A message for West Ham – “Don’t show Arsenal too much respect”

Following on from my colleague Geoff’s excellent article, I have to agree with many of his comments regarding David Moyes. I’ll start by saying that, against the expectations of many fans, Moyes has done a superb job in the short time he has been at West Ham. In his first spell he did what was asked of him and kept us up. He was very unlucky to be replaced by the totally unsuitable Manuel Pellegrini, and then he came back only 15 months ago with the task again of keeping us in the Premier League. And once again he achieved it and this time was given another season to show his credentials. And boy has he done that, whatever the outcome between now and the end of the season.

I read that, provided he managed a finish of 13th or above, West Ham would take up an option of a further year on his contract. In many ways that demonstrates the lack of ambition of the owners, but I would have thought that they would by now have offered him something decent, perhaps three years or more to give him the chance to build on what he has started here, and to prevent him being taken by a club with greater ambition. When Neil Lennon left Celtic, it would have been tempting for him to return to a club he was associated with as a player. I am not sure whether or not he was approached, but he stated that he was committed to West Ham as he believes he can build something here. I’d love to see him given the backing of the owners, who have yet to really back up the ambition they promised a few years back.

As I said, he has done a fine job in a relatively short time. Backed up by an excellent coaching staff, our defending has been outstanding (in West Ham terms particularly), the organisation has matched this too, especially with set pieces in both a defensive sense, where we have conceded very few goals from set plays, and from the attacking point of view where we lead the Premier League in goals scored in this way. He has recognised the need for pace and athleticism in top class football and is looking to build a squad of young, hungry, pacy players, to be with us for longer than the short term marquee buys that have been favoured in the past.

His recruits have generally been successful with our Czech imports two of the stand out buys in the Premier League, and both Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma young enough to build upon excellent potential. But perhaps the masterstroke that so many fans were critical of was the signing of Craig Dawson. It’s a shame that Ogbonna got injured when he did because they were forming an excellent partnership. To be fair, Diop has come in and done a sound job, but the Dawson / Ogbonna partnership was really beginning to look something special. I saw the England squad announced this week and one of the defenders was Coady of Wolves. Who would you like to see in the heart of your defence, Coady or Dawson? I know who I would choose.

In West Ham terms to be a mid-table side and not involved in the relegation dogfight would have been a success this season, and yet David Moyes and the coaching staff have achieved far more. Our daunting fixtures at the beginning of the season could have seen us struggling from the outset, but after an inauspicious start at home to Newcastle, that didn’t happen, and it was turned around very quickly with a fine performance (albeit unlucky defeat) away at today’s visitors Arsenal, and then followed by excellent victories at home to Wolves and away at Leicester, which set the tone for the season that has followed.

But, and here comes the but, there is one criticism that has been levelled at David Moyes throughout his managerial career. He was appointed as Everton manager 19 years ago this week. He has managed in the top flight for almost all of the time since. And yet, he has failed to win a single away game at Manchester United (where we so meekly surrendered last week), or at Liverpool, or at Arsenal, or at Chelsea. Now they have all been successful sides in the last 19 years and you would think that not many managers have won at those away grounds. But more have done so than you might think. The list of managers that have won games at Old Trafford is quite extensive, and includes those with previous Hammers connections such as Allardyce, Curbishley, Pardew, Steve Clarke, and Pellegrini as well as bosses such as Warnock, Hodgson, Dyche, Chris Wilder, Alex Neil, Darren Moore, Tim Sherwood and many others.

In the past 20 years or so, Chelsea, of the teams mentioned, have had a successful home record, but many managers have won there too, including Eddie Howe, whose Bournemouth team has been victors at Stamford Bridge three times, Allardyce and Pardew twice each (both with different teams), also Harry Redknapp and Glenn Roeder. But not David Moyes.

