Talking Point

Two games one goal conceded. Hammers get better every game.

Two games since the break and one goal conceded will be a great tonic to our newly assembled defence and certainly their performance against a high-flying Chelsea side was accomplished and confirmed the establishment of a new status quo. Balbuena and Diop have now settled in and look like they are competent and intuitive. The cover provided by Rice and Obiang was also noteworthy. They both occupied the strip of land between defence and midfield making it impossible for Chelsea to play the killer ball or execute the knife through butter counter goal we saw back under Slaven.

Midfield looking strong

Obiang seems to absorb and deflect all manner of dangerous opposition possession and although this affected his forward game slightly on Sunday he was playing a potential top four midfield and the shire nuisance of the man had the opposition scratching their heads and Hazard running around with the ball without doing very much most of the time. I always find the ‘Hazard test’ is a good indicator of the defensive capabilities of a side. Get Hazard wrong and he tears you to pieces, manage him correctly and he runs around with the ball wasting time and possession. We certainly passed the ‘Hazard test’ this time around and it will inspire confidence and build understanding as we look to contain, beckon, bait and strike against these kind of temperamental top four-ish set ups.
Rice again showed a lot of footballing prowess and his role is becoming more defined and distinct from Obiang. Rice is a chaser, tackler and user of the ball and the immense energy which goes into his overall performance allows him to dictate passage of play and generally mop-up potentially hazardous spills when required.
The only drawback of the system we play is that it does leave us very deep and very much invites possession to the other side. Of course we know this is Pellegrini’s way and after admittedly doubting the man in the first few games I now accept he is probably mostly right but are we all completely happy being reliant on counter-attack rather than carving and creating? Results are likely to dictate our responses I think and at least we are two games unbeaten and a clean sheet.
Noble put in another captain fantastic performance and covered every inch of the Stratford turf, as long as he can maintain this level of energy and performance Noble is sure to start and rightly so.The other unsung hero of the game was the keeper Fabianski. More brilliant shot stopping from the big man and in my opinion he should have been man of the match rather than Yarmolenko who for all his recent good form needed to take that chance! I think we can probably accept Antonio missing a chance Arnie would have buried but Yarmolenko’s miss hurt!

Why put the signs up now?

Did anyone notice the strange yellow signs that have cropped up on the bouncy tarpaulin sections? I remember the first couple of games in the new stadium looking at the gap between the tiers thinking the drop is pretty dangerous.

Did nobody notice this then?

I also remember Watford fans complete with beers bouncing on the tarpaulin too but don’t remember it happening since the first few games. Is this surely not something which has been overlooked by the health and safety people? Is this surely not the remit of the same health and safety people who have limited capacity in the stadium and been instrumental in making our lives difficult? If so how has it taken over two seasons of imminent danger for the signs to appear? Maybe they’ve always been there and I’m going mad which is a distinct possibility but still.
Lastly we can all rest safely in the knowledge that according to our beloved BBC MOTD2 pundits whose names I refuse to even utter we must be in serious contention for a top three spot as an unbeaten Chelsea drawing nil nil against us have just been talked up to sound like the best team in Europe, lets all hope we can doubly annoy beeb pundits by dampening the fortunes of their favourite side from Manchester on Saturday.

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

Talking Point

All the gear, no idea.

This week in particular the finger points to the team more than the manager as they have to now find it within themselves the thing which made each and everyone of them great players. Although people will never agree on team selection and formations etc we put out a side against Wolves which should be able to live with mid-table opposition no problem and with some serious games already played the team should be gelling.
Before peering deeply into the individual performances and lack of cohesion let us look at this from Manuel Pellegrini’s perspective. He arrived and instantly lost Lanzini who is a key key player, someone who carries the ball into the box and makes things happen. He then lost Carroll who is a game changing substitute and dogged defender in times of peril. His apparent idea to have a storming left-hand side has been shot by the fact that Masuaku really cannot defend and Cresswell’s form has been so bad I don’t think any of us realised things had got that bad until the Wolves game. This means Anderson has nobody to link with, the sale of Kouyate means nobody can bring the ball from deep and pass; Obiang might be able to do that now but he also appears to have suffered from a peculiar dip in form in training. The right-hand side see’s Fredericks looking a bit raw and Zabaletta looking a tiny bit past it, no in-between, and the centre backs which looked strong as a squad are now depleted as Reid got injured and Ogbonna has strangely suffered some kind of crisis of confidence after being ever-present. It can’t be easy being a football manager and the facial expressions of recent shots of MP show that he is acutely aware that we are in an uncontrolled spin and he is the pilot who must stabilise the craft, only problem is the altitude meter is now saying Avram Grant and the time is a ticking. Of course two wins and we could go tenth so this is not about panicking it is about going forward constructively.

