There are no excuses for West Ham’s performance against newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite my last article for West Ham being in defence of Slaven Bilic, I’m not going to defend his role at the club, in the same way that I’m not going to defend any of the eleven poor excuses for professional football players on that controversial London Stadium turf. I was frankly horrified and disgusted by what I had paid to watch on Friday night. The lack of commitment, passion, fluidity, creativity and effort made it all too easy for the Seagulls to put us to the sword. And, in style they did it too.
I would like to say firstly, this article is nothing against Brighton and Hove Albion, as they completely and unreservedly out-played, out-styled and out-sung us for the full 90 minutes. I have the greatest respect for the way they played, showing teamwork, desire and a tenacity I haven’t seen from another Premier League team in quite some time. And that wholeheartedly includes West Ham.
From the moment I saw that starting lineup, I knew the Hammers fans were in for a long night. I didn’t dare admit it at the time, but I was disappointed to see a lack of Mark Noble in the Starting XI. I really felt this would have been a game that would’ve suited his playing style. Not to mention Noble’s absence leading to the yet-again disastrous Kouyate/Obiang midfield partnership. The only positive I can take from this is that the skipper should be available for the midweek cup clash versus our well-known rivals Tottenham Hotspur; a game Mark Noble must surely start?! I was also disappointed to see Arthur Masuaku starting ahead of Aaron Cresswell at Left-Back, as opposed to filling the Left-Wing duty, carried out by a frankly disgraceful Marko Arnautovic. (But I’ll get onto his performance later...) I personally would have chosen to start Ayew over Antonio, purely for fitness reasons, and brought him on later during the game as an impact-sub.
We can also talk about how limited our options were on the bench. A fall-back selection consisting of 4 Defenders, 2 Midfielders and 1 attacker. Bearing in mind the opposition, (Again, with the greatest respect to the Seagulls) such a defensive bench proves how desperately thin our attacking options are. You could also argue that it shows a worrying complacency from Bilic, clearly not feeling that he would need any attacking Plan-B option against the Seagulls. That said, I don’t feel that the calls for youngsters Nathan Holland and Toni Martinez would have had the impact on the game that most expect. There is a massive difference between the U23s and the Senior Premier League. Not to mention as well, had either of these players come on, it would have been in the second half whilst we were 2-0 down. Since the likelihood of any impact being made being so slim, their introduction into the game, especially with such a toxic atmosphere, would serve only to knock their confidence, which can have a serious impact on their future performances.
Their first goal was the result of some truly horrific defending. I believe the blame to lie with Pedro Obiang having been tasked with marking Glen Murray, but dropping off allowing him a free header, however this is open to debate. Their second goal was a screamer from Jose Izquierdo, which no keeper could do much about, despite Hammers goalkeeper Joe Hart coming into much criticism for conceding this particular goal, especially after getting a hand on it. The final nail in the coffin for the downtrodden Claret and Blue men was a shocking rush of blood to the head for Pablo Zabaleta, of all people, conceding a blatant penalty, which Glen Murray buried well to complete his brace for the evening. The Hammers meanwhile, struggled to register a shot on goal at all in the the second half, and were justifiably booed off the pitch at the closing of both halves (Those in the minority of the Claret and Blue army that stayed for the full 90 minutes, that is!).
A truly heartbroken Slaven Bilic greeted the press for the post-match press conference, claiming “full responsibility” for the result, with many fans, as per usual after anything other than a win, calling for Slaven Bilic’s resignation. David Sullivan, however, said in an interview with Sky Sports before the match that Bilic was “Entitled to three years at West Ham, unless things get desperate.” A tough situation indeed.
So where do we go from here? Well. We need to start with the training. The rumours coming from in and around the club by all accounts is like a holiday camp. According to one source, the players don’t train a full session until the Thursday of that week, although this presumably changes when we are in a competition long enough to have a game midweek. As well as this, especially after having such a hideous defeat, potentially leaving us back to square one in the relegation zone, the training routine must be so much stronger, rigorous and intense than ever before. This not only increases physical performance, but instils the correct attitude amongst the players.
Next, serious work is needed on the focus of training outside of general fitness. Judging by recent performances, the defensive side of West Ham’s game is in dire need of improvement. Our defence at some points this season has been absolutely shambolic. We need someone with defensive prowess and knowledge to coach some form of solidity into the back line. It’s no wonder Winston Reid’s been with West Ham for so long, with a serious lack of intensity in training, and the constant errors week after week, and yet he’s almost untouchable, in the same way that Manuel Lanzini is too. This is not to say Reid is the only one at fault, nobody in West Ham’s defensive ranks, Pablo Zabaleta included, can hold their head up high with their latest performances in claret and blue. Oh, and please, for the love of God, whoever runs West Ham’s various social media platforms, stop putting videos of players scoring screamers in training. It’s just insulting.
I think as well, fines should be awarded more liberally for awful performances and disrespectful behaviour. Bilic enforcing a two-week fine on Andy Carroll after his sending-off of pure insanity (Naturally, partial blame for Friday night’s capitulation has to fall on Andy Carroll’s absence) seems to have done well for the players attitude, after stating how “silly” his actions were for “letting the fans and team down” in an impromptu interview with Sky Sports minutes before kick-off. Ultimately, allowing disrespect and poor decision-making to go unpunished leads to a festering bad attitude problem and Slaven Bilic losing respect of the dressing room, seeing him as a soft touch. You could argue Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s snub of his boss when being subbed off against Burnley would warrant a fine, or some form of disciplinary action, but ultimately it’s a matter of opinion.
Lastly, and most importantly, I think the removal of divisive characters from the team altogether, who bring the performance down and dampen the team spirit would do Bilic’s team wonders. Diafra Sakho seems to have been trusted by the management and given maybe his third, or even fourth chance at West Ham, despite a history of misconduct during his time at the club that gave him notoriety and ultimately made his career as a player. Whether this is the right decision or not is anyone’s guess, however one does have to question whether if we had a bigger squad of higher quality, would Sakho still be getting the same amount of game time?
For me, the most pressing issue is how the performance of Marko Arnautovic last night was permissible. In my, admittedly only 16 years, time of supporting West Ham, I’ve never seen such a pathetic, lethargic, lazy, useless excuse for a performance as the Austrian International’s on Friday night. Just how the hell he thinks he can get away with strolling around the pitch, thinking he’s God’s gift to football whilst his team is 2-0 down is well beyond me. I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Indeed, the happiest I was whilst enduring such a painful hour-and-a-half was when he departed the pitch to make way for Edimilson Fernandes in the 73rd minute. And he felt the same way too, judging by the fact he was all-too-keen to sprint back to the touchline and sit out the rest of the game, knowing he’d been paid eye-watering sums to give that little effort. In fact, his performance was so shocking, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher pulled no punches when ripping into the Austrian after the game, saying “That guy [Arnautovic] is Ronaldo in his own mind. That’s his problem. He thinks he’s better than he is.”, with Carragher backing up his colleague by saying “That performance was not one you think was desperate to show everyone what he’s capable of... he’s walking about during the game, it was beyond belief!”.
Anyway. Although this is only one game, ending what was otherwise quite a good patch of form, it’s symbolic of the Jekyll-and-Hyde approach West Ham have taken for now two successive seasons. It is a crushing reminder that ultimately, nothing has changed for West Ham. And although something has to change... It won’t.
I sure miss being a Happy Hammer.
COME ON YOU IRONS!