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Why West Ham should address right back & midfield instead of forward in January

Even with AFCON 2017 departures, West Ham have enough in attack

West Ham United v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

As the January transfer window looms, West Ham are likely to be in the bottom half of the Premier League table at the start of the new year. Speculation on who manager Slaven Bilic should bring in has festered for a few weeks now. That includes thoughts that the Croatian gaffer should think about bringing in a forward during the key period.

The upcoming African Cup of Nations and losing the likes of Andre Ayew and Sofiane Kouyate (along with Cheikhou Kouyate, though he isn’t a forward of course) to the competition builds up the idea for some that the Hammers need to purchase an attacker. Already the likes of Liverpool’s Daniel Sturrdige and Sassuolo’s Gregorie Defrel have been linked with the club, as the latter seems the much more likely option of ending up at the London Stadium than the often injured English striker.

But although Defrel continues to rise as a formidable forward in Serie A, and is on much better form than the man he replaced at the modest Italian club in Simone Zaza, bringing in the Frenchman, or any other forward, should be the last thing Bilic should contemplate in this period. Instead, Bilic is fully cognizant of the fact that West Ham need to get a right back the moment the window opens.

Even before their current two game winning streak to pull them further away from the drop zone, West Ham really weren’t in dire need of Defrel or another forward this transfer window, unless it is someone truly world class (and they aren’t going to get someone like that, even if they were in the top four of the Premier League).

Despite Ayew and Feghouli’s departures to Gabon 2017, it appears Diafro Sakho will remain in London and not join Kouyate for Senegal. Despite having a back injury that ruled him out of the last African Cup of Nations in 2015, Sakho was heavily criticized for not representing his country that tournament and playing for West Ham later that January. The athletic forward was angered by all of the negative comments thrown his way, leading to a still tense situation with his nation.

With Sakho likely to stay, he and Andy Carroll keep West Ham two deep up front. Add the versatile Michail Antonio to the mix, and you have at least three proven forwards who could lead the line for Bilic. Though Zaza may depart with how forgettable his tenure has been, thanks to both poor play and injuries, Bilic will likely want to keep him. After all the money he spent for him this past summer, and with Ayew and Feghouli leaving, making sure Zaza doesn’t depart in January makes perfect sense.

And strengthening the argument for Bilic to not use precious fiscal resources on another attacker is the rise of many promising youngsters in the club. Ashley Fletcher has been the signing of the season thus far for West Ham, having to spend nothing on him after the 21-year-old’s contract with Manchester United ran out in June. His energy and developing quality has been noticeable in his appearances, as he will continue to improve if given the chance.

The same can be said for 20-year-old Edmilson Fernandes, as the rising Swiss deservedly earned his first senior cap for his country this autumn with his bright displays. Add exciting teenage prospects Domingos Quina and Marcus Browne, thanks to Bilic placing them in the 18 the last few games, and West Ham really don’t need to spend more money on another forward (and that doesn’t include maybe the best attacking youngster of all West Ham prospects in Grady Diangana, who desires to be Ronaldinho-esque).

Oh, and did I mention that Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini still exist, as do Jonathan Calleri, although the on-loan Deportivo Maldonado forward has been an even bigger bust than Zaza or Feghouli have been the first half of the season.

Instead, right back and central midfield are the only main priorities Bilic needs to address. The only good thing about Alvaro Arbeloa and makeshift fullback Harvard Nordtveit as singings this season are that they both came for free. That means Bilic hasn’t had to spend money on their poor returns, with Arbeloa joining the club mostly to be a mentor to Sam Byram.

With Byram’s injury woes plaguing both his development and the Hammers defense, Bilic needs to bring in someone in his spot so he can play a back four instead of currently being trapped into the disastrous back three option whenever the 23-year-old right back is sidelined. More central deep midfielders to cover for Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang should then be the next main objective for West Ham this transfer window, especially with Kouyate unavailable for January. But West Ham have enough options going forward to not require another attacking player.

That isn’t to say that the likes of Defrel or Sturridge aren’t very good forwards, because they are. It’s just that the Hammers already have enough forwards in the squad and have invested enough money in that area this season. It’s time instead to solidify the spots that need to be solidified, especially at right back.