Is it just coincidence or does David Moyes instil too much respect for our opponents when visiting these grounds? Our defensive set up last week was condemned universally, and yet even with hindsight Moyes believes he did the right thing with his selection. I find this hard to believe. In my opinion we set up like an Italian team of the 1960s to play for a goalless draw and to hope perhaps to snatch a goal with a breakaway. Had we succeeded it would probably be considered the right thing to do. But once we conceded a goal (unusually and disappointingly defending a corner) it took a while to change, but when Lanzini and Benrahma were introduced we gave them a bit of a game, but it was too late.

As manager David Moyes must be allowed to do things his way. It is just a small criticism, but if we are ever going to sustain a challenge to move to the next level, then we need to be just a little more positive than we were at Old Trafford, and at other top teams too. I’m not saying let’s abandon all the organisation that he has introduced and should be commended for. But we need to have more players on the pitch who are capable of attacking our opponent’s goal. Michail Antonio’s body language seemed to sum it up for me. I don’t think he appreciated our approach to this game.

The statistics don’t lie. No wins as a manager at Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal in 19 years sums it up for me. I’m not for one moment advocating that David Moyes should go. I’m a big fan and hope he is given the opportunity to build and stabilise our club as a top ten team for years to come. I’d just like to see a little more positivity when facing the big clubs.

What about today? I’m hoping that Arsenal’s European game this week will have had an impact, plus we have an opportunity to reflect upon and reverse last weekend’s result. And talking of reversal I’ll predict a reversal of the early season score at the Emirates with a 2-1 West Ham win. Astonishingly to me, Arsenal are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game. I’ve got 2/1 on three points for us, and 9/1 on a 2-1 win for a team hopefully inspired by the return of at least a couple of Lingard, Fornals, Benrahma and Lanzini to the starting line-up. What are the chances?   

Moyes Must Avoid Doing Something Stupid Again As West Ham Entertain The Gunners

They practice every day to find some clever balls to play. To score a header or two. And then they go and spoil it all, by doing something stupid like ….. respecting the point!

No sooner had I been presenting the case for David Moyes pragmatism than he went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid with his puzzling team selection at Old Trafford. My argument that his approach was based on realism over caution were made to look well wide of the mark.

Granted there was the enforced absence of Jesse Lingard and the withdrawal through injury of Pablo Fornals and the manager is not blessed with the strongest of squads. But immediately the team-sheet was revealed it had the whiff of waving the white flag about it. What a boost it must have been for the opposition to note the lack of offensive players.

Being prepared to surrender possession has become a relatively common tactic in the Premier League these days, but without a supporting ability to cause damage on the counter, it is futile. When the height of aspirations is hoping to hold out for ninety minutes, it usually ends badly. It was a pale shadow of the spirit of adventure shown a few weeks earlier against a far superior side from the other side of Manchester.

It was frustrating to hear Moyes say after the game that he wouldn’t have done anything differently, even with the benefit of hindsight. Surely, he must have recognised that the team selection was all wrong. That not replacing Lingard with a ball playing midfielder would negate any threat posed by Michail Antonio or Jarrod Bowen. That despite Ben Johnson’s having the makings of a top class defender, he is not cut-out as a wing-back operating on the wrong side. That it is many moons since Mark Noble has operated effectively enough to start at this level.  

Being annoyed by a defeat at Manchester United may reflect how far expectations have come, but more so, it illustrates how far we have to go, especially when you look at the lack of depth on the bench. Should European qualification be achieved, it promises to be a one season wonder unless there is significant strengthening in all positions – and what are the chances of that happening based on past performance?

This weekend, West Ham welcome Arsenal to the London Stadium for the penultimate London derby of the season. The Gunners may not be the same force as during their Wenger heyday, but they have continued to dominate the head-to-head against the Hammers– West Ham having won just three times in the last twenty-six meetings. Even when the Hammers have given a good account of themselves, Arsenal have managed to steal the points in the final minutes.

