David Hautzig's Match Report
On the face of it, today didn’t have the feel of disaster like so many weekend mornings do. West Ham apparently have never lost their opening three games at home, which is pretty surprising when you consider how many bad things have happened to the club. Add to that our recent relative success against Chelsea and the day had a rather relaxed feel by our standards. Then, an hour before kickoff, the news we were all afraid of but probably discounted became reality. No Arnie. While I wanted to soothe myself by thinking we had options and that the confidence from last week would make up for it, the fact is that without Arnautovic we don’t score as much. One statistic said of the last 15 goals we have scored the Austrian was involved in 11. Instead, the mercurial Antonio would lead the line today. Like Mercury, that situation could ebb and flow quickly based on the temperature around the pitch. In the end, both side had chances, ours were a bit better, and we can spend the day with one more point than we had when we woke up.
The first thing that was noticeable had nothing to do with the action on the pitch, but the inaction around it. The number of empty seats in the lower tiers at The London Athletics Stadium was glaring. I know, it’s pointless to keep saying it. But I did.
West Ham showed better than expected composure on the ball early on, building an attack with short crisp passing. Such things usually end with a bad touch, or a panic stricken hoof upfield. Not that it led to anything, nor was it long lasting, but it was nice to see for a wee bit.
West Ham were let off the hook slightly in the 9th minute when Chelsea won a corner. The delivery into the box found Giroud, but he didn’t get the contact he wanted and the ball bounced harmlessly to Fabianski. The Blues in Yellow kept up the attack, with Rudiger testing the new West Ham Number one keeper with a long shot that posed no real threat. Moments later Willian sent Hazard into the box with a lovely back heel pass but again Fabianski was up to the task.
The home side finally looked like a football team with a notion of attacking in the 20th minute when a long cross field pass found Anderson on the left and his run forced Chelsea to concede a corner. It would have been nice if the delivery into the box had been useful, or if West Ham created something from Luiz’s weak clearance. Alas, it was a mini false dawn.
In the 30th minute West Ham launched their first real counter attack when Anderson showed the ball handling skill he is known for as he worked himself clear down the left. He rolled a ball forward for Antonio to attack, which he did but his shot went over the bar. Minutes later West Ham were back on the front foot with Yarmolenko on the right. The ball found Antonio alone in the box but with such a tight angle he could only try to power the ball past Kepa. He didn’t succeed. At that moment it was hard not to at least wonder what would have happened had Arnautovic been up front in those two counters, because despite the clear advantage in possession to the visitors West Ham had the two clearest scoring chances of the half.
The final minute of the half put West Ham hearts in mouth when Hazard passed to Willian on the right side of the West Ham eighteen yard box. Willian then crossed to Kante but his weak header went weakly wide.
The first half ended with no additional time added. None. I don’t think I have ever seen that.
West Ham 0
Felipe Anderson did something early in the second half that made me smile. He went shoulder to shoulder to Kante, winning not only a free kick but a yellow card to last years EPL player of the year. It’s as if the reality of life in England is becoming clearer to the clever Brazilian. He even dished it out to Willian a minute later, earning himself a place in Mike Dean’s book.
Masuaku as a fullback still makes me nervous. Very nervous. In the 55th minute he had the ball inside the West Ham box. He tried to work his way out but instead lost possession over the line for a Chelsea corner. Willian’s delivery hit Luiz in the box but his diving header went over the bar.
I don’t know about you, but I wish Fabianski wouldn’t go for the long ball as often as he does. I cannot recall a single good thing coming from one of them. Mini rant over.
Chelsea had two great chances to score in the 66th minute. First, Hazard was played into the box and laid the ball off for the recently inserted Morata. Diop got a crucial touch to deny the Spaniard, but seconds later Morata found himself alone in front of Fabianski but the West Ham keeper made a point blank stop to keep West Ham on level terms.
I, for one, did not understand the Snodgrass for Anderson move. At that point of a match, at home, wouldn’t you want someone who can keep possession and possibly create a chance on the pitch? Unless, of course, the mantra of “respect the point” was ringing in your ears. Yet in the 77th minute, it was Snodgrass who created the best chance of the match and may go down as the worst miss of the season when his cross found Yarmolenko all alone in front of Kepa. He simply had to score there. He didn’t even hit the net. It was awful beyond description.
In the 81st minute Willian left Zabaleta in his fumes on the left before whipping a cross into the box. Kante got on the end of it but his header went over the bar. Nowhere near the level of miss as Yarmolenko, but a miss nonetheless.
Jon Champeon was calling the game over here, and he pointed out that Chelsea had scored beyond the 80th minute in every match this season. Thanks Jon. I really needed that at that time. When Willian lined up for a corner in minute 83 I felt the anxiety of that statistic. However, Fabianski came out confidently and smothered the ball.
When it was announced that four minutes were added on, I was as surprised as I was at the zero added on for the first half. I was also terrified. Ross Barkley tested Fabianski with a long range shot that the Polish international dove low to his left to put out for a corner. Then Snodgrass gave away a free kick on the right side of the box but Yarmolenko did his defensive work with a bicycle kick clearance.
West Ham 0
When Chelsea put the ball out for a goal kick and the clock showed 93:49, I felt relief. I think a draw was to some degree a fair result. Chelsea dominated possession, but we had by far the best chance of the match and Yarmolenko should feel pretty lousy tonight. Two players who should feel rather pleased are Diop and Balbuena. Not only did they earn their first clean sheet of the season, but they likely cemented themselves as the starting center halves for the forseeable future. Maybe longer given their age. In the end, a point against a far better opponent is always a decent day.
And decent might be the best we can hope for currently.