Arsenal 1-0 West Ham

Moyes reacts after Antonio made a mess of another chance

SUCH was the ludicrous manner in which the Hammers contrived to lose at the Emirates, teams of Wiccan specialists are waving crystals, reciting spells and wafting smoke to reverse the curse that has quite clearly been placed on West Ham United Football Club. They needn’t bother – the cause of our malaise is much more prosaic – the collective failure of David Sullivan, Mario Husillos and Manuel Pellegrini to buy attacking players that can function in the Premier League.

The decision to get rid of strikers Javier Hernandez, Andy Carroll, Marko Arnautovic, Jordan Hugill and Lucas Perez last season can’t really in isolation be faulted. To replace them with only the moody Sebastien Haller and woeful Albian Ajeti is close to criminal. Michail Antonio strove manfully as a stand-in forward but as soon as presented with a goal scoring opportunity for himself or a colleague made the sort of enthusiastic mess of things you might expect when inviting your young kids to “help in the kitchen” at half-term. A brilliant off the cuff player, his lack of a football brain was cruelly exposed.

Jarrod Bowen has real promise

Behind the forwards Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez (all Pellegrini signings) have offered next to nothing. The first pair on the list are “almost good” players who like many “flair” players do little out of possession – but not nearly enough with the ball to justify their elevated status. Payet they are not. Best we don’t speak of the other two.

Returning to a favoured theme, under Sullivan there is no strategy for team building and players are bought haphazardly. Pellegrini’s monstrous wages paid in part for complicity in the arrangement as Husillos’ forays into the transfer market were most likely to line his own wallet (why else Roberto?) while Sullivan’s dabbles lack coherence and seem more about keeping fans quiet than future profit on or off the pitch.

This shambles of a policy includes managers -David Moyes’ ability to build a team is legendary and as a long-term appointment could be excellent – even if he would probably make a better Director of Football. So Sullivan twice appoints the former Everton and Manchester United boss to extinguish the fires lit by more favoured appointees. Moyes’ modest buys Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek (in this game Moyes can be criticised for bringing the Czech international on too late for the tiring Noble) appear to offer the side so much more than the glamour signings even if Pelle buy Pablo Fornals has developed a refreshing work ethic under the Scot.

A low press with Bowen and Antonio attacking with pace on the counter seems a decent gameplan given the players available. It’s certainly an improvement on Pellegrini’s lazy “go out and work some magic” tactics and might just pull the club out of the mire for one more season. Surely, however, it’s only a matter of time before the club’s almost annual flirtation with relegation turns into full sex and we er… go down.

The deciding factor in the Arsenal game was VAR, because of course it was. West Ham haven’t had a positive meaningful ruling from the system all season – and once again the most marginal of decisions went against the Hammers. As said before, the system should borrow from cricket on tight offside decisions and go with umpire’s (or in this case referee’s) call. That would make far too much sense – as would a joined-up West Ham recruitment policy.

Defending: The indefensible

ON Monday night West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal despite a half-time lead, as the Hammers conceded three times in just 10 minutes. Such was the nature of both the goals and the home side’s response to taking the lead they bear some closer analysis. Although the intent is to highlight inadequacies in game management and shape rather than performances, obvious individual errors will be addressed.

As pointed out in our match report the Hammers were a goal up against a side without a win in nine games. Under such circumstances the orthodoxy would be to tuck in, compress space and not allow the visitors possession or space. As our first pic shows, this could not have been further from the reality.

The Gunners had teased West Ham by playing the ball out from keeper to full backs and the home side enthusiastically leapt into the trap by attempting to press the yellow defence – something they don’t regularly commit to and have little experience of. Attempting any sort of press with a deep defensive line is football suicide. Consequently the Hammers midfield shape is awful with Mark Noble (who really should know better) jumping forward before handing over marking to Pablo Fornals – a job the youngster barely engages with.

Declan Rice has also been caught too far forward and trails his runner (the goalscorer Gabriel Martinelli). Robert Snodgrass is making every effort to cover his flank as the ball is played past him – but on the nearside, in what will become a recurring theme, Felipe Anderson is ambling towards his own goal with little purpose.

Rice never catches Martinelli who is in five yards of space and finishes crisply as three defenders concern themselves with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang instead.

At this point it is worth talking about the role of wingers in manager Manuel Pellegrini’s system. They seem integral to his game – but it is unclear what, if any, function they provide. West Ham don’t cross the ball, the wide-men never tuck-in to help midfield and offer little support for their full-backs. Neither do they get ahead of a lone striker or run at opponents, making their role almost invisible. Anderson for example, has scored just one goal this year.

For the second goal Arsenal again played out from the back. Snodgrass is stranded up front while Rice and Noble remain compact in the middle. Nonetheless, there isn’t a claret and blue shirt within 10 yards of either an opponent or the ball.

