversely they have more points currently than the other 5.

Current relegation odds vary slightly from bookmaker to bookmaker, but the following are average figures. Norwich 1/12, Villa 4/7, Bournemouth 8/11, West Ham 7/4, Brighton 9/4, Watford 3/1, and Newcastle 6/1.

So, having looked through all this, what do I think will happen? Lots can happen in the weeks ahead, but my feeling at this stage is that Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth will be playing Championship football next season, and apart from those, Brighton will be very involved in the scrap to survive. In my opinion West Ham and Watford will pull away from trouble, and Newcastle probably have enough points in the bag already. But we can never be sure with our team though, can we? I’ll probably need to review my prediction soon!

Arsenal are not the team they once were and are no longer anywhere near the invincibles of a few years ago. However we should not underestimate them, as although they do have defensive frailties, they are more than capable of scoring goals. My spies tell me that Tomas Soucek has made an excellent recovery from his injured hip and is likely to play a part. Will the manager keep the same team that played so well to defeat Southampton last week? Or will he revert to a more defensive formation? We have lost our last five Premier League games away from home, so I suppose we should be grateful if we can get anything at all from this game. It’s about time we won another away game. Perhaps we can sneak it 2-1?

After collecting from a 90/1 bet on West Ham last weekend, I’ll give the bookmakers a chance to get some of their money back! The bets I quite like the look of for this game are:

West Ham to win the game – 9/2;

West Ham to win 2-1 – 16/1;

West Ham to win 2-1 with Bowen scoring the first goal as he did last week – 110/1;

West Ham to win with both teams to score with both Antonio and Bowen on the scoresheet and Ogbonna to receive a card – 150/1.

All longshots but a bit of fun to add to my enjoyment of the game (I hope!)

We’re Gunner Score One More Than You. West Ham Look To Maintain Momentum By Outscoring Arsenal In Saturday’s Derby Game

Can the Hammer’s new found sense of optimism created by last weekend’s three point success against the Saints survive a visit to The Emirates?

Taken in isolation, the renewed sense of optimism following last week’s win against Southampton seems rather misplaced. From being a team that many felt would struggle to pick up any points at all before the clocks went forward, there is now talk of plundering points from each and every game. That includes upcoming fixtures against our three snooty London neighbours, who are nominally part of the big six but not as good as they used to be, or so the theory goes.

There was a time when Arsenal were not just big six, but half of the big two, alongside Manchester United. As with Ferguson at Old Trafford, however, Arsenal have struggled so far to break free from the shadow of former long term manager, Arsene Wenger. Perhaps that is also the Hammers problem, becalmed after the fleeting balmy days of super Johnny Lyall.

In truth, Arsenal problems began midway through the Wenger reign, when he failed to find effective replacements for his dogged no-nonsense central defenders. The strategy of recruiting attacking players from the swankiest showrooms but picking up defenders from the breaker’s yard has persisted to this day.  New manager, Mikel Arteta does seems to have a credible plan, but it is fair to say that his team, with its focus on youth, is very much a work in progress. Will he be given the time to see it through?

It is the Gunner’s sloppiness at the back (although it has improved in recent weeks) that will give the Hammers cause for hope. If West Ham can show the same intent, work rate  and energy levels as they did last week, they will be sure to cause problems. The combination of Michail Antonio, Sebastien Haller and Jarrod Bowen are certainly capable of unsettling the Arsenal back-line. That being said, Arsenal’s attacking players also have more than enough quality to breach the Hammer’s error prone rearguard.

All this supposes that David Moyes is prepared to continue with the more enterprising line-up and style that we saw last Saturday. Any change to the starting line-up would be disappointing as well as unpopular – further ammunition for the claims of negativity. The prospect of two teams endeavouring to outscore each other through attacking bravado and defensive inadequacy would be welcome relief from the spectre of an impending virus pandemic for a couple of hours. An away win can often be the best medicine.

In the continued absence of Tomas Soucek, the weakest link in the West Ham armour will be in central midfield where Mark Noble will struggle to keep pace with those around him. As a consequence, Declan Rice will be forced to play deep, almost as an auxiliary centre back, and be prevented from making forward runs. Rice’s forward surges are an ability that sets him apart from many other holding midfield players in the Premier League – particularly English ones.

One player who will not feature this weekend (or maybe ever again) is former Gunner, Jack Wilshere. It’s a shame that his time as a Hammer has been so dismal but I don’t understand the personal abuse that he frequently gets on social media. I’m sure he would much rather be on the pitch than in the treatment room. It was clearly very foolish of the club to give him such a lengthy contract in the circumstances but that is not his fault..

This week’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire.  Atkinson was previously in charge of the Hammer’s win at Southampton in December last year. On VAR duty will be Kevin Friend. According to the GivemeSport website, West Ham would be six points better off and well clear of the relegation places but for VAR decisions going against them. Wishful thinking probably!

The pundits take differing views this week. Lawro has gone for his favoured 1-1 draw while former Gunner, Charlie Nicholas has opted for a repeat of last season, with a 3-1 home win. Away to Arsenal has not been a happy hunting ground over the years. In fact, the records both home and away to Arsenal are poor. The last victory at The Emirates was, of course, the opening day of the 2015/16 season and West Ham have lost each of the four away meetings to take place since then. I read somewhere that Moyes has never beaten Arsenal in 15 attempts – so the omens are not good. Still how dull following football would be if we couldn’t choose to ignore the facts. With a positive attitude we easily have enough talent available now to make a game of it. That is exactly what we want to see. It is not impossible that we can come away with something from the game and I will go honours even at 2 goals apiece. COYI!