The S J Chandos Column
We all know that it was not so long ago that West Ham stood stranded at the foot of the table on an abject zero points. That was the situation before the last international break and the transformation in our fortunes since has been quite amazing. Many were darkly predicting that we could be well in to October before we picked up our first PL point. I was not amongst them because I comforted myself with (a) the thought that it was only a matter of time before Pellegrini found that elusive winning formula/formation and (b) the knowledge that in prior seasons the team have faced a very difficult run of fixtures and responded by accruing a healthy return of points against all the odds. And that is exactly the scenario that emerged once again.
West Ham social media is now suddenly a radically different environment. Where previously fans did not know where the first point was coming from, confidence was shaken in Pellegrini’s managerial credentials and his transfer choices were widely questioned, now only positivity reigns. It is truly amazing what 7 out of 9 points, plus a bumper 8-0 cup victory, can do for the spirits of supporters previously in the deep grip of despair. And that is only positive, in the sense of building fan belief in the players and exciting project being developed by Pellegrini and his staff. I also happen to feel that the debuts of the three Academy youngsters has also buoyed the spirits of the Hammers fan base; the Academy is very important to our supporters and witnessing three debutants making the breakthrough against Macclesfield has only contributed to the growing optimism.
Indeed, the plus column of the West Ham balance sheet really stands out at present. I have identified many of these factors in previous articles. They include: the outstanding form of Fabianski; a defence which appears to be gelling as a unit and securing ever greater cohesion/solidarity; a effective midfield based upon the defensive cover/graft provided by the duo of Rice and Obiang and a revitalised Mark Noble, playing in a more advanced role; the realisation of the skill, pace and power of a front three of Anderson, Arnautovic and Yarmolenko; the steady improvement demonstrated by players such as Antonio and Snodgrass; and the recent advent of Diangana, Powell and Coventry and the rich potential of others such as Holland and Silva.
It is, indeed, a rosy picture in many respects, but there are also dangers and potential pitfalls as well and these need to be acknowledged. Perhaps the greatest single ‘threat’ is the recent injuries to Wilshere and Sanchez and our current ‘thinness’ of options in central midfield. In the aftermath of Wilshere’s injury, I had identified that we would most probably be ok in central midfield as long as Rice-Obiang-Sanchez-Noble remained fit and available. That is no longer the case, with Sanchez likely to be out for the remainder of the season. As a consequence, Pellegrini, and his staff, must be secretly very anxious about Rice-Obiang-Noble staying injury free over the coming weeks. If an injury was to occur to any of these three key players, just how would we cope/respond? Would Pellegrini be happy with throwing Powell or Coventry in to the PL fight or is that move perhaps a bit too premature?
We have good cover at goal keeper and across the defence, so that should not be too much of a problem. Looking at the front three – we have some very able squad options in the wide positions. I am thinking here principally of Snodgrass and Antonio; however, we remain very dependent upon Arnautovic to lead the forward line. Now that both Anderson and Yarmolenko have registered their initial PL goals (along with Antonio and Snodgrass in the cup) one sincerely hopes that the rest of the forwards will start weighing-in with their fair share of goals. However, the fact remains that Arnautovic is our best forward and we are still heavily reliant upon his inspirational presence to lead and give focus to our attack. The situation with regard to Perez and Hernandez remains unclear at present. Perez converted his first goal against Macclesfield and one can only hope that he progresses significantly from this point onwards. While Hernandez as been missing through illness and has been unable to stake any sort of claim to a first team place. The additional factor is Andy Carroll’s impending return from injury, but yet again, there is a distinct lack of clarity about Pellegrini’s intent with regard to his future use of Carroll in his proposed/developing system of play?
Nor do we know what the club’s plans are in doing business in the January window? Having spent c.£100m in the summer, is it likely that the board will sanction further business in January? Perhaps it will be a matter of moving out loanees (like Fernandes and Hugill) and sacrificing players deemed surplus to requirements to raise transfer funds for one or two more inward coming deals? We will have to wait and see what happens on that one.
I pointed to Declan Rice’s contract situation some time ago. I will only repeat my advice to the board that they agree a new long-term contract with the youngster as soon as practically possible. One has to take some of the speculation with a pinch of salt, but there are some fairly reliable rumours circulating that Rice wants a new six year contract, with the first three years on £30,000 per week and the next second three years on £35,000 per week. Considering his ability, and the progress achieved to date, is that unreasonable? I think not, get the contract agreed and that is one potential threat/danger that can be safely laid to rest.
Finally, we face Brighton & Hove Albion in this Friday evening’s Sky match. Last season we suffered two heavy defeats to Brighton and this match will be a good litmus test of how far we have progressed. With Arnautovic leading the line, I am hoping that we will have too much for the Seagulls this season. As such I am going for a 1-2 West Ham away win, securing 10 points from a possible 12 and extending the unbeaten run to five matches. COYI!