The Blind Hammer Column

Whither Wilshere-Dyer or Parker?

*Blind Hammer suggests the example of Scott Parker should provide comfort for Wilshere *

On Sunday we saw, much too all our relief, the first tangible returns from a record breaking summer investment. What was not anticipated then was that the “gelling” of an effective midfield would be facilitated by the forced removal of Jack Wilshere.

Our early matches were tough. Liverpool and Arsenal are rarely happy hunting grounds. The good form of both Bournemouth and Wolves have placed our reversals against them in some context.

Nevertheless this should not blind us to our early structural weaknesses. We were terrifyingly open, conceding more efforts on goal than any team but Burnley. We forced Fabianski to make more saves than any other PL goalkeeper.

Finally the combination of Rice, Noble and Obiang appears to have provided the solidity and protection our overstretched defence craved. Noble received wide praise for the way he organised this midfield. He spread play but crucially organised, allowing both Rice and Obiang to flourish. Rice added defensive solidity whilst Obiang reminded us that he can provide lovely interchanges on his day. Above all this unit provided the platform for our offensive trio to flourish with security.

Yet if Wilshere had not succumbed to yet another ankle injury it is unlikely that this midfield would have clicked. Wilshere’s position as one of the club’s highest wage earners indicated he was central to Pellegrini’s plans. Noble in particular seemed under pressure for his place.
Pellegrini hinted as much in pre-season. He commented that whilst Noble remained club captain and was an important squad member he would not necessarily feature regularly.

In early lack lustre performances Noble and Wilshere seemed unable to effectively partner. Yet
Few believed that the removal of Wilshere was the key.

For the next 6 weeks Wilshere’s problematic ankle will provide an opportunity for Noble to, yet again, defy his critics and cement his place. Assuming we overcome Macclesfield, (probably tempting fate) Wilshere will most probably find his route back to first team action through the Carabao Cup. This is precisely the opposite of what we expected in pre-season, Noble, not Wilshere, was aimed more for a Carabao Cup campaign.

Wilshere was the heir apparent to Noble. Like Noble a lifelong West Ham supporter, he had youth on his side to cement a place leading midfield. He was envisioned as eventual club captain. Now only a few games in and Rice is looking the more likely heir apparent.

Despite his current setback, Wilshere’s wages means his eventual finding of some effective form remains important.

Arguably he could succeed in an advanced rather than deeper role. If so he is competing more with Anderson and the returning Lanzini rather than Noble.

If nothing else Wilshere has previously shown dogged determination to overcome injuries. He should not be written off too early. His day may still come. If he wants inspiration he should, as a West Ham supporter, remember Scott Parker as motivation.

Parker, like Wilshere, arrived with an indifferent injury record. Parker, like Wilshere, suffered early injury at West Ham. Yet Parker, like Wilshere, had classy ability . This eventually, allowed him to flourish to an exceptional level. Parker was a shining light in an otherwise dysfunctional team. He achieved the extraordinary feat of winning the PFA player of the year award playing in a struggling, eventually relegated team.

Wilshere has the chance to shine over the next few years in a team with more secure investment. Most imminently he has the chance to shine in the later rounds of the Carabao Cup. For the first time in years West Ham have the squad strength to mount a realistic challenge. If Wilshere can inspire glory in the cup, his wages can be justified by success in this competition alone.

Yet another Hammer from the past hangs as a less favourable spectre over Wilshere. What we need in the months and years ahead is the reincarnation of Scott Parker rather than the ultimatley failed investment in Kieron dyer. Much will depend not on just on Wilshere’s deterrmination, but also on the treatment room and the soundness of West Ham’s initial medical assessment. .

David Griffith

The S J Chandos Column

Click! - Now consistency is the objective!

Well, the squad did choose the Everton match to ‘click’ and produced a very good away performance and victory. I am sure that most Hammers fans felt a overwhelming sense of relief at the final whistle. As I stated in last week’s article, the club needed the result on a number of levels, not least of which was the need to take the ‘wind out of the sails’ of the media and social media negative feeding frenzy around our club. Even in the midst of such a notable away victory, Sky still felt the need to make the allegation about Perez supposedly refusing to warm up to come on as a substitute in the second half. Both Pellegrini and Perez have since refuted the allegation and that is the end of it. But it does demonstrate how our club appears to be the media’s current favourite PL target for controversial stories/headlines. At the end of the day, it is only sustained good performances and results will change that.