The visitors are currently on track for their lowest league finish since the last knockings of George Graham. Replacing Wenger has proven almost as difficult as replacing Ferguson at Manchester United, as the Gunners (along with their North London neighbours) slowly but surely slip further behind in the super rich standings. Having initially believed that Arteta might turn out to be an inspired appointment, his team has floundered and lacks any identity. Despite the introduction of several promising youngsters, the team continues to be hamstrung by the inconsistency of big money signings.

There is nothing for West Ham to fear but fear itself. I don’t expect the Hammers to boss possession but do expect to see far more threat as an attacking force. The return of Lingard is important in that respect but better contributions are also required from the other forward players – Antonio, Bowen, Fornals (if fit), Said Benrahma and/ or Manuel Lanzini. I would hope to see a return to a back four and the time is right for Super Tomas Soucek to put and end to his seven-match mini-goal drought.

With only a handful of league games being played this weekend due to FA Cup commitments, a win would see the Hammers go into the international break level on points and games played with Chelsea. That would be some achievement and for all the disappointment of the approach at Old Trafford it has been a phenomenal season, and a phenomenal effort by manager, players and coaches. I fancy a 2-1 win against an opponent who are pinning most of their season’s hopes on Europa League success. COYI!

On current form two of the three poorest teams in the Premier League meet at the London Stadium, when West Ham entertain Arsenal.

I refer frequently to the form table when writing this column, and look at how the teams have fared in their last five Premier league games. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool and Leicester are at the top with a maximum 15 points. Manchester United and Wolves come next with 11 points apiece. Wolves continue to be the draw kings, and have now drawn 9 of their 16 games following their predictable draw at Brighton yesterday.

A resurgent Tottenham, and Newcastle come next with 10 points each. I hate to admit it but some of the Tottenham goals against Burnley on Saturday were a bit special, especially the “Maradonna-esque” effort from Son. Three teams from very different regions of the league table are next with 7 points. They are Manchester City, who are now 14 points adrift of Liverpool and surely cannot now retain their league title, mid-table Palace, and Southampton who are still in the bottom three (just!). Had they not conceded a very late goal at Newcastle yesterday they would have moved out of a relegation position.

Four teams each have six points, namely Chelsea, Sheffield United, Burnley and Everton. A further four teams each have four points as a result of winning one and drawing one of their last five games, and they are Brighton, Aston Villa, and the bottom two clubs Norwich and Watford.

So that is 17 teams I’ve mentioned so far, and I still haven’t referred to the two teams meeting at the London Stadium tonight. Two teams woefully out of form. Looking at our opponents first, they have just 3 points from 3 draws in their last 5 games. In fact they haven’t won a game in the last ten they have played (in all competitions), which is their worst run in 42 years. Oh how I hate statistics like that when looking at teams about to play us! Not surprisingly they sacked their manager a few days ago, because that is what happens these days. Teams who have long poor runs tend to do that. Most of them anyway.

West Ham, too, have just 3 points from the last 5 games, courtesy of the improbable victory at Stamford Bridge just over a week ago. Of course normal service was resumed with the defeat at Wolves in midweek. So tonight’s game is between the two teams sitting equal 18th in the last 5 game form table, two sides demonstrating relegation form. By the way, Bournemouth are the team propping up my form table with nil points; five consecutive losses.

If we were able to repeat last season’s success at home to the Gunners then we would move up to 19 points, level with our opponents (and Brighton), and four points clear of the drop zone. The bottom half of the table from Arsenal in 11th downwards are just four points ahead of Southampton in 18th. It looks as if Norwich and Watford are becoming adrift at the bottom, but the recent form of Southampton is of concern to the other teams in the bottom half.

Apparently Michail Antonio is having a late fitness test. How I hope he is fit to rough up the poor Arsenal defence! Their central back partnership which consists of Luiz and Mustafi, established Brazilian and German international footballers, looked very poor when I watched them draw with Norwich a week ago, and this is one area we could exploit. I say “could” because we haven’t looked like exploiting any other teams weaknesses very often in recent games. Since we beat Manchester United towards the end of September, then apart from the Chelsea win last week, we haven’t beaten anybody else!

