The S J Chandos Column
Only West Ham United FC could lose a match so convincingly in the last eight minutes! Seriously though, it does beggar belief the way in which we played so well against Arsenal and were in line to win a vital away point, only to blow it at that late stage. Yes, the team probably tired in the latter stages and the nature of Arsenal’s second goal was particularly galling, but (as Arnautovic has subsequently said) we should have maintained our shape and discipline even after that reverse. Instead we unravelled in a quite worrying fashion.
Still, perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that we did not expect much at the Emirates and now just move on to the next match, versus Man City, this coming Sunday. Only first, I think it needs stating that overall we deserved the point at the Emirates, but that the same old defensive mistakes (at the very death) cost us the result. Lets hope that we can get firmly on top of those defensive lapses and they do not ultimately prove our undoing in the run-in to this turbulent and frustrating season. Incidentally, my view on the post-match Moyes-Rice controversy is that the Manager was obviously too honest in his response to the media’s questions. He should have delivered a more diplomatic response and saved the frank honesty for the dressing room. As it is, social media have jumped on it and created a big fuss and that does no one any good in this present situation. The truth of the matter is that Declan Rice is a youngster of great natural ability and it is that which underpins his outstanding performances this season. But as a 19 year old, he is (naturally) still short on that other vital ingredient, experience. And it is experience that tells a player what to do in a split second situation like that, if you have it, you react automatically/instinctively and clear the danger. Rice does not have it yet, got caught in two minds and unfortunately took the wrong course of action. Ironically, costly as the mistake probably was, it will ultimately add to Rice’s experience and ensure that in future he will make the right decision in similar situations.
The one thing I do know about Declan Rice is that he is a quick learner, he has amply shown that this season, and this incident will probably be a key lesson in his journey towards becoming a top class international defender. His ability to learn from mistakes/situations and progress is what distinguishes him from other promising players at the club who have not made the same progress. I am a fan of Reece Oxford, but there is no doubt that Rice has superseded him in the race to become a first team regular. And perhaps that is why, it is about a positive attitude, learning lessons and continually progressing your game. One player has, the other, hitherto, has not to anything like the same degree!
Well, ‘thank goodness for Ashley Barnes’ of Burnley (as David Hautzig stated in his recent match review). Indeed! That scrappy Clarets equaliser against Stoke City could yet prove vital to the outcome of the relegation battle. It is pretty much clear that if Stoke City lose to Liverpool this coming weekend (as the form book says they should) then they are going to be relegated. Southampton (as the club presently in 18th place) have shown a consistent inability to win matches and if that trend continues then they should occupy the third and final relegation place. Also in the relegation mix are Huddersfield and Swansea and it is still possible that it could be one of those two (rather than the Hammers) who fall through the trap door if Saints somehow manage to save themselves at the 11th hour. But, lets not rely on the deficiencies and negative results of others.The best possible response is to win this weekend to (hopefully, if Bournemouth do the business in the south coast derby) create a 9 points gap over Southampton. If not, then we need at least a point from the Man City match and hope that we can then complete the job up at Leicester City.
No one denies that beating Man City is a very tough task, in facing both the best team in English football and the newly crowned PL champions. But we are at home and if the history of West Ham United FC proves anything (for example, see Fergie, Man Utd and an obscene effort!), it is that a highly motivated team (playing above itself) can get a result against even the best opposition. Hopefully, Man City will take their foot off the accelerator (now the title is in the bag and they are out of the Champions League) and the minds of all those multi-million pound City Stars will turn to keeping fit for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
I know that is probably wishful thinking, but what the hell! After all, stranger things have happened!