The result vindicated the selection of Rice and Obiang in a dual defensive midfield partnership. They really impressed and combined well with ‘old war horse’ Mark Noble in a more advanced midfield role. Both players deserve credit for recovering from underwhelming starts to the season (Rice’s substitution against Liverpool and Obiang’s initial non-selection) and are now underlining their obvious qualities. We all knew Obiang’s credentials in this role, but it is a relatively new one for Rice, after playing at centre-back in his debut season. The youngster has had to adjust to the demands of the role, but he is obviously a quick learner and that is one of the things that I like about Rice, his ability to learn his lessons and quickly put them in to practice. That is a sign of footballing intelligence and sheer class. All things being equal, Rice is going to become a top player and we need to ensure that he is signed to a new, long-term contract. So, my advice to the board is to stop quibbling about the £30,000 a week and get the deal done as soon as possible.

That said, one thing that does trouble me slightly is our current lack of overall strength-in-depth in midfield. With Wilshere’s reported ankle injury, we definitely lack options there if stretched. We are fine at present with Obiang-Rice- Noble, with Sanchez for cover, as long as they all stay fit. If not, then we could find ourselves in the grip of a injury crisis. What are the available options then? Utilise Zabaletta in midfield or draft in Oxford? In retrospect, was it the correct decision to loan out Cullen, Browne and Fernandes? We need to keep a watching brief on that situation.

The Everton win also underlined the true potential of Anderson, Arnautovic and Yarmolenko as our front three. We all know Arnautovic’s ability and he is almost proving a bargain buy at £25m. The truth is that in Arnautovic, we have a player who is easily a ‘top four’ type of quality striker. Hence, why Man Utd were actively sniffing around him in the summer. Respect to David Moyes, last season, for spotting the Austrian’s ability to play centrally and converting him from his accustomed wide role. We all know Yarmolenko’s track record and it was never really a gamble to sign him from Dortmand. He was obviously struggling at the beginning of the season from both his disrupted pre-season and the legacy of a lack of playing time in Germany last season. As a consequence, Yarmolenko had a bit of a ‘stop-start’ commencement to his West Ham career. However, he really demonstrated what he is all about on Sunday and his fitness and form (plus goal scoring) will only improve. Finally, Anderson illustrated the skill and technique at his command and the reasons why we paid a club record fee to Lazio for his signature. He appears most effective when directly running at defenders. When he does that he causes chaos in their ranks and they are forced to double mark him, which frees up extra space for his colleagues to exploit. Anderson probably needs to work on two aspects of his game, his decisions in making the key pass/assist and his finishing. There is little doubt that he can become a top class creative force, but can he also weigh-in with his share of goals? We shall see?

Another pleasing factor was the improved cohesion in defence. The defence obviously benefited from the assurance of Rice-Obiang playing in front of them, but they also looked more solid in their own right. Fabianski is proving a very reliable custodian and a presence that breeds confidence in his defenders. In addition, Diop looks stronger and more commanding with each appearance. Diop’s centre-back partner on this occasion, Balbuena, also looked solid and competent. Yes, he probably should have beaten Sigurdsson to the header, for Everton’s goal, but apart from that he did not put a foot wrong. I had anticipated that Pellegrini would go with a Diop-Ogbonna CB partnership and that could yet emerge as the preferred option. Nevertheless, it is always good to have strength in-depth and competition for places, although I have a feeling that CB selection this season could become a case of Diop plus one other.

With regard to the full-backs, I must admit that I prefer Fredericks-Cresswell as a combination. However, you can not knock either Zabaletta or Masuaku on the basis of Sunday’s performance. At the end of the day, it is very much a squad game these days and the name of the managerial game is using the resources available in the squad to the best effect over the course of the entire season. And it is almost a certainty that both Fredericks and Cresswell will get their fair share of game time this season.

In terms of other squad members that have not hitherto featured much, one can only hope that they buckle down and fight for a starting slot and prove their point on the pitch. I am principally thinking of the likes of Perez and Hernandez. They are both very talented strikers and when their chance comes they need to be ready to grab it with both hands. That will give Pellegrini the type of selection headache that managers welcome. In that respect, I like the attitude of Antonio, who has reportedly stated his determination to play himself back in to his best form and secure more playing time. That is the type of positive attitude we want to see right throughout the squad.

Finally, having put the Toffees to the sword, we now face a tough (home) double-header against Chelsea and Man Utd. As stated, we saw the side ‘click’ last Sunday – now we need to see something else – consistency. That needs to be the objective. We need to demonstrate that we have turned a corner and can replicate or even supersede the Everton performance. As a challenge, both matches are a step up from the Toffees, but that is what it is all about – pitting yourself against the PL top four and getting results.

