The S J Chandos Column

Some times you just need to take a break, but .....

Firstly, apologies to my readers for not posting on the site recently. This was partly because I was a bit over-extended at work, but also because I was genuinely stunned and disappointed by the relative lack of activity in the winter transfer window. That allied to the decision to sell Ayew to Swansea City (a obvious relegation rival), put Burke back out on loan and flog Fonte were moves that I struggled to comprehend. It made a dangerously ‘thin’ squad even thinner and particularly vulnerable to the adverse impact of injuries and suspensions. Do not get me wrong, I can understand the club wanting to sell these players, but just not in the winter transfer window, in the midst of a relegation battle. In my view, if they were to be sold it should have been delayed until the summer. Unfortunately, it appears that the club made the decision to take the inflated fees offered by other clubs at that juncture, which presumably may not have been on offer in the summer. But with no adequate replacements coming in to the squad it was always a decidedly dicey strategy and so it proved.

When the almost inevitable happened, Reid, Collins, Byram, Obiang, Lanzini, Arnautovic et al all fell injured (at various times and durations), the squad become very stretched. Of the players brought in Mario looks decent, without so far overly impressing, and one can only speculate on the rationale for bringing Jordan Hughill in to the club. He has looked out of his depth, when he has appeared, so far, and this is probably the reason for his failure to hitherto start any PL matches. Perhaps there are hidden depths to Hughill’s talents, if so lets hope he reveals them soon, because if Arnautovic and Hernandez get injured over the next few key matches, he is going to have to be pressed in to first team action!

In short, the squad was left far too thin in the summer. Admittedly Hernandez and Arnautovic were good additions, but too many players were allowed to leave without signing replacements. Then those mistakes were further compounded in the winter window. Remember this was the opportunity to augment the strength of the squad and better equip us for the impending relegation battle. And the club blew it right royally. Why? It appears from reports that the club did not have the transfer funds readily available to buy new players outright and they ended up scrambling around trying to get players in on loan with a view to a permanent deal. The board might say that it was all down to the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, well maybe so, but one has to ask why these seem to regularly restrict/limit our transfer activities more than other PL clubs (and I am not referring to the so-called top four elite)?

Naturally, all of this led to fan unrest and the formation of action groups protesting the situation at the club. In turn, this gave rise to plans to stage a protest march prior to the Burnley game, which was then subsequently postponed at the last moment. And on the back of that occurred the horrible spectacle at the Burnley match. I fully understand the anger of fans and the feeling that they have been misled and badly let down. In essence the board broke a golden rule, which is that if you raise expectations to unprecedented levels (i.e. promises of Champions League football played in a world class arena) then you bloody well better deliver! In fairness, expectations were probably also raised by the performance of the team in the final season at Upton Park. However the subsequent two seasons at the London Stadium have been extremely disappointing. In both of the last two seasons the club have had c.57,000 sell outs at the LS and that is a clear demonstration that the fans bought in to the board’s vision of the club’s future. And there is also no escaping the conclusion that they have been badly let down in that respect.

In all honesty I am ok with the London Stadium and I recognise its potential (in the right circumstances) to assist the club’s future progress. There is undoubtedly a lot of residual nostalgia for Upton Park and that was inevitable to a certain extent. However, I firmly believe that if we were watching an exciting and aspirant team every week, challenging at the top end of the PL, most fans would be, if not happy, at least accepting of the LS as our new home. In a nutshell, the poor performance of the team has focused and exacerbated the malcontent that we are witnessing. A successful team would have facilitated our acclimatisation to a new (and very different) stadium environment, lack of success has done the opposite. So, if the board are feeling the heat from fans than they must recognise that they bare ultimate responsibility for that unfortunate state of affairs.