The key issue arising from the Wolves game was the inability of the players to move and pass and generally understand what one-another were doing. This led to a lack of possession and a breakdown of all key attacking moves. In the first half it gradually got worse and at times felt like Wolves had more players, both keepers were good but although Wolves had much more of the ball our defence looked ok most of the time but we just didn’t convince on the front foot. Sanchez looked happier when passing from deep and Wilshere looked continuously for short passes and triangles but ended up with very little opportunity for an outlet. On the right Fredericks was berated by the crowd frequently for not moving or passing quick enough with the ball and did look dodgy defensively when challenged. On the left mostly saw an off-form Antonio and Cresswell running into brick walls.

Isn’t Shearer an arse.

The MOTD Shearer analysis really caught Cresswell out this time, don’t get me wrong the two Trev’s aside I dislike MOTD pundits as much as the next man but unfortunately Shearer was correct with that particular conclusion. However the decision to try and make Arnie look lazy when he was trying to remain open to receive the ball was typical predictable lazy (not Alan Shearer but number 9) criticism, completely at a whim as there is no way Shearer watched the game properly as a neutral and if he did I don’t care as he is an arse anyway. I didn’t like the way the team were made out to be lazy, after a 100mill overhaul, a new manager and the pressure on the squad there is no way there is a dressing room attitude of being idol. Some of the players just really don’t seem to be cognitively tuned to the frequency of the team harmonic and this was solved under Moyes to a certain limitation but is now back even worse. Pellegrini has won titles but this could be the Ivan Drago of all challenges for the Chilean, we got him in to surpass the supposed perceived limitation of domestic managers such as Moyes and Sam; I back him but he needs to use the international break wisely.

What didn’t go so well.

Antonio’s particular contribution to the game Saturday was extra-ordinary, for a player of his suggested quality I have very rarely seen someone underperform so completely while remaining on the pitch well into the second half. I have never been too critical of Antonio in the past as he is the one player who has fringed on the England squad and scored some memorable goals for us when it most mattered, there has to be something going on here and I worry his confidence on the ball has never recovered from some traumatic outings as right back under Bilic. Not only was his touch to beat players simply not there he was running head down into simple block tackles seemingly void of the nouse we have all seen with our own eyes in past albeit limited occasions.
The other thing which got me with Antonio was how he was used when we were attacking, there were times in the second half where he was running sideways across the pitch back and forth parallel with the penalty area in what seemed like an attempt to secure later phase possession but actually resulted in him looking like a dog chasing sticks which have not actually been thrown. It brought back memories of players who actually did that very effectively and with consummate ease, legends such as Martin Allen, Scott Parker and Valon Behrami would sometimes do this in their own unique ways winning and mopping up possession while quickly reigniting an attacking move. Antonio shouldn’t be doing this and until he can find the skill and belief which made him a first-team player originally and go back to creating and finishing chances he is of little use to anyone it saddens me to say.

On the plus side.

On the plus side and just to make us all feel a bit better about ourselves Yarmolenko continues to show promising touches and I’ve had a look at the sort of player Yarmolenko is by searching a few old stories. It’s nothing we don’t already know but I thought I would just say that this player is of premier pedigree football-wise. He has countless caps for Ukraine and scored goals against Germany and Switzerland in friendlies and against France in a world cup qualifier. He also has another 32 international goals and numerous domestic honours. Yarmolenko was most famous for a fierce and bitter rivalry with another player which was seemingly resolved with a handshake and shirt swap but Yarmolenko famously threw the shirt on the floor and turned his back choosing to applaud his own supporters which sent a fair bit of stick his way in the local press. This shows a player who is motivated by the levels of desire and belief which is needed to succeed and win.

A quality player but will we use him correctly?

There are BBC news articles from 2017 suggesting Everton and Liverpool wanting to pay big money for him and Dortmund themselves are no small outfit. This is the sort of player who can be a legend and a hero for the next five years if used correctly and is someone who wants to win and wants to succeed in the Premier League, let us pray we don’t mess up this chance to get a properly decent player firing on all 12 cylinders.
The other clearly talented player who didn’t quite progress as much as hoped this week was Anderson. Now Anderson is clearly quality and there are some questions regarding his best position but I think we possibly learned something else Saturday and that is Anderson is not comfortable unless team mates make themselves open to passes, I’m convinced this results from playing in Italy where the emphasis is a lot more on pass and go rather than run and find a pass. Stats on already show a slight improvement when Anderson is played centrally instead of on the left. It is only four games in so not too statistically significant at the moment but they also indicate his overall performance for Lazio in the last three seasons averaged above 7.5 by their indicators where he played as a number 10 while this season it is currently at 6.99 so plenty of improvement can be expected as he adjusts further to the Premier League.

Who will feel the icy chop of the balsa wood axe of indecision?