Our manager was quoted ahead of today’s game. “The players need to believe in this moment more than ever. We must not concede goals from set-pieces, as we have done that too many times this season. If we are solid, consistent in defending, and creative in attacking, that will influence the result.” What he didn’t say was what has happened in the past few days for the players to suddenly believe in the moment (whatever that really means!) and what steps they have been taking to avoid conceding goals from set-pieces, and how they will become more solid, consistent in defending, and creative going forward. In fact, I don’t think he knows; he just hopes that a group of talented footballers can somehow do this without a lot of guidance from the very person who is paid a lot of money to manage and motivate them.

The following eleven points of interest may be considered to be either good or bad depending on how you view such facts:

  1. Arsenal has not scored a goal at the London Stadium for over 1000 days.
  2. Arsenal has beaten West Ham 29 times in Premier League games, more than any other team has beaten us.
  3. (Taking recent form a bit further than I did previously) The 4 points we have collected in our last eight league games is fewer than any other team in the Premier League.
  4. No other Premier League team has lost as many as our 29 defeats on a Monday.
  5. We have lost 99 London derby matches – more than any other London team.
  6. Arsenal’s 19 points from their first 15 Premier League games is their (equal) lowest ever.
  7. Arsenal has not kept a clean sheet for 64 days (11 matches).
  8. Aubameyang has never scored against West Ham.
  9. Arsenal has not won any of their last six Premier League matches away from home.
  10. We haven’t won any of our last four Premier League games at the London Stadium.
  11. We haven’t scored a goal this season when Mike Dean has refereed our game (2 matches).

So there we have it. Two of the three poorest teams in the Premier League based on current form (5 games). One has sacked their manager, the other hasn’t (yet!). Of course I always want us to win football matches, and this game is no different, but a win tonight might paper over the cracks temporarily, and not be good for us when we consider the bigger picture. If we are going to consider a new man in charge then he surely has to have the opportunity to make use of the forthcoming transfer window.

A win tonight and we will move three places up the table to 13th. A draw would see a rise of two places to 15th. It says a lot about our current form when the bookmakers have Arsenal as strong favourites to win the game (around even money, when we are more than 2/1), despite the fact that we are at home and they haven’t won a game in the last ten they have played!

Our next two games are away from home (Southampton and Palace). The Liverpool game has been postponed because of Liverpool’s involvement in the World Club Championship. Our last game in this calendar year is at home to Leicester who have won eight straight games. Did you see how good they were today away at Villa? At that point we will have faced everyone (apart from Liverpool). We could easily start 2020 in one of the three relegation places, and have a game in hand on the other teams (albeit against Liverpool). It wasn’t that long ago that many pundits were talking us up as a potential top six team. It has gone horribly wrong. What happens in the remainder of 2019 will be massively important for our football club. We could have 16 points or it could be 25. It could be somewhere in between. We could retain our manager, or we could have appointed a new one. It is West Ham remember. Who knows what will happen?

Too Many Snakes And Not Enough Ladders. Pellegrini Does Not Have The Skills To Fix West Ham’s Problems

Can’t afford to get rid of him, can’t afford to keep to him? When will the tipping point be reached where even the Board realise that sticking with Pellegrini will end in disaster?

At this time of year, it is compulsory when commenting on football to mention that the games now come ‘thick and fast’ – even if the schedule is nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Most West Ham followers may associate more with thick than fast, however, when thinking about the Hammer’s recent struggles.

We expect football to be a game of ups and downs. It is part of its charm. But when the ups (intense and committed performances) are so few and far between, and when the downs (apathy, disorganisation, lack of effort, mistakes and surrender) are so commonplace, it becomes impossible to see an acceptable outcome. There is no light at all in our tunnel right now, and a target of 40 points looks way beyond reach unless drastic changes are made.