They are admittedly very tough back-to-back fixtures, but the performances/results should tell us something definitive about the mettle of Pellegrini’s Hammers. I am going to be uncharacteristically cautious and predict two very entertaining score draws! COYI.

SJ. Chandos.

The GoatyGav Column

Youth Players And The Benefit Of Lower League Loan Experience

I sat in the stands at Adams park to watch Wycombe Wanderers host Oxford United on Saturday afternoon. Frankly I had completely forgotten that Marcus Browne had joined the U’s until the 63rd minute when he replaced James Henry.

As you’d expect from two teams playing in the lower reaches of the 3rd tier of English football the game was a physically challenging affair. When he came on Marcus made a positive impact on the game. There is no doubt that he has the technical ability to cut it at alongside experienced ‘grown men’ of League 1 but, as we so often hear from pundits and journalists, the boys who come through academies must prove that they have the attributes to cope with the physical demands of professional football.

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I’m glad to report that Marcus backed up what we know about his skill levels with a robust performance to match. Despite Oxford creating the better chances before his arrival the game was starting to swing in favour of Wycombe. With the likes of Adebayo ‘the beast’ Akinfenwa, , officially the strongest player in world football at the end of season 2016/17 earning him a, surprising, spot on FIFA 18’s opening animated sequence, to contend with Marcus did not look like a boy amongst men. His progress appears to be continuing apace at the early stages of this season despite Oxford struggling near the foot of the table.

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The question does, however, remain. What is the best way to introduce youth academy players to ‘grown up’ football? I have to admit that I was a big fan of the idea of loaning players out to foreign clubs to achieve that introduction. The example of an Oxford of a different kind, the Reece variety to be exact, was one to consider last season. The loan of the youngster to Borussia Mönchengladbach last term was, in principle, a great idea. The Bundesliga is a strong league, equal to any in physicality, and an ideal place to develop as a footballer. I know that, in Reece’s case, it didn’t go as well as we had hoped but I don’t think that the idea was a bad one and was certainly not viewed as a complete failure. Reece made a similar, initial, impact to one of his contemporaries, Declan Rice, when he made his debut. In the games that followed, however, it didn’t go as well for Reece as it did for Declan who is now establishing himself as a talented and versatile CB/CDM who is also a very capable defensive full back when called upon. Reece is now playing with the PL2 team – whose latest outing you can view on the official site. Click on the following link to view their latest outing at Brighton & Hove Albion .

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The midfield positions, at West Ham, are becoming hotly contested. It’s great to have competition for places at a club IMO. That said we’ve got two excellent midfielders coming through the ranks. The aforementioned Marcus Browne is joined by the exciting attacking midfielder Nathan Holland. Often favouring a wide berth in a 4 or 5 man midfield Nathan is the kind of player you love to watch. The young Mancunian, who joined us from Everton, has revelled in taking defenders on in the PL2 team and is listed in the first team squad this season. Although Nathan has a narrow chance of making it through to play in the first team this season let’s not forget – this is West Ham, injuries to key players are always just around the corner. Apart from the possibility of playing in cup competitions the way may open up for the youngster through others paying visits to the physio room. In Holland’s case I think it’s worthwhile him staying with the club rather than being loaned out. The Checkatrade Trophy allows the U21/23 players the opportunity to play against experienced professionals from lower leagues which I believe to be a good thing. You never know – Marcus and Nathan may well line up against each other if our youth side progress alongside Oxford United in the competition.

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I can’t avoid a mention of the terrific game on Sunday. What a massive difference it was to watch the lads against Everton compared to the previous Premier League games. Better organised and balanced, with a work ethic we’d not previously witnessed this campaign, it was a real joy to watch and well worth the £7.99 I paid for the 24 hour NowTV pass. Declan and Pedro were both worthy of 9/10 from me with Diop, Yarma and Arnie at 8/10. Nobes was great too – providing some proof of my, and other’s, theories that he’s better in centre and attacking midfield than he is in a holding role. Zabba looked solid, if not lacking pace, Anderson showed some of the class I genuinely believe he will become known for at West Ham while Artur and Balbuena did well too. A great team effort that was topped off by a fine showing from Fab who is justifying his place in the starting line up at the moment.

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Can’t wait for the Chelski game next Sunday. Depending on the time my lad’s team’s U14’s game is scheduled for that morning I may have to play my lone ‘postponement’ card to make it to the London Stadium in time. The West London team will be a big challenge. I just hope we see the same work-rates and effort that we saw Sunday afternoon.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

Talking Point

The end of the beginning?

