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

Friday, December 29, 2017

Bournemouth 3 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Night, night after day
Black flowers blossom"
- Massive Attack, "Teardrop"

There is a universal truth about being a sports fan, which is that when we pay our money to enter an arena and watch our event, we believe the encounter we are about to watch will be fair. We have to believe the fight won't be rigged, or that the race is straight or the competitors aren't cheating, otherwise the whole thing is a waste of time.

Now, let me state here and now that I don't believe that a game between Bournemouth and West Ham would be worth fixing. Of all the things the Bilderberg Group are doing, I have to imagine this would be quite a long way down the list. We have again been the victim of more poor officiating, and because our minds are conditioned to remember negative things more than positive, it feels like such an overwhelming weight of misfortune that we then begin to wonder if it truly is bad luck or something more sinister. For when a player who is offside scores a last minute equaliser with his hand, and a referee seemingly overrules his linesman to award that goal, then it's hard not to do a double take. 

Brown envelope out of sight

So let me invoke Hanlon's Razor here - never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. It is bizarre to suggest that referee Bobby Madley was bribed to turn this game in Bournemouth's favour, but I equally don't have any qualms in saying that his performance here was appalling. His first error was to fail to send off Simon Francis for a head high, studs up challenge on Cheikhou Kouyate. I don't think Francis was intending to catch Kouyate, and had his eyes firmly on the ball, but when you raise your studs to that height you also have a responsibility to ensure you don't land them on a fellow professionals face. Rather than consult another official or take his time and weigh the decision up, Madley instead brandished a yellow card immediately, which has the added effect of ensuring Francis won't even get the retrospective ban he deserves. And for anyone who hasn't seen it, and thinks perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic - you can judge for yourself here: 

Just a yellow - nothing to see here

Similarly, Madley chose not to act on Josh King accidentally elbowing Pedro Obiang in the face off the ball. That probably sounds crazy, but the Norwegian flung his arms out in frustration at a decision and caught Obiang unaware, knocking him to the ground. I don't think there was any intent in the actions of King either, and that is more relevant in his case because the laws clearly state that a player must be dismissed for "deliberately striking an opponent". It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that players should refrain from throwing their elbows around, but they are also people and if we try to remove all joy and human emotion from football then we run the risk of turning this whole thing into BBC1 on Christmas night. 

But where Madley fatally impacted this game was in the dying moments. We had floundered