Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Ham United vs Arsenal: Match Preview - 25/10/2009

1. Black Dog

Writing this crap can have an effect on the soul. It’s a sorry state of affairs when the highlight of the season thus far has been a riot.

There has been precious little to cheer. Any cause célèbre (Cole’s screamer against tottenham) has swiftly been negated (Cole’s mesmeric through-ball to Defoe), and the only home win, albeit against Millwall, was a defeat until the 87th minute.

Maybe you reap what you sow. Heckling for attractive football over results has got me in this pickle and the ham-fisted nature of our attacking play has forced me to take a big bite out of a stale reality-sandwich.

2. Opposition

Our Premiership coffin already nicely taking shape, aristocratic fops, Arsenal, slum it at Upton Park on Sunday afternoon, sure to buff any splintered edges with their ivory-handled emery boards.

This season’s title-race looks to be the most open for years, and Arsenal currently look as likely as any to stake a solid claim.

Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has proven another astute purchase by Arsene Wenger. Already scoring four times this season and looking capable at the back, the left-footer provides balance in the middle alongside walking tantrum, William Gallas.

Cesc Fabregas continues to pull the strings in midfield and is sure to keep on kissing his badge right up until he signs for Barcelona.

Notably this season, the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor has enabled Robin Van Persie to finally take centre stage up front, emerging from the shadow of Adebayor and Thierry Henry.

Van Persie oozes class (except with the ladies) and his Feyenoord upbringing has lead to a touch of the Bergkamp’s in his close control, as illustrated by recent goals against Birmingham and Fulham.

The Gunners remain susceptible to conceding, risking defensive solidity for aesthetic perfection. As they often commit both full-backs forward, hitting them on the break at pace is as likely a route to goal as any, so Zavon Hines could prove useful.

Scoring could also prove useful. As could having a shot on goal. Getting a cross in might get us somewhere. And making a valid substitution before second half injury time is also something to consider.

Arsenal’s weakness since the departure of their famous back four has been a brittle underbelly to their beautiful play. As the likes of Bolton have proven on a few occasions, get in amongst them and they often fold rather than risk spilling their 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Of course, we choose to eschew this established wisdom and take on the best footballing side in the League at actual football, for goodness sake. Inevitably, we often come off second best and I see no reason to believe that Sunday will be any different.

3. History

Last season’s corresponding fixture finished 2-0 to the Gunners, although we held our own for an hour until Julien Faubert deflected a shot into his own net.

The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor in the second half highlighted the gulf in class and he competently put Arsenal two-up to seal the result.

Generally speaking, we haven’t done too badly against Arsenal over the years. The famous ‘last team at Highbury, first team at Emirates’ chant will always be something to cling to in these barren times, but that it takes on increasing importance tells its own story.

4. Attribute The Quote:

'One day I will be King of Europe...'

5. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls

Right. The situation is dire. Which is almost as terminal as Dyer.

One win so far this season, five points from eight games, second bottom of the table and three tricky fixtures just round the corner.

At Stoke I stood among the meat pie-wielding masses to witness West Ham stroke the ball impotently from right wing to left without ever thinking to, I don’t know, run forwards?

The incessant lateral nonsense put me in mind of staring at windscreen wipers whilst driving through a torrential downpour. Right, left, right, left, right, left…. Futilely straining against the inevitable as the wheels come off and we aquaplane into oblivion.

Zola came out after the game saying that he took solace in the manner of our play, but I can’t see how. Yes, we dominated Stoke for spells, but dominating a team like Stoke is not enough.

For all the tidy play out of our own half, after a few side to sides, we often resort to a hopeful ball up to Cole. If that is always to be the ultimate result, why not lump it up there early before he’s surrounded by three defenders?

No-one is threading in neat passes, and more endemic is that no-one is finding any space when not in possession. Give the ball, stand still, get it back, pass it sideways.

If Mark Noble receives possession on the edge of the area again and turns back towards Rob Green, I’m going to loop Cheryl Cole’s new video on his TV. With the vision off and the sound up.

6. Picture Book

Arsene Wenger illustrates the need for a high-fibre diet

7. Behrami Army

Valon Behrami is West Ham’s night light – he never illuminates proceedings to a huge extent, but you’re always glad he’s there. More than most, he seems to understand what it is that endears a player to the fans.

While Junior Stanislas and Julien Faubert were lauding the former’s injury-time equaliser against a 10-man Fulham, it was Behrami dragging them back to the halfway line for the re-start.

Always full of running and never short of endeavour, he’d be one of the first names on my teamsheet – along with myself up front, a coked-up Mark Ward on the wing (imagine the pace) and HeadHammer Shark, the proverbial bus parked in front of the goal.

Although he constitutes one half of a suspect defensive axis with Faubert down our right-hand side, Behrami is arguably our most consistent performer.

