The S J Chandos Column
Thankfully, we achieved the draw at Chelsea that has greatly strengthen our survival prospects. I have to say that I really enjoyed the game. Hart had his best display in a West Ham jersey (some would say it’s about time!), Ogbonna and Rice were absolute class, Arnautovic was our best player yet again and Hernandez made a vital intervention from the bench. The goal conceded was soft, in all honesty, but we fought back to equalise and both Arnautovic (for providing the assist) and Hernandez (for delivering a great strike) deserve credit. Indeed. the strike provided a timely reminder (if one was needed) of Hernandez’s proficiency in front of goal. He is that rare commodity, a penalty box predator, with the ability to convert an half chance. In that sense, Hernandez really is worth his weight in gold and needs to be retained in the squad for next season (assuming that we remain in the PL).
There have been rumours circulating that Hernandez has been unhappy at the club, with the suggestion that the player wanted a move in the January window. If so, David Moyes must ensure that there is a rapprochement and that Hernandez feels a valued part of the squad and is prepared to remain for the 2018-19 season. As stated, goal poachers like Hernandez are a rare and valuable commodity and we cannot afford to lose him. He should figure in Moyes first team plans for the remainder of the season, whether starting or joining the action from the bench. Personally, I feel that he could play a really important role in our survival and have an even bigger impact next season.
A victory over Stoke City is crucial. If Chelsea beat Southampton, and we take the three points, then we are virtually safe. After that I reckon one more victory, or even a couple of draws, should clinch the retention of our PL status. And that is to be warmly welcomed, but the board should not be lulled in any false sense of security. The malcontent of the fans has been suppressed for the good of the club, but it remains a very important factor and will re-emerge unless a new direction is taken. In my opinion, the board must authorise substantial expenditure on strengthening the squad this summer – no excuses! By my estimation, we probably need seven quality signings this summer, including: a goal keeper, full-back, centre-half, x2 midfielders and x2 strikers.
In addition, I would expect that Hart, Collins, Obiang, Snodgrass, Carroll and Hugill will all depart the club. I very much doubt that Hart will be signed permanently, Collins should join the coaching staff, Obiang will probably return to Italian football, Snodgrass will likely sign for Villa, Carroll’ s injury record necessitates his departure (hopefully back to Newcastle Utd for c.£10m – if we are very lucky) and arguably Hugill should never have been signed in the first place. That might sound harsh, but the board must be both realistic and decisive in the action taken. We have flirted with relegation (to one degree or another) over the last two seasons and it needs to stop. We need an urgent injection of quality, and improved strength in depth, to ensure that we can get back to challenging in the top ten of the PL. If we continue to struggle then it is only a matter of time before relegation claims us and (as the board well knows) that would be a disaster for the club.
The quality of the summer signings will be absolutely crucial. We need players that will take the club forward to greater things. In addition, I have great hopes that Byram, Burke, Holland, and Cullen can make a positive impact at first team level next season. We also need to see whether the likes of Oxford, Samuelson, Quina and Martinez can finally live up to their big reputations? While bubbling under at U-23 level are prospects like Trott, Johnson and Lewis, who could all come in to the reckoning in the next couple of seasons.
In short, this summer is likely to be a period of change and upheaval in first team affairs. But it is absolutely necessary and will hopefully pay dividends in the long run. Of course, the key question is who will be managing the club next season? If Moyes successfully steers the club away from relegation then it is very likely that he will be offered a new two year contract. And if that is the case, can we really deny that he deserves it? If Moyes can get back to being the manager that he was at Everton, then he could be a good, safe pair of hands. However, the question must still be asked, of the board,whether a more ambitious appointment might not be the order of the day?
We live in interesting times. If we do survive this season (as seems probable), then the board must show ambition and take strong and concerted action this coming summer. Nothing less is expected, nothing else will do!