At some time just after 4PM Sunday, emanating from the skies above North-West England, a huge sonic-click was heard as Pellegrini’s superstars finally gelled and proved themselves a team to be reckoned with. It was a clicking I was wondering might happen as the form of all of our previous opponents was well and truly franked again at the weekend with Liverpool looking like top two contenders, Bournemouth thumping Leicester, Wolves condemning Burnley to a nicely warmed bottom spot and Goon playing well to do Toon.

I don’t know whether Pellegrini had a positive spiritual encounter when back in Chile during the international break or maybe the Feng shui of the club has dramatically improved after Sakho’s super car was finally moved (if it ever existed or indeed has ever been moved) but the positive energy coming from the team has just become a good deal more intense. There were many intricate reasons why the team clicked on this occasion, we all hope it will continue to be the way of things, so just for a change lets have a look at what went so well.

The midfield worked both as a unit and as five outstanding players.

The team selection clearly showed some semblance of what many of us have been crying out for. Three hard working defensive minded midfielders in Rice, Obiang and Noble. This facilitated Anderson and Yarmolenko to get on the front foot and also allowed Obiang to expose the centre of the Everton defence as seemingly absent. There were further chops and changes though with Fredericks and Cresswell shown no mercy from their Shearer mauling and Masuaku once again risked at left back but more about him in a bit.

Obiang was back to his best, I did wonder at times if we had forgotten who Obiang was? The man who played to a high level before the injury including the goal of the season at Wembley, it was so good to see him back with the ingenuity and quickness of mind which made goals and frankly made us look like West Ham again. Maybe the great one touch move for the first goal was almost up there with the great Carlton Cole goal away at I think Wigan several years ago.

Rice was given a start again and thoroughly justified this from the outset. The energy and passion of Rice is beginning to become fused with a hint of footballing prowess and this is a recipe for greatness. Generally working, sticking out a foot, running to chase down the ball, all things #rice did continuously against Everton and combined with Noble’s dogged harrying and Obiang’s intuition we have the makings of a central midfield which can out-think, outwork, out-pass but maybe not outrun many other midfields. For the first time this season it seems like there is a core of success building.

Anderson proved again I think that he is very likely to adjust to life in the Premier League. He resisted the temptation to run into walls and lose possession and is clearly a very skilful player who can keep the ball and therefore act as a good hold up attacker who can collect and redistribute. Sometimes I do wish he would just go for it and take a defence apart but maybe we will see this yet and currently his comfort with the ball at his feet and ability to hit cross-field passes (the one which he hit to Yarmolenko was a beauty) means he is a definite threat to opposing sides and must be utilised.

Noble did what Noble always does when he gets dropped and just shrugs of criticism and gets back to work and often finds himself reselected very swiftly. Noble is West Ham’s man we just cannot leave out as we saw against Everton, Noble’s harrying ability is a real problem for backfoot midfields and on several occasions opposition players were forced back by the presence of Noble leaving them opting for a sideways pass rather than a killer ball.

Can our full backs support Andry the enigma?

Yarmolenko has certainly shown glimpses of ability prior to the Everton game and at Goodison it really did all come together for him. Arnie’s unselfishness for the first means Andry was rewarded with a well taken opening goal and this proved to be the catalyst for the superb second which went like a laser guided dart into the top corner. This is what Yarmolenko does best if he gets possession in the opposition half of the pitch. The size and skill of Yarmolenko and Arnie with a possible Carrol to come in also means we have a physically powerful attacking unit and one which can be effectively fed by Anderson and Obiang. What a far cry from four games, no points, Avram Grant blah, blah blah!

Andry looking every inch the player we want

There is another side to this particular coin and one which, although nobody likes a moany-pants after we beat the scousers away, needs looking at now as it could create a series of knock-on problems. Yarmolenko was cheaply and cruelly dispossessed at least four times in the Everton game and in defensive duties looked very unsure. This may have happened before and should it lead to a goal it will cause our main man to be criticised and possibly scapegoated. This brings in the problem of whether we have full backs which can adequately cover and link up to counter this threat which someone like Chelsea may exploit. Fullbacks are the one area where we seem least convincing. Does it seem like Zabaletta can provide enough mobility and punch to add the final cog to the right hand side? On the other flank Masuaku today in my opinion defensively looked inept and even struggled going forward. The head-step move which got him a yellow card was an example of how irrational Arthur can be on the back foot and this limits the extent we can exploit the left flank. If there was a plus side to the full back problem which there isn’t it would be that it might only limit us to sixth or seventh rather than being a major relegation flaw. This position(s) must be a focus for January or September depending on our stomach for mid-table mediocrity or rather the stomach(s) of the powers that be. A final point of critique must be aimed at Sanchez. I know coming on away and holding a lead isn’t easy playing where he does but almost every contribution was disastrous, so bad the laws of probability suggest he will likely have a good game next week just through chance.