The antithesis of the self-important Nigel Reo-Coker and one of the few positives from the Curbishley era, Behrami knows the score:

“I think the team has to lift the crowd. If they see that every player challenges and runs, it’s easier for the people to get behind you… it’s down to us, the players.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

West Ham United vs Fulham: Match Preview - 04/10/2009

1. Same Old H List, Always Absent…

As HeadHammer Shark stagnates in his recliner, responding to his good lady wife’s pleas for a little help with the kids with a ‘whatever’-style gesture, never once taking his eyes from Wrestlemania on the Plasma, it has been left to me to post our bi-monthly article.

Yes, I missed the Bolton and Man City previews, but in hindsight can you blame me?

2. Opposition

Sunday afternoon sees us take on Fulham at Upton Park in what has arguably become a must-win game so early in the season.

Fulham have had marginally better start than us after an exceptional year where they snatched 7th place (their highest ever finish) and the final Europa League spot from under the noses of several other clubs whom many thought a safer bet.

Woy Hodgson has done a fantastic job since arriving at Cwaven Cottage, staving off near-imminent welegation in his first season before qualifying for Euwope the next.

Hist team are altogether a sterner test than in recent years and by no means a banker at home. Aussie international Mark Schwarzer is a competent ‘keeper, veteran Danny Murphy keeps things ticking over in midfield, they have two mobile full-backs (one of them a genius) and Bobby Zamora just does well to stay on his feet with Andy Johnson diving all over the place.

Saying that, they too are in the midst of a poor run, arriving on the back of three consecutive defeats to Arsenal, Man City and Wolves.

Another recent similarity is that they have their fair share of injury worries, with new signing Damien Duff recently joining Simon Davies and Brede Hangeland on the injury list.

I’ve heard rumours that King Paintsil plans on exposing Derren Brown’s devilry at halftime before zooming off in a jet-pack from the centre circle, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

3. Case For The Defence

Monday night’s defeat to Man City highlighted a few areas at the root of our current plight, the most stark of which was the shocking defending on display for both goals from Pope Tevez.

We’ve conceded three goals in each of our last three matches. Cripes.

There were some shocking lapses, not least when our entire defence were simultaneously struck by a bout of narcolepsy as Tevez nodded in City’s third, one of three City players free at the far post.

Tomkins is the real deal, but he is only seven years old and a lack of positional experience was evident when he tried to both mark a player and cover the ball simultaneously, resulting in him doing neither and leaving Tevez with a tap-in.

Da Costa had a decent debut, but Matthew Upson’s absence was clear. Upson’s injury lay-off and the news that Danny Gabbidon has picked up another injury again throws the wisdom of selling James Collins into question.

Fullback’s Ilunga and Faubert both appear a little off the pace, be that fitness-wise or positionally, but I expect better to come from both.

The prospect of Faubert at right-back is not as bone-chilling as it once was, and for that he deserves credit. While there are obvious deficiencies, I think he’s done pretty well so far this year and could yet make the unlikely transition from pantomime villain to back-end-of-a-pantomime-horse.

4. Picture Book

'World Cup winner? Two time FIFA World Player Of The Year? But can you handle this?!'
5. History

Last season saw us beat Fulham 3-1 at the Boleyn.

Gentleman John Paintsil graciously put one on a plate for David DiMichele after a couple of minutes, having cunningly disguised his genius for total defensive incompetence.

This was followed by an absolute scorcher from another former Hammer, Paul Konchesky, who drilled an unstoppable shot past Green from somewhere near Leyton. It was reminiscent of Konchesky’s goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final, except this time he meant it.

Finally, Carlton Cole was brought down for a penalty, converted by Noble, before scoring himself.

In recent times Fulham have been our bitches, with us recording seven wins and a draw from our last eight encounters.

6. Picture Book

'£80million? What does that buy you? Does it buy you this?!'

5. Form and Function

During Zola’s post-match interview on Monday, it appeared as if the penny had dropped that passing endeavour is not enough when you’ve got four points from six games.

He has described Sunday’s match as “a cup final” and Scott Duxbury has sacrificed a couple of goats to his pagan gods on top of the usual kindergarten playgroup.

For all our neat passing in midfield, this admirable approach rarely makes it into the final third nor translates into a meaningful shot on goal.

Invariably, we are able to pass our way out of tight situations in and around our own penalty area, competently resisting the temptation to hoof it clear. This then creates the illusion of the beginnings of a fluid attack, only for a pass to go astray soon after we cross into opposition territory.

Another issue is our chronic lack of width. No-one’s consistently getting down the wings and no-one’s getting crosses into one of the bigger aerial threats in the league.

What we’re left with is restricted space combined with overly intricate passing moves, which more often than not flounder upon midfield congestion.

I’m all for our style of play, which demonstrates a sea-change in comparison to the Curbishley-era when we all cried ourselves to sleep. I’m merely highlighting that our inability to mix things up means that once we’ve been figured out, we’re largely nullified.