The HamburgHammer Column
That was a West Ham moment for the history books: Declan Rice’s first ever goal in a competitive game for the West Ham first team. It had been a long time coming what with Declan having been a regular starter for a while now – yet when it finally happened all pre-conceived and orchestrated goal celebrations went straight into the Stratford sky – and Declan was suddenly a nine year old kid again who had just kicked a ball between two jumpers in the local park.
Or who had just been told by his parents he’d be getting a new playstation for christmas with a new puppy or kitten thrown in for good measure plus an unlimited supply of Yorkie bars for a year – it was an explosion of pure, unadulterated joy!
Young Declan didn’t know where to turn, what to do, if he should keep running, sliding down, humping the corner flag, jumping into the crowd, whatever! It was utterly infectious and you could see his smile reflected in the beaming faces of his teammates and afterwards even the pundits in the studio couldn’t knock the smiles off their boats!
If you had asked any Hammer to come up with a script for this game, picking our goalscorer in a rare 1:0 home win over Arsenal, I reckon 99% would have gone for the Rice option – the goal really was the “Ricing on the cake” of a fantastic team performance – and it turned the bowl of the London Stadium, often rightfully mocked as soulless, into the kind of cauldron we all know it can be on any special occasion or performance.
The place won’t be rocking like this when we draw 2:2 with Brighton or lose to Burnley, but it can be loud and proud for games like this one!
Rice’s clean strike was such a glorious sight to witness and even from my armchair in Hamburg I felt the energy on the pitch and in that stadium at that very moment – it was Riceless really, pardon the pun.
For a brief moment football was good again. A young chap who had come through the Chelsea ranks (for a while) first and the West Ham ranks next just so he could develop into a very fine PL player just shy of 20 years old had finally scored his first PL goal. Not just a tap in, but a beautiful shot into the top corner.
And at that point, I’m convinced, he didn’t think about contracts, wages, bonus payments or transfers – he was just totally enjoying the moment, celebrating with his teammates on the pitch and his thousands of supporter mates in the stadium.
It was a strong performance from the entire West Ham team, a slightly less than impressive game from Arnautovic in my view, but more of that further down.
Cresswell was the left back of old, the kind of player capable of winning HOTY. Ogbonna became a worthy CB partner for the ever reliable Diop in Balbuena’s absence. Zabaleta was the experienced warrior of a hundred battles he usually is for us.
Rice not only scored, but made numerous vital interceptions including a well-timed, goal-saving effort in his own box.
Noble was everywhere and I truly believe we couldn’t have won this game without him.
Nasri showed us that there is no reason why we shouldn’t get to see the best of him in a West Ham shirt very soon – he already chipped in with great reading of the game and several key passes, linking defence and attack – and he isn’t even 100% match fit yet.
Anderson did it all, attacking, tracking back, winning back the ball – or casually re-arranging his gloves while accepting a pass before going past two opponents. It was a joy to behold.
As for Arnautovic, let me have my say and then I’ll be done with him. He has always been a special character, I mentioned that when we signed him. As a youth footballer, later at Bremen and Stoke, he never was what you would call a textbook professional footballer or teamplayer.
A gifted technician and bulky bulldozer all rolled into one, yes, but also with a massive ego, a touch of a diva about him. Forever moody, totally disinterested in one game, then totally running the show and bringing home the win for his colours for the next one.
You take the good with the bad of course. As long as he wants to be at your club and wants to perform that is. For whatever reason he and his agent brother have now decided that the grass is apparently greener in China and he wants to leave in order to cash in quadruple wages and win trophies.
Very much in that order.
Look, I cannot blame anyone for following the money. It doesn’t even matter if he needs the money for reasons that better remain private or if he simply wants it to safeguard the future of his family for the next 260 years or just improve his personal wealth a bit quicker.
I am a firm believer though in also doing things the right way. Which also applies to the way you leave a club. Timing, attitude, respect.