Yet, here we are with the Hammers hovering just above the relegation places (and potentially in the bottom three by the end of Sunday round of matches) and the Manuel Pellegrini sacking clock has reportedly been reset to zero – the manager once again has two games to save his job. Quite what return is required from those two games to earn a reprieve being a mystery known only to our can kicking Chairmen. In hindsight, it might have been kinder had West Ham lost at Chelsea.

I read elsewhere that the Board were ‘keeping their powder dry’ on the Pellegrini situation, whatever that is supposed to mean. To me, this would suggest waiting for a better time to act. It doesn’t mean dithering about until wholesale panic becomes an absolute necessity. Was nothing learned for the Avram Grant experience? Probably not, is the answer.

When Leicester sacked Claude Puel in February 2019 it wasn’t because they were in danger of relegation but because the football was poor and the players had clearly lost faith with his tactics. It was a decisive act from which the Foxes have not looked back. To write off season after season just to allow manager’s contracts (and compensation) to run down is indicative of owners who prioritise only money – and preserving the value of their investment. They do not have the financial or intellectual resources to run and develop a football club beyond keeping it afloat.

There are plenty of things wrong at the club – which we have previously written about at length as the team have steadily sunk towards the bottom of the table. While, the owners are clearly implicated for the lack of any true desire to reach ‘another level’, the Hammer’s current plight in the relegation mix is 100% down to the manager. Never mind the old net-spend chestnut, West Ham have an expensively assembled squad in Premier League terms – especially when the not inconsiderable wages are taken into account.

Chief scapegoat at the moment is Mario Husillos and while the director of football’s involvement in picking talent has been underwhelming I doubt it was he who instructed Pellegrini to: play someone who had scored prolifically in a front two as an isolated lone striker; persevere with two wingers playing on their wrong foot; keep faith for so long with a goalkeeper who is patently petrified of crosses; maintain a rigid attachment to the same formation week in week out, even though it clearly doesn’t suit the players available; only ever change the personnel and never the system;  not work hard enough in training on fitness or organisation; create the slowest team in the league who are incapable of moving the ball quickly; and refusing to budge on his inflexible tactics of the high back line and a patient build-up, regardless of circumstances or opposition. Standing on the touchline looking confused and admitting that you are baffled does not inspire any confidence – in players or supporters.

It was no surprise following the win at Chelsea that the performance level was not maintained at Wolves a few days later. Fitness levels are just not up to it, and with the one-man press, Michail Antonio, missing it was always going to be a struggle against a disciplined and hard working Wolverhampton side.

There are several obvious gaps in the West Ham squad (central midfield and full-backs in particular) but it is still good enough to stay up with proper and astute management. That is not to say that our recruitment has been smart. Not enough emphasis has been placed on unearthing developing talent – both from within the academy (which has a dismal record in recent years) and from outside. We have become a mirror image of pre-Pochettino Spurs who would sign random big name players – those who were not quite good enough for the truly top sides, but who acted as if they were – and hope they would magically gel into an effective team.

Our next manager needs to be all about discipline and team building, as well as delivering a touch of style. He is out there somewhere!

Speculating on what might happen on Monday night is difficult. Arsenal also find themselves in something of a predicament. They are also a team lacking cohesion; with a suspect defence but they do, at least, have pace and carry a goal threat. No doubt there will be the odd personnel change in the Hammer’s side but little else will be new. While Antonio is on the pitch and before he runs out of puff we may be able to compete and unsettle the visitor’s defence, but beyond that there is little that provides cause for optimism.

As someone who is now desperate to see the back of Pellegrini, I am conflicted as to what I want to happen. I never want to see the team lose but possibly it could be for the best. A new broom installed prior to the winter transfer window is a must in my eyes.

The game will be a third meeting this season with referee Mike Dean from the Wirral – he previously presided over the thrashing by Manchester City and also sent off Arthur Masuaku at Villa Park. His friend at VAR central will be Kevin Friend.

Lawro seems to have made his predictions during a drunken Christmas party binge and has gone for a 2-0 home win; while Charlie Nicholas sees it going the other with a 1-3 away win. The best I can hope is to stay on the fence with 2-2.