Now, in addition, we have the media and others using the Burnley disturbances as a stick to beat the club. The Mayor of London would obviously like to re-negotiate key aspects of the club’s agreement with the Stadium company. Unfortunately for him, West Ham’s board have a water tight 99 year contract and that can only be revised with the club’s consent. The club are probably prepared in principle to stomp up more cash, but the price for that must be more control over the stadium. In turn, the Mayor’s only current weapon is to use the weight of public opinion against the club to force concessions. Within that context, the Burnley disturbances were probably a bit fortuitous for the Mayor and he arguably was not above exploiting for his own purposes. Hopefully, the recent meeting between the Mayor and Brady will see an end to posturing on both sides and the adoption of a more realistic and co-operative approach. We shall see?

And on the pitch, can we pull away from the relegation zone in the coming weeks? The current relegation battle is the closest that I can remember. Usually, a bit of daylight forms between the bottom three or four clubs and the rest. This year it is so close that any one of eight or nine teams could be relegated. The pundits have grown pessimistic about West Ham’s chances because of the dramatic decline in our results since the Watford victory. After all, losing three matches in a row 4-1, 4-1 and 3-0 is not exactly good at this vital stage of the season. Fortunately the three week FA Cup/International break may have come at just the right time for us. It has allowed Moyes to give the squad warm weather training and concentrate upon sorting out the problems on the pitch. Was the Miami trip worthwhile? As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and we will see if the team’s form takes an upturn this Saturday, versus Southampton.

The importance of this match cannot be over-stated and the performance/result will tell us much about the probability of our survival. In essence, we must defeat Southampton and follow it up with another home victory against Stoke City. I think that our survival necessitates a minimum of six points from our next three matches. As for Chelsea away, I am not banking on getting a positive result, but if we could grind out a draw (a la the home match against Arsenal and the away fixture at Spurs) so much the better for our chances of survival.

The one thing that cannot be stressed enough is that we supporters must be totally focused on supporting the team in the next two vital home matches. Protests can wait, we are entering the business end of the season and it is absolutely crucial that we end it as a PL club. If we stay in the PL, we can hopefully turn things around, if we are relegated it becomes a whole different, unstable and problematic situation. This is not the 1970s, 1980s or even early 1990s, PL finance is king, clubs do not necessarily bounce straight back and relegation can lead to a club being stripped of key playing assets and going in to long-term stagnation. The fans have made their views known, now they must give the team 100% support as only West Ham fans can. Remember, at the end of the day players come and players go, but the fans are constant. We, the loyal fans, will be the only ones without an escape clause from Championship football. So, lets do all we can, personally and collectively, to make sure that toxic scenario does not transpire. Our club is in trouble and we must answer the call to arms via our staunch support.

As I said, in the title, sometimes you just need to take a break, but …… love of this club always draws you back to the fight!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

One point from six over christmas is an opportunity wasted!

As stated in my last blog post, the impressive away victory over Stoke City provided a stable launch pad to use the Christmas and early January fixtures to blast away from the relegation zone. I had hoped that team would use the momentum to defeat Newcastle utd at home and Bournemouth away and set us up nicely to take on WBA at the LS on 2 January 2018. But no, those hopes were dashed in the comedy of errors that was our ‘performance’ against the Toon in a disappointing 2-3 home defeat. This was then duly followed by the dropping a further two points to a off-side and handled equalising ‘goal’ by Cullum Wilson. So, that’s it, one point from a possible six and, as a result, we failed to achieve the ‘lift off’ that was a very real possibility before Christmas.

So now, we face a absolutely crucial fixture on 2 January 2018, which is ‘must win.’ I know that term in bounded around a lot, but I think that the term really does fit the circumstances pertaining to the WBA match. That is then followed by a tough away match at Wembley against Spurs. We really do need to beat WBA before tackling Harry Kane and co. Personally I am not unduly worried about the Spurs match, any points secured there will be a happy bonus. It is the teams around and just above us that we must ensure we defeat if we are to pull away from the relegation zone and secure safety. WBA obviously fall in to that category and we must take all three points. Anything less is just unthinkable in our current situation.

