In his first full year at West Ham, Michail Antonio captured his Hammer of the Year form, topping his 2015/16 goal tally to lead the club with nine goals.
He did it all, slotting into many different roles. He played right back or wing back at times, even though that experiment clearly should not have made it out of the developmental stages. He played striker at times due to how depleted West Ham is up top. And of course, he played as a winger, finding his best production through cutting inside and barreling past defenders at full speed.
Before the season, fans expected Antonio to become a stalwart as a winger. With 29 Premier League appearances, he was featured most among West Ham’s wingers despite a season-ending injury against Swansea City in April.
Antonio had a great start to the year but struggled the rest of the way to reach the same heights. In his first five games, he scored five goals. But then he went eight games before scoring a goal in West Ham’s 3-2 loss to Tottenham. He finished the year with a team-high nine goals, but he only scored four goals in his final 28 appearances.
Even as a winger, Antonio poses more of a goal-scoring threat than he does as a set-up man. He matched his last season total of three assists, all coming in one glorious game against Crystal Palace, in which the Hammers pummeled their south London rivals and former head coach to a 3-0 victory.
Naturally, the 27-year-old workhorse scored six of his nine goals with headers, showing off his superior aerial ability. Finding room at the back post is a deadly trademark of his, and it was on display from the first match at the London Stadium, in which he scored the winning goal from a Gokhan Tore cross.
Comparing Antonio statistically to Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass, Antonio stands out. He was level on assists with Feghouli and Ayew, but led in goals, successful take-ons, chances created and squawka.com’s total score calculation.
With the signing of Pablo Zabaleta, Antonio’s days on the right side of defense are surely over. Hopefully Slaven Bilic can sign one or both of his striker targets, Michy Batshuayi and Kelechi Iheanacho. Antonio is better on the wing than in the center of the field.
Expect Antonio to recover from injury and continue to terrorize defenses next season. The English winger thoroughly deserved his new contract, and the Hammers are lucky to ward off interest from other clubs.
Highlights and Lowlights
Highlight: Antonio crashed from his right-wing position and made for the back post. He leaped and nearly crashed into the back upright at the London Stadium, but his head connected with the ball and he steered it home for the winning goal, starting the Hammers’ reign at their new stadium in style.
The goal was of the utmost importance to the season. It did not quiet an ever-present grumble over the new ground and its new rules and gap between the fans and pitch, but it ensured West Ham three points and a house warming gift in a difficult start to the campaign. West Ham lost five of its first six Premier League matches.
It would be nice to see Antonio supply more assists, but perhaps next year if the Hammers have a proper striker to convert chances, his assist number will rise from consecutive seasons of three. He picked up all three of his assists against Crystal Palace, and his misplaced cross turned into the goal of the season when Andy Carroll was forced to twirl his body into the air to connect with a bicycle kick, sending it into the top corner in the 3-0 win.
Lowlight: The team suffered many big losses, and Antonio featured in the side on a few of those occasions. He started in back-to-back 4-2 losses against Watford and West Brom in September, as well as the 5-0 FA Cup exit and 4-0 home loss, both to Manchester City.
Out of his control, but Antonio’s season-ending injury put a damper on what was a solid season. West Ham’s attack lacked the same pace after his exit, and the team only scored five goals in its last six games without him.