Easter Saturdays with West Ham involved in a relegation battle are something special. I particularly remember a Holy Saturday eleven years ago, when West Ham played Arsenal on April 7th, 2007. Mark Noble played in midfield and Carlos Tevez and Bobby Zamora led the line. West Ham were the first team to beat Arsenal in their new ground, winning this game 1-0 by virtue of Bobby Zamora’s goal.
I’m sure everybody remembers this game being part of West Ham’s „Great Escape“ which they managed that season. Well, this season a “great escape” will not be needed to avoid relegation, though West Ham’s season has been quite rich on disasters so far and everybody will be happy to put this one behind us. But the victory this Holy Saturday, beating the Saints 3-0, can make us more than confident that West Ham will also escape the drop this season. With six games left, now being five points away from the relegation zone after having won a real „six pointer“ against Southampton, the Hammers are really not far away from safety, but of course not saved yet.
A difficult fixture list
And West Ham aren’t going to have an easy run-in. Within the last part of the season they will have to cross swords with last season’s champions Chelsea, this season’s champions in the making Manchester City, runners up Manchester United and Arsenal. But with Stoke at home in a fortnight and Leicester (A) and Everton (H) in their last two games, there are plenty of opportunities to collect the final points needed to avoid being dragged into or nearer the relegation zone again.
It really was a fine first half performance on Saturday, the Irons played with determination and urgency against a Southampton side which couldn’t muster a single shot on Joe Hart’s goal before the break. Now why not let “Bubbles” fly high again and start dreaming of getting something from next Sunday’s London derby at Stamford Bridge? Chelsea have just been beaten by Tottenham at home this weekend and the top four now seem fairly out of reach for the Blues, having won only 3 out of 10 league games so far in 2018.
„We have to try until the end to catch the teams in the Champions League places,“ Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said after their defeat against Spurs, but with already having fallen eight points behind the fourth spot this isn’t an easy challenge. Maybe West Ham will be able to capitalise twice from Chelsea’s inconsistency this season, having already beaten them back in December when Marko Arnautovic scored his first league goal for the Hammers in a famous 1-0 win at the London Stadium! With the confidence Marko has achieved in recent weeks, scoring for Austria’s national team (below) and West Ham in his last three games and having got 9 goals and three assists for the Hammers so far, now everything seems possible for our number seven. And it already is beyond doubt for me that the Austrian international has to be this season’s „Hammer of the Year“!
A determined performance and a truce – will it last until the end of the season?
Having won the crucial game against Southampton and playing a London derby next Sunday will surely help to keep West Ham’s truce between their fans and the much criticised Board which seemed to be in force in the London Stadium on Saturday. The fans were behind the team from the first minute in this really important, season-defining match, and the supporters could not have asked for a better response from the players. The mavericks in the team really rose to the occasion, not only with Marko finding the net twice but also João Mário playing his best game since his arrival in January with scoring the priceless first goal of a happy afternoon for the Hammers!
West Ham‘s energetic pressing payed early dividends with two goals in the 13th and 17th minute, resulting from stealing possession from tedious attacking moves of their opponents, followed by quick runs by the really very well playing Cheikhou Kouyaté and an also impressing Edmilson Fernandes as well as another player coming back from a six game ban, Arthur Musuaku.
Arnie at his cocky best, my favourite for “Hammer of the Year”
Marko Arnautovic denied having a personal feud with Mark Hughes, his former manager at Stoke City whose first league game in charge of Southampton went terribly wrong for him on Saturday. But it is a matter of fact that Arnie again was “at it his cocky best against his old manager” (as Jacob Steinberg put it in his match report in The Guardian, or could we already say “at his Cockney best” as Arnie really seems to love playing in the East end of London), inspiring the Hammers to another 3-0 win as he had done back in December beating his old club Stoke 3-0. Arnie had celebrated his goal against Stoke with his arms showing West Ham’s crossed hammers in front of Stoke‘s supporters who had abused and booed him throughout that game. And also this time having scored his first goal, West Ham’s 2-0, he crossed his arms and cast a thriumphal glance to his old manager.
The very important third goal was Arnie’s second one shortly before the break in added time – a spectacular volley from a deep cross from Arthur Masuaku. Now Arnie just showed his tongue as he likes to do sometimes and did not spend a view on his old manager anymore.
The second half could have ended with another spectacular goal, but Cresswell’s volley hit the bar and the day passed off peacefully in the end. Well, this win on the Saturday before Easter was not the final salvation for West Ham, but a big step forward to securing Premier League football in the London Stadium!
Blowing bubbles at Stamford Bridge?
We will be back to London this week and hopefully I will make the Chelsea game on Sunday. Still have no tickets though!
Having witnessed my fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic’s first West Ham goal against the same opponents back in December I am hoping to be able to watch some other exploits of Arnie and the boys in claret and blue in the reverse fixture. Well, I’m not expecting an unlikely „double“ against the Blues, but West Ham could be capable of getting away from Stamford Bridge with a precious point. Especially after having kept a clean sheet in their last game and young Declan Rice really being a revelation against Southampton, West Ham’s defensive unit can breed new confidence. And as the Hammers still have the second worst defensive record of all teams in the Premier League this season, it’s really time to put things right at this side of the pitch!
See you on Sunday. Come on you Irons!