There is no doubt that this has been a wasted opportunity to accrue some vital PL points that would have helped us get out of trouble as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, it is pointless crying over ‘spilt milk.’ The players must now focus on the WBA game and ensure that there are no further slip ups. On the face of it, WBA look like the perfect opposition. with their poor form. But we must not take anything for granted, after all, one could have said the same about Newcastle Utd and Bournemouth!

On the plus side, Lanzini is back pulling the midfield strings, Arnautovic has hit a rich vein of form and Antonio’s form can only improve. Additionally, we are on the cusp of the January window transfer window opening and, hopefully, strengthening the squad in some key positions. A productive transfer window is probably going to be vital to our season, but in the meantime the current squad need to secure the maximum points tally possible, starting with a morale boosting win on 2 January 2018.

I am still confident that we can achieve safety with a bit to spare, but we need to ‘draw a line in the sand’ with victory over WBA. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

The Stoke City away victory was just the 'leg up' needed ahead of the Christmas fixtures!

You could not fail to be impressed with the nature of our performance away at Stoke City. Not only did we retain our newly acquired defensive solidarity and organisation, but we were also a potent attacking force. Indeed, we looked like scoring every time that we attacked and that is a most welcome development. In particular, Arnautovic should have bagged an hat trick and a six goal margin of victory would not have flattered us. As it was, Arnautovic scored once and we come away with a very healthy and accomplished 0-3 win. The only down side was Lanzini subsequently being charged by the FA with diving and hit with a two match ban.

The ban meant that we went in to the Arsenal Cup match, yesterday evening. without our chief font of creativity. And did we miss him! Yes, we put in another solid display, slipping to a close fought 1-0 defeat, but we were badly missing the spark of Lanzini inspired invention witnessed against Stoke City. More worryingly, Lanzini will also be banned for the Newcastle United match. Somehow we need to compensate for the Argentinian midfield maestro’s absence and that is easier said than done. Moyes played Quina in Lanzini’s absence, against Arsenal, and he could opt to continue with that selection option. Quina did well and he is undoubtedly a top prospect. Indeed, it is good that the young Portuguese play-maker has began his education at first team level. However, one must question whether he is yet ready to step in to Lanzini’s boots? At the end of the day, it may be that it is our best option? At least it will show faith in Quina’s ability to ‘cut it’ at first team level and, with the likes of Noble and Kouyate. playing alongside him, it may assist him to have a greater impact on Saturday. Personally, I think that Moyes will start with more experienced options on Saturday, with Quina probably on the bench. However, that still leaves unresolved the question who is going to provide that vital creative spark on Saturday?

It was unfortunate that we exited the Cup on Tuesday evening, but it was also pleasing that the result was close and the likes of Quina obtained exposure to top class opposition . Some fans will no doubt be critical that we did not pose a more attacking threat at the Emirates and I am sympathetic to that point of view. Nevertheless, I just feel that it is more important that we continue that defensive and organisational solidarity that we have found under Moyes, rather than going for all out attack and falling to a potentially damaging 3-0 or 4-0 defeat. That latter result could have undermined confidence and the progress that we have made since the man City away defeat. That is something that we most definitely do not want at this more promising juncture in a hitherto troubled season. Others will disagree, but that is football, a game of endless and conflicting opinions!

The Stoke City victory lifted us two points clear of the bottom three, which was important. Also important is the fact it sets us up nicely for a series of winnable Christmas and early new year fixtures. We have Newcastle United at home on 23rd December 2017, Bournemouth away on 26th December 2017 and WBA at home on 2 January 2018. This is a sequence of three matches that we should look to take a minimum of 7 points from; although a maximum 9 points is arguably not wildly unrealistic. Lets start by taking the three points from the ‘Toon’ this Saturday and take it from there. As stated. for me the biggest danger here is compensating for Lanzini’s absence, but hopefully Moyes will find an answer to that problem.

If we do the business over this period we can move up the table and away from a sustained relegation battle. In doing so, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and worry and enjoy the remainder of our season, perhaps with a run in the FA Cup as a welcome distraction. I do not want our PL status threatened a day more than it need be and this Christmas programme gives us the perfect opportunity to move away from it and push up the table (providing other results also go our way).