No player is bigger than the club, so if he no longer wants to be at West Ham, let him go, but it has to be on West Ham’s terms. The January window is not the best time to lose an important player who still has years to run on his current contract, so if a buying club is really keen to sign their target in January they need to come up with a fee that represents both the current market value of that player plus a January window extra amount on top.
No matter how much his agent/brother tries to argue their case, Arnautovic at this point is worth far more than £35 million, he is one of the top goalscorers in the most-watched league in the world, so as such I would set the baseline at between 50-60 million – and even that is moderate in the current footballing climate.
I wish him all the best of course, but when leaving our club prematurely, surely he cannot be allowed to do a Payet, picking one suitor (and one suitor only), basically dictating terms of any deal, the transfer fee and time of sale.
If the price meets our evaluation, then get rid quickly. At this point Arnautovic hasn’t started to throw his toys out of the pram, yet! But believe me, once he starts doing that you won’t believe how many toys he has in that pram and how far he can hurl them! You don’t want to see that. His performance on Saturday was very average by his standards I reckon.
It’s hard to tell of course if it was just one of those days where he isn’t that interested in general (he does have those) or if he had China on his mind already.
In any case I didn’t see the kind of effort, drive and willingness to run and chase as in any of his better games for us in the past.
This was such a weird game though. We were playing Arsenal. I already mentioned that wins against them are rare. Usually they pound our goal relentlessly.
Usually we can only stop their attacking prowess by way of illegal means, resulting in a booking or five for us. Still, they usually manage to score two, three, four goals against us anyway.
I remember us beating Arsenal 1:0 at the Emirates in 2007 at the Emirates (Att. 60.098) in another classic encounter. It was a very different game of course, Zamora scored, but Green had to make what felt like 279 saves in order to maintain that clean sheet, it was wave after wave of attack from the Gooners. How we got the win that day I will never fully comprehend.
Not this time though at London Stadium (Att. 59.946). Yes, there were a few tricky moments and Arsenal are still a good side that can move box to box with the ball in no time to launch a shot at goal.
But this time our defenders were always ready with a sliding tackle or a crucial foot blocking any attempt at goal. And we had Fabianski who graced our box with a commanding presence I am still not quite used to, we are still talking about West Ham goalkeepers here.
Overall this was as comfortable a performance as it can be against Arsenal.
I have to admit, when I was working that screwdriver in my hands during the latter stages of the game, I still kept thinking, despite all the calmness, this is still West Ham, we will concede the equaliser in injury time, just our luck!
An Arsenal player will have a late desperation shot going wide, it will hit a sliding Ogbonna on his bum and trickle in, hugging the inside of the post in the process (with no defender standing on guard there, obviously!).
Not this time!
We really played with a lot of confidence, with a bit of swagger, showing some big club mentality on that even bigger pitch. And all of that is down to Manuel Pellegrini, the old Chilean fox who has seen and heard it all in his long career, I’m sure. He’s probably got all them t-shirts neatly folded up in his cupboard to prove it.
Nothing seems to be capable of flustering or distracting him.
Not losing the first four games of the season on the trot. Not having ten vital players out with injury. Not having his topscorer angling for an untimely January transfer.
With Pellegrini this club is in good and very capable hands. Thank you Mr.Gold and Mr.Sullivan for bringing this man to West Ham and supporting him with decent funds in his first transfer window.
Very well done! Just one request: Don’t mess this up and revert to type anytime soon. Keep up the support of this very competent football man and you shall reap the rewards.
Pellegrini is just in the early stages of building this team, fulfilling his vision of playing good football at West Ham, football that’s pleasing on the eye and makes for good reading in the PL table.
I have complete trust in him to manage our squad and complete trust when it comes to letting players go and replacing them with better options.
Long may it continue! COYI!!!
Hamburg football update: Winter break is still on, but Concordia have stepped up their training regime, winning their first outdoor friendly by a 4:0 scoreline.
I didin’t see the game though as there was an inconvenient overlap with the West Ham game against Arsenal – and I didn’t want to miss Rice’s first goal while attending a rather meaningless training game…;-))