So who’s turn is it to be blamed and axed for the next game, only to be reselected the following week when the other bloke does no better? Well it could be a return of the Zab and Masuaku, I hope Sanchez avoids the chop on the basis he understands that nothing like this absolutely must never ever happen again armen but I think we will benefit from Rice returning and can see maybe Snodgrass and Antonio missing out. Who knows but one thing’s for sure we have to start improving soon, I thought we were going to hang on against the odds Saturday but it didn’t happen; the lack of wi-fi in the stadium at least on my network has cost me a fortune in unplaced in-play bets. The minute Traore came on I knew he would score, the last time I had such a premonition it was to put a quid on Sakho’s agent’s horse at Chelmsford and that came home at 9/2! It could only happen at West Ham.

Match Thread

Why is Pellegrini winging it?

It would seem that peoples’ feelings arising from the weekend’s game at the Emirates are similar in nature depending on who you talk you or what you watch or listen to. They merge into a general discontent with an edge of optimism that better fortune may be soon to arrive. As this is being written before the Wimbledon game which could serve as a minor bonus or a mild cramp it is necessary to look at the medium-term story in order to figure out how this current early season predicament can be solved.

The anguish of team selection is felt again..

The manager’s team selection for Arsenal again caused many people anguish as he announced a midfield with three wingers, if you count Masuaku that’s possibly four but no starting place for Yarmolenko. Further eyebrows were raised when he brought on Hernandez for the injured Arnie (who incidentally is also a winger by trade).
The lack of substance and solid possession winning players meant the utopian attacking counter punching system Pellegrini so loves only lasted an hour and then everyone was knackered. There were some nice touches by Masuaku who is beginning to look like a player without a position. This may have been potentially solved by Pellegrini taking the purists advice and playing the ever- improving Anderson behind the strikers “good article here”: and then moving Arthur up, in future supported by Cresswell or a suitable LCB depending on formation. Only a combination of terrible luck and a bout of acute idiocy prevented us turning many of these attacks into goals against Arsenal and I’m sure wherever he plays, Anderson will continue to offer outlets we have been missing post Payet and minus Lanzini.

Arthur is great but where does he fit in?

Thinking about the medium term..

How might the medium-term future look? This is a classic question and every expert has an answer to ponder but as a discussion point this is what I reckon. Now we have some properly decent players, should we go back to what worked so well not so long ago and play basically safer, thinking man’s football somewhere in-between Bilic when it worked and Curbishley. What I mean by this is revert to a back five with three centre backs (Diop, Oggy, Balbuena), Cresswell and Fredericks. They can overlap blah blah blah allowing your Wilsheres and Sanchezes to drift back and forth without panicking there’s no cover. This would sort out the 9 goals in three games problem and must be considered a more viable set-up to take on what are clearly very fit and well drilled oppositions (as we expect in the Premier League!). I’d also agree with 4-4-2 ‘solid back four’ die-hards but wouldn’t include Hernandez as the second striker as there’s just not enough happening.

Improved tactical coaching with respect to who goes with which runner would also prevent the hot knife through butter counter collapse we have been prone to since the move. This would also set up nicely for making finer adjustments to how attacking or defending we play as we now have a squad with players full of different attributes. The point is ultimately if this manager does become a success it will be because we stop conceding goals so easily and the fact we have to discuss this, three games into a season, is just a bit worrying.

If you are a big big tree…

A second question I would pose is this business of chopping and freezing player who make mistakes in games. I’m sure there may be some underlying reasons such as small knocks etc but Rice, Ogbonna, Antonio and Fredericks have all felt the icy chop of Pellegrini’s no forgiveness policy and I’m not convinced this is the way to go. One minute you ’re part of a well-oiled team, the next you’re not even on the bench with scapegoat written you your forehead and then, when the replacements are predictably no better you are expected to jump straight back in! Just to really rub it in Snodgrass starts every game, I feel harsh as he hasn’t done too much wrong but if we are playing the chopping and changing game there must be room for improvement somewhere. It will take a while for Pellegrini to find his heart on sleeve starters, not that we have an awful lot of time. It will take a while to find a formation which works with his players of course.

As much as I cannot believe we have arrived at this concept once again, like a recurring Blair witch nightmare, Carrol is not too far off of his obligatory 8 games of fitness and if we dramatically improve after the international break with him playing I for one won’t be surprised due to his defensive work-rate in clearing dangerous balls and generally being a pain. Looking into this week, essentially the Wimbledon result should not make a huge amount of difference, it is just a small turd on the pavement of fortune (not the club the game itself). How we cope against a well rated, proven Wolves team will be crucial in deciding whether we are getting it sorted or digging a bigger hole. The only sure thing we can take from all of this is that if we don’t stop conceding goals and spurning golden opportunities to score then we are in trouble. The only way to rectify this is to make a final decision on who can and who can’t and let’s get them playing like a team with a purpose rather than a bunch of nervous wrecks who constantly fear the icy chop of Pellegrini’s balsa wood axe of indecision.

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