I have been to London twice this autumn and Christmas time. Fortunately I was able to watch West Ham on both occasions and to some extent I witnessed history: I was present at Slaven Bilic’s last game in charge back in November, and I watched my fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic’s first goal for the Hammers.
Initially I thought of writing a post comparing these two games, entitled “A completely different story”. But I now have left it too late to write a column with this header: West Ham weren’t able to pull clear of the drop zone and still find itself in the relegation mire on New Year’s Eve.
Having watched the abject and dismal performance against Liverpool on my first visit this autumn, when the Irons were completely unable to string some passes together and trouble a Liverpool side which was far from its best, I couldn’t expect a win over last season’s champions on my next visit to the London Stadium. But the narrow loss a week ago to the one team that is playing a perfect season so far, Manchester City, had let us raise some hope, despite the results under new manager David Moyes had not been in West Ham’s favour so far, and the Irons still were chasing their first win under the new gaffer.
Also the player I am particularly interested this season, fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic, had not lived up to the expectations before the Chelsea game. He is the best player in Austria’s current national team and on his day he can be brilliant, but far too often he has lacked commitment and his work rate on the pitch was poor. When I was asked what I thought about Arnautovic’s move from Stoke to West Ham in the summer, I used to reply: “Well, so far Marko has made me angry just some times a year – when I watched him play for Austria – but from now on I will be angered by him every weekend.”
And that exactly happened from the beginning of this season with Marko struggling under Slaven Bilic, being red-carded in his second league game, and unable to find the net or providing an assist in a league game until December. When new manager David Moyes came in, Marko Arnautovic’s name was the first one to be mentioned in the tabloids as a player the Scotsman would like to sell to generate funds for new signings in the January window.
But West Ham’s “number 7” started in three of Moyes’s first four games in charge prior to the Chelsea match. And Marko’s attitude seemed much improved, he responded well to the gaffer’s request to raise his work rate, to track back and defend when West Ham had lost possession, and to play in a more central position than under Bilic who had used him mostly on the wing.
I am not sure if Moyes has really threatened to wield the axe and sell Arnautovic in the January window if his instructions weren’t followed, but he surely must have found the right words for the Austrian. It was the 1-1 against Leicester (though still not the first win under the new manager) when things began to look brighter, and it was not only the loud home crowd that impressed the pundits in that match, but also Marko Arnautovic who made such an impression that he was named “man of the match”. He received a deserved standing ovation when he was replaced by Andre Ayew after 70 minutes.
This step forward was followed by a cruel setback though: West Ham lost 0-4 to Everton, allowing Wayne Rooney to score four goals, and the next three games were to be played against much stronger opposition: Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Would my second live game in the London Stadium this season (against Chelsea) be one of four defeats in a row which were on the cards this December? Therefore when planning the trip to London I had scheduled a Christmas concert by candlelight for Saturday evening after the game in order to prevent my family from starting the pre-Christmas holiday on a low.
Albeit, the good news is that the start to our stay in London was quite the opposite! On a bright and cold Saturday we had a smooth journey to London Stansted and the claret seat belts in the plane showed all the right colours on our flight! Having landed perfectly in time we travelled from the airport to West Ham station where we met the wonderful Paul Turner who stored our luggage in the boot of his car and drove to London Stadium with us. We had time enough before the game to buy me a West Ham Christmas scarf which immediately replaced the blue one I had grabbed thoughtlessly early in the morning when we had left home for Vienna airport.
We were on our seats in time to join in to the singing of “Bubbles” and from the beginning of the game it was very clear that this was a West Ham side very different from the poor XI I had watched five weeks ago. David Moyes had instilled a different attitude into the team, there was commitment, good passing, regained confidence and a lot of skill (especially from Masuaku who was a revelation in his new role on the left wing). The crowd responded well to the pleasing procedures on the pitch and the West Ham supporters were of good voice throughout the game, really being “West Ham’s claret and blue army” and outsinging the Chelsea fans by far. I also cheered and sang so much this afternoon that my wife feared I was going to lose my voice and would be unable to sing along to the Christmas carols in the candlelight concert in the evening.
The sunny lunchtime at the London Stadium looked even brighter when just 6 minutes into the game a one-two with Manu Lanzini brought Marko Arnautovic in a good position in the box. Everyone rose to his feet and who wasn’t quick enough to jump up immediately, unfortunately missed the very well placed shot into the left bottom corner that put West Ham ahead. It was a beautifully taken first goal for “Arnie” and his jump into the crowd showed the big relief this goal meant to the Austrian! We were sitting in the same stand in which he was hugged by the crowd, but unfortunately our seats weren’t in the lower tier, so we couldn’t express our delight personally and say “Servus” from face to face. But this fact didn’t detract from our pleasure which grew bigger and bigger throughout the game when West Ham showed resilience and also the necessary composure to hold on and in the end beat last season’s champions 1-0.
With his goal and his celebration with the fans “Arnie” (as he is called now by the West Ham fans) evoked memories of Carlos Tevez who also jumped into the crowd when he had scored his first goal after a long and tough time back in the 2006-07 season. Well, and Marko Arnautovic’s nick name reminds me of someone else – another famous Austrian, the “terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially as Arnie’s goal helped to terminate a winless streak of 8 league games.
It feels as if the Austrian forward has not stopped scoring since the game against Chelsea! David Moyes was right to praise Arnautovic lately for responding well to his challenge to raise his work rate or face being dropped. Arnie hit the back of the net in the 3-0 win against his former club Stoke and in the annoying 2-3 defeat against Newcastle, and now he has scored his first brace in the dramatic 3-3 against Bournemouth on Boxing Day (a game which West Ham would have won if the ref had not given the Cherries’ controversial equalizer in stoppage time!). Although West Ham is back in the relegation zone on New Year’s Eve: the Cherries have beaten Everton on Saturday moving up from 18th to 13th in the table and the Irons have played one game less due to the postponement of their match against Tottenham.
Let’s hope the new year will bring a bright start with a win over West Brom on the 2nd of January in the London Stadium – maybe with some more exploits of our Arnie from Austria! I am very happy that last summer’s record signing finally has become a real asset of West Ham’s squad. When he continues to play (and score) like he has done since Moyes’s managerial takeover at West Ham he could be a West Ham legend in the making!
After the first game of the year West Ham have to play three games away vs. Spurs, Shrewsbury (FA Cup) and Huddersfield. Though I know that getting results in the Premier League is most important for the club, the weekend in January which is most important to me is the one we play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup: if the Irons win and the draw brings them a home game in the next round, this could be my third West Ham game this season, because we are going to be back in London by the end of January when the 4th round of the FA Cup is played.
So come on you Irons, let this January be a success for claret and blue – on the pitch and with a good transfer window, too! I hope David Moyes will not only have been able to find the right words to instill a new attitude into the squad, but also to find the right players to bolster this squad. Especially in midfield I think the team needs to be strengthened …
But one thing is for sure: West Ham player Marko Arnautovic is not for sale in this window, he’s one to watch on the pitch this January!
Happy New Year everybody! COYI!