h3, Now we need to step it up a gear

All in all we are now in a position to be far more optimistic about the season. Again we saw a few times that we have a goalkeeper who is a stable defensive influence as well as a talented shot-stopper. Diop and Balbuena are beginning to get to know each-other and some of our better players are now being played. Even Antonio ran the ball into the corner in the last minute, gawd bless him. It now turns out that Liverpool are steamrollering people, Bournemouth are on a purple patch and there are lots of teams still to play who will not fancy taking on our front five when on form. Lets go into the Chelsea game full of cheer, full of optimism and most of all full of hope that Arnie’s knee feels better tomorrow. What truly could have been the beginning of the end has thankfully become the end of the beginning and if this carries on it will be season to remember. Well done the Hammers and COYI!

PS Carlton Cole’s goal

The HamburgHammer Column

Trick or treat ? Both! Toffees for tea

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I am a bad fan! For some weird reason I couldn’t bear to watch our game against Everton live as it happened. I was just too nervous. Too much was riding on this one.
I have long given up the foolish concept that I necessarily have to watch the game live or need to wear a certain West Ham themed shirt in order for our lads to get a much needed win on the day.

So I changed the routine for this one around completely, driving out to the riverbank on the southeasterly outskirts of town, an area nestled between dykes, sheep and orchards, to watch Women’s football, Concordia style.

Neither the first team, nor the U23s (the male versions) had won their respective games in previous days (both losing by identical 1:3 scorelines) – and I wanted to see at least one Concordia side leave the pitch victorious over the weekend. Which the Cordi girls did, only just, winning 3:1 against a shockingly bad team but it wasn’t much to write home about. So I drove back to my flat, with the West Ham game waiting for me to be enjoyed in all its glory.

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And what an entertaining game it turned out to be – and with the right team winning as well! It wouldn’t have been a West Ham performance though without your typical head in your hands, hiding behind the sofa, heart in your boots moments. In short: It wasn’t all plain sailing, it’s clear we are (still) a team in transition – and we will continue to be just that for some weeks and months to come – but at least you could see our lads developing some gradual understanding on the pitch against Everton, playing some neat combinations on the floor, some beautiful passing moves and also a very decent conversion rate on the day.
It was also very obvious that the players had done some soul-searching in the last week, playing with a lot more endeavour, desire and effort.
Which of course is just what the doctor ordered!

Congrats to Andriy Yarmolenko for getting off the mark with a brace, both of his goals were fantastic efforts. Our third was the pick of the bunch though and I simply loved the way Obiang put Arnautovic clear through. Also our back four looked a lot more solid and composed overall, the odd glitch permitting though. On the other hand I wasn’t too impressed with the way we picked up numerous bookings, although it has to be said that the referee seemed fairly lenient in that respect towards the Everton players, but we got the three points anyway which is the main thing.

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I am getting more impressed by the day by the performances of our new goalkeeper. Fabianski could turn out to be our signing of the summer eventually and hopefully we should see him spending the peak years of his career at West Ham. Very solid effort from Lukasz again. In fact I thought it was a very decent team effort all around with no West Ham player coming out of this game with egg on his face.

One win – and we’re already out of the relegation places, just like that! But of course our next games are still very much a tall order. But this rare win at Goodison has given us the most precious commodity in football – and that is confidence and swagger. Which should come in handy when we play flavour of the month, table-topping Chelsea next.

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I have no doubt that Pellegrini has a very clear idea of what he wants to do with this West Ham team and we are just at the very beginning of the journey. The glimpses I saw against Everton were quite promising. Watching that game was highly entertaining, far away from the painful chore-like dross we’ve had to endure so many times in the last two years. It’s also great of course that the mood on this blog should be a lot more upbeat now for the rest of the week. It was about time!

Final little bit of Concordia aside: Prior to the home game last Friday the club president introduced me to a new signing, a young Yank midfielder from Atlanta who is keen to make it as a professional footballer in Germany, even if a gig at a Bundesliga 3 club (equivalent of League One) could turn out to be very much his ceiling. But you gotta start somewhere and he will make his first steps in that direction at Concordia.

As his German is close to non-existent the president has asked me to translate for the guy, talk to him and help out with bits and bobs to help make him settle in his new surroundings. Which I will be happy to oblige, maybe I can convince him to watch a West Ham game on the telly as well. Or if he’s feeling homesick, some NFL football or NASCAR.

And if it helps the Concordia cause I may even put his hometeam Atlanta United on. COYI!!!

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