In football one thing is for sure: you never can take anything for granted. The Champions League and Europa League ties last week again proved very well that even the highest favoured teams, leading by a comfortable margin from the first leg, may struggle or be eliminated against all odds. And as West Ham fans we know only too well that never opposition should be taken lightly, especially in cup games. And the game under the floodlights on Monday at the London Stadium is a cup final.
Well, West Ham’s engagement in the domestic cups didn’t really set the world alight this season, and the Hammers have no more cup ties to play at this stage of the proceedings. And they haven’t won a real cup final since 1980. But now we virtually have a cup final – or at least a semifinal – on Monday night! If the Irons manage to win the crucial game against second from bottom Stoke City, their unwanted flirt with relegation will be more or less over and our season is saved.
The other results this weekend could have gone a little better so far from West Ham’s perspective (if Crystal Palace and Huddersfield had dropped points and Swansea had lost, there would still be a gap of 2 or 3 points between these teams and West Ham before the Stoke game). But with third from bottom Southampton losing 2-3 at home to Chelsea (squandering a two goal lead) the gap of 6 points between the Hammers and the relegation zone is still there before the game against Stoke. Alas, in case of winning on Monday night West Ham will be 9 points away from the drop zone with only 5 games to play until the end of the season! And with playing at home against a team that has managed only one win in 15 games since Christmas and has the worst defensive record of the league, this win should be all but ensured.
But as we said before, in football never anything can be taken for granted, and West Ham have already lost games with similar prospects and expected outcomes this season (just think of losing to Newcastle, Swansea, and Burnley – or drawing with Crystal Palace at home). And we also should be aware that West Ham haven’t managed any back to back Premier League home wins since December 2016, and have not won twice in one season over Stoke City since the Potters’ first PL campaign in 2008/09.
But the last two games can make us quite optimistic with Marko Arnautovic still in top form, benefiting from Arthur Masuaku’s return from suspension and thriving in his role as a central striker which David Moyes has handed to the Austrian international. Arnie has completely lost his odeur of instability and sloppiness, of wasting chances and disappearing for large parts of games. Asked on my thoughts about him when he came to West Ham last summer I praised him as Austria’s recently most talented player, but I added that I had been happy that I was made angry by him only some times a season (when I watched him in the Austrian national team), and now I was going to be disappointed or annoyed by him every weekend… He seemed to prove me right right from the beginning of his West Ham career, but since David Moyes has come in as the new gaffer and lined up the record signing as West Ham’s central striker, Arnie has supplied nine goals and five assists from 14 starts. Statistics say that since gameweek 16, only three players have fired more shots on target: Harry Kane with 36, Mohamed Salah with 28, and Sergio Aguero with 25. And since the Austrian’s return from injury in gameweek 27, no player can better Arnautovic’s 12 shots on target. He has been directly involved in 13 PL goals this season, with nine goals and four assists.
That playing him in the central and only striker role has proven so successful doesn’t make it easy for the manager to include Chicharito in the starting eleven. „Little pea“ is a born goal scorer with an impressive record of scoring from inside the box and his inclusion in the starting eleven is requested by a lot of fans and, I think, also expected by himself. He has already got 8 goals this season though he has been played out of position under Slaven Bilic, been injured and often only has come from the bench. It will be very interesting to see if David Moyes will find a system in which West Ham‘s two top scorers can work together in the last 6 games of the season…
David Moyes’s team selection against Chelsea last Sunday (the third game in London I was able to fly over for and watch live this season by the way) has been spot on, and bringing Hernandez in the second half has proved highly successful. I was very sceptical about the appointment of Moyes back in November, but, as was said in a previous post here, „he has brought improvement to a number of players, steadied the ship, improved morale and also given a few opportunities to youngsters which we have all been asking for“.
If he could do at West Haw what he achieved at Everton from 2002-2013 (8 top seven finishes in his eleven seasons) that would be the „next step“ that West Ham realistically can make. Promising us more, even Champions League football, was a highly unrealistic vision that has not gone well with the problems West Ham’s supporters faced with the loss of Upton Park, the transition to the new stadium which has not emerged as a proper football ground so far and the underachievement in the transfer market with a lack of clever and sufficient investment. Karren Brady, Sullivan and Gold have underachieved (to put it mildly) in the first two seasons in the London Stadium. This summer, after having secured Premier League football, will be crucial for the direction in which West Ham is heading.
Now let’s hope for our first back to back wins at the new ground after almost one and a half year!
A cup final ahead
As I’ve already said, Monday under the lights is a cup final for West Ham. Though West Ham haven’t won a real cup final since 1980, the Hammers have won a final back in 2012 when they beat Blackpool in the play offs at Wembley to secure their comeback to the Premier League.
Monday’s game is of similiar significance, I would not only call it a “six pointer” but a nine or ten pointer: a win will move the Irons 10 points away from the Potters and 9 points away from the drop zone. One more win is all but important and could make us virtually sure that the fear of relegation is over! And with the confidence the win over Southampton and the draw at Stamford Bridge have brought, the squad looks capable of seizing this opportunity to make a giant step towards safety.
This massive game must be won. But you know, in football and especially with West Ham nothing can be taken for granted.
Come on you Irons!