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.


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.

The S J Chandos Column

is it time to return to three at the back?

Well, the squad certainly did not cover themselves in glory with another ineffectual display at Goodison. If a poor side like Everton can rip us apart like that, what is going to happen against Manchester City this coming Sunday? Arguably, Moyes must use Sunday’s match to try to find a defensive organisation that will prevent us conceding so readily. And inevitably, if he has done his research on Bilic’s tenure, he will know that the safest option is to go with is a central defensive three and two wing-backs. That system will give us the additional defensive cover that we invariably seem to lack with a flat back four.

However, current injury problems mean that Moyes selection options, in central defence, are likely to be decidedly limited. Reid is likely to be unavailable with the knock he picked up on Wednesday evening and James Collins broke down in his return game for the U-23s. I am not sure of Fonte’s current status, but if he is also injured, it means that we may need to cobble together a make shift defensive unit of Ogbonna, Rice and Kouyate. It is not ideal, but nevertheless,’ needs must’ as the saying goes. Who knows, radical change might just inadvertently lead us to hit upon a better solution to our current defensive woes?

Expectations will be low on Sunday, so it could be an opportunity for Moyes to experiment. That could see Noble and/or Fernandes considered for a return in midfield. Similarly, with Carroll’s fitness also uncertain, Sakho could start at centre-forward, perhaps with Lanzini, Antonio or Ayew playing behind him in a more central attacking role. That would also mean Martinez, in Hernandez’s continued absence, having a place on the bench.. Should Arnautovic start? Perhaps the Austrian international should be benched for this fixture to facilitate the testing of alternative options/tactics? While at right wing-back, Zabaletta is a almost certain starter and it is then a choice between Creswell and Masuaku for the left wing back slot.

Whatever Moyes’ individual selection decisions, we probably need to set up with a solid five at the back (with the wing-backs getting forward and providing width in possession), three across the middle of the park and two up front. Against Man City it is crucial that we are set up to narrow the play, cut down the options for them to pass through and get behind us. And of course cut out the silly mistakes which have plagued this season . Easier said than done, but we have to give it a real go.

It would certainly be a boost to the squad’s confidence if we could go up there and put on a solid defensive display. What we do not need is another four goal plus hammering! Perhaps if we experiment then it could unexpectedly point us in the right tactical direction to enable us to stop leaking goals and make us much more difficult to break down. Unlikely I know, given the quality of the opposition, but lets go for it!

SJ. Chandos.

The S J Chandos Column

Will Moyes target 'grafters' in the January transfer window?

Another winnable away game, another defeat at Watford! While the work rate looked to have been raised, we continue to play like a collection of individuals. Indeed, if you look at our squad and that of Watford there is no comparison in terms of the quality. Yet if that talent is not deployed and anchored within a strong team context, it is invariably wasted. The difference is that Watford looked like a team, played like a team (running, fighting and covering for each other) and were tactically well set up by their manager to do a tactical job, which they accomplished very well.

As I stated in a previous article, it was admittedly difficult for Moyes not to be able to work with his players away on international duty until a day or two before the match. In addition, we were also depleted by the injury absence of crucial players like Hernandez, Ayew and Antonio. But enough excuses, Watford is gone and dusted, as we all turn our attentions to this Friday’s home match against Leicester City. We still have the matches to get away from the relegation zone and the sooner we discover winning ways the better. This Hammers manager and squad of players should be able to avoid a relegation struggle with ease, but they have got to start finding form and consistency. In order to do that Moyes, Pearce, et al, need to drill organisation, work rate and consistency in to the players and build heightened morale and team spirit. Get those things right and the obvious talent in the squad can start to come to the fore and results will hopefully improve.

However, I have to say that there is something fundamental about the balance of this squad that concerns me. And I think it could be that there is not a sufficient balance between what we might call the ‘artists’ and ‘artisans.’ We all know about the famous West Ham artists, such as Brooking and Devonshire, and their starring role in successful Hammers teams; but what about the artisans that did the donkey work and won them the latitude to weave their magic. I am talking about the likes of Billy Bonds, Patsy Holland, Geoff Pike, Mark Ward, Peter Butler and Neill Orr. Do we have a enough of that type of player, who will run, tackle and cover and free creative players like Lanzini and Arnautovic to maximise their impact in the final third? Perhaps that is why Moyes is supposedly targeting an all-action player like Harry Arter, of Bournemouth, in the January window. In an effort to re-balance the team and inject more graft and hard running in to the side.

One existing player that we really do need back is James Collins. We need his experience and 100% commitment to the cause. Similarly, it is possible that Fernandes could be drafted in to midfield and give us more back bone in that vital area. While Obiang needs to get back to his best form and start shielding our defence better than he has hitherto done. What we also badly require is for Antonio to get fit and back to his very best. We miss his physical presence and menace in the final third. We fans can make these points all day long, however, (fortunately or unfortunately?) we now find ourselves totally in the hands of Moyes and his staff and they are the ones who must ‘crack the whip’ and build cohesion and togetherness in the squad. I guess that this is where Stuart Pearce will have a particular role to play in the coming weeks.

These are very troubling times at the club and it is going to take gigantic effort and leadership to turn this team’s fortunes around. It can be done, but all the coaching and tactical instruction in the world will be useless unless we have players ready to fight for the cause when they cross that white line. The current squad need to prove that they can do that ahead of the January transfer window. Regardless, it is likely that Moyes will be looking at adding players with battling qualities to strengthen the spine of the team when the window opens.

Lets just hope that a revival is well under way well before then and that makes all of our lives a lot easier!

SJ. Chandos.

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