This will be my last article before Christmas, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers/contributors a very merry Christmas and a happy (relegation worry free) New Year. COYI !

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

More of the same Vs Arsenal?

Over the course of the Man City and Chelsea matches, David Moyes has been successful in establishing a system and set of tactics that have brought improvement, greater defensive efficiency, a clean sheet and vital first win. He achieved it by building upon the greater solidarity afforded by three centre-backs and two wing-backs, with two defensive midfielders (Obiang and Noble latterly against Chelsea) providing additional cover. It is a system that anticipates the opposition seeing more of the ball and possessing players with the skill and vision to pass through our rear guard. The objective being to restrict the opposition the space and time to do that and rely on our ability to counter-attack and exploit set pieces. In the situation in which we found ourselves, after the Everton defeat, it was the way to go and we should continue it against Arsenal.

Winning becomes an habit and so does keeping clean sheets. Our primary target is to set Arsenal one hell of a challenge and make it as hard as possible for them to break us down. That means no silly defensive lapses or errors and making Arsenal work for any openings. At the same time, like against Chelsea, we need to counter-attack swiftly and take any chances that we create. In Lanzini, Antonio and Arnautovic, we have players have can break fast and finish. In Reid, Kouyate, Ogbonna and Antonio, we have big powerful players who are more than able to use their ariel strength to convert from set pieces. In Zabaletta and Musuaku we also have wing-backs who can get forward and give us width down the flanks. For me, the only issue is whether we change the selection slightly to add Hernandez to the attack. But of course that would mean losing a player in midfield and I am not sure that is a good idea against Arsenal? The best solution is to probably set up without Hernandez and use him from the bench at an appropriate juncture of the match.

How do I think Moyes will set up? Something like this:

Adrian, Zabaletta, Musuaku, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Reid. Obiang, Kouyate or Noble, Arnautovic, Lanzini, Antonio

Progress needs to be continuous and it is vital that we show further improvement this evening. That means taking at least a point from the Arsenal match and three if the opportunity presents itself. I believe that the above tactics give us the best chance to get a result and should be continued. It does not necessarily mean that we will use the same tactics/selection against the likes of Stoke City and Newcastle United, but against the top teams it is definitely the way to go.

I am going for a 1-1 draw, but if we could sneak a 2-1 victory it would do us a power of good. Optimistically, are we not overdue one of our periodic victories over the gooners? It would be very nice if that was the case and it happened this evening. COYI !

SJ. Chandos.


News

Early squad news ahead of the Man City match

A familiar face returns to the Hammers starting line-up, with Adrian replacing Joe Hart. who naturally is ineligible against his parent side. Adrian now has a first class opportunity to impress, will he snatch it with both hands and could that mean trouble for Hart?

In defence, Byram, Collins and Reid are on the injury list. Although Reid is subject to a late injury test prior to the match. If Reid is not successful in proving his fitness, Ogbonna could partner with Kouyate and/or Rice in central defence. The selection is largely down to whether David Moyes goes with a flat back four (his apparent preference) or three centre-backs and two wing-backs.

The midfield selection could see Noble and/or Fernandes in midfield, along with Lanzini. Again, factor x is whether Obiang is retained or benched? Both Antonio and Arnautovic are thought to be fit, but it is unclear whether they will both start? Ayew is also fit, but may find himself starting on the bench today. Similiarly, up front both Carroll and Hernandez are thought to be struggling for fitness. As such, it is more likely Sakho will lead the forward line.

Whatever the final selection, the players must show pride in the shirt and, equally important, pride in themselves as professional footballers. And the Hammers crowd at Man City need to both make their expectations clear and really get behind the team. We showed at the LS vs Leicester City how we can inspire the players to improve performance and the away crowd need to try and do the same here. If we lose, we lose (Man City are currently the finest side in English football, that is perfectly clear), but the Hammers side need to show grit, put up a good display and fight them right to the final whistle!

SJ. Chandos.


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