One simple angled ball and the Hammers midfield is dissected. Angelo Ogbonna has inexplicably dropped off a back four that are otherwise in good shape. At the bottom of the picture £72millon signing Nicolas Pepe is moving into an attacking position without any attention from either Anderson or left-back Arthur Masuaku.

Just look at the space between Anderson and Masuaku as the ball is played into Aubameyang. All the left-back’s focus is on the striker before the latter turns and plays a simple ball out to the right.

Masuaku finally appreciates the danger, panics and rushes towards Pepe. Possibly unaware the player is left-footed, he shows him onto that side and the player finishes with a sumptuous curler unimpeded by any effort to block the shot or properly close him down. By now such is Anderson’s lack of commitment to defending he is barely in the shot.

For the third and final goal West Ham again attempt a reluctant press. Anderson chases for about 10 yards before giving up and stopping before reluctantly breaking into an amble. Again Arsenal play through an almost non-existent midfield with ease.

At this point is worth noting Ogbonna has again broken the line – possibly as a result of having no midfield cover in front of him. Masuaku is chasing back from an advanced position there was no point being in. The space between Ogbonna and fellow centre-back Fabian Balbuena is huge – and ultimately leads to the goal.

Aubemeyang is able to collect a diagonal ball and back heel it to an unencumbered Pepe who has advanced from the bottom of the picture.

The Ivorian has all the time in the world to cross to his team-mate who, bisecting the home centre-backs volleys home.

It is rumoured boss Pellegrini never watches opponents, preferring instead to “impose” his system on allcomers. Two words sum up this ethos; lazy and arrogant. The shape of his midfield is awful – no team can give the amount of space to opponents West Ham do and not expect to come off worse. The left flank is permanently a goal waiting to happen. Quite what happens in training is a mystery – players don’t appear to have much idea of what their individual roles are and little trust in colleagues to carry them out.

With the Chilean’s job under threat and regardless of whether you believe the current Board to be capable of appointing a competent successor (this blog believes otherwise) this shambles cannot be allowed to go on.

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal

West Ham boss Pellegrini takes the long walk

WATCHING West Ham under Manuel Pellegrini is to be reminded of the old joke about the yokel who starts work in a sawmill. After 20 minutes the rookie calls his foreman over to complain he’s lost a finger on the saw blade. “How did you do that?”, enquires his boss, “Well, I just put my hand like this and – oh, there goes another one!” Just like the newbie, the Chilean never seems to learn – and cares even less.

Once again, the Hammers lost a game to a team on a poor run of form due to mental frailty born of tactical incoherence. Arsenal were terrible. Really poor. They looked like Avram Grant era West Ham. Unfortunately, the home side in contrast could be best viewed as a late-era Arsene Wenger side attempting to pass the ball into the net.

Pellegrini plays a formation that sacrifices central midfielders for wingers that won’t defend. Except the widemen (as well as everybody else) appear to have a moratorium on crossing the ball. The received wisdom is many goalkeepers are scared of crosses – at West Ham it’s our wingers. All the more frustrating when the first decent cross of the night resulted in Angelo Ogbonna scoring.

Arsenal, without a win in nine games could and should have crumbled. The Hammers should have tucked in, filled the midfield, shut the game down and picked the away side off as they stretched their play.

Instead of which the home team threw themselves lemming-like into the Gooners trap of playing out from the keeper. The claret and blue attempt at a press was dismal, those in yellow played through it and scored three goals in a nine-minute blitz as the Hammers defence disintegrated. For the third home game in succession West Ham conceded three.

Post-match as far as the eye could see were fans who shorn of anger were metaphorically throwing their hands in the air. David Sullivan might do well to reflect that apathy is a much more corrosive emotion for a football team than anger.

An accurate summary of the blossoming relationship between West Ham and their fans

As to the immediate future, all the studies show that managers make very little difference to a football team’s performance and that wages are a far better predicator of a team’s success. It would appear sacking Manuel Pellegrini will make very little difference to West Ham’s prospects for the second half of the season.

However, there is also good evidence to suggest certain managers are outriders – David Moyes, Sean Dyche and Sam Allardyce among others, consistently overperform.

The West Ham Board have said their manager has one game (Southampton away) to save his job, a decision that by any logic is futile. If the boss needs that gee up in the first place it would suggest he hasn’t been carrying out his duties to the full in the first place. A win doesn’t solve the problem but merely delays crunch time until the next game. Whereas, if there is no improvement then it’s one more game we haven’t won. This would be a very West Ham tactic that allow a Board famous for the practice to brief against the manager to once again attempt to escape responsibility for poor decisions.

When Alan Pardew (in)famously called Pellegrini “A fucking old cunt” on the touchline at St James Park who was to know he would be speaking for all of us – even if the former Palace man is NOT a suitable replacement. Coming back to the opening quote, the only question remains how long it will take the Hammers manager to saw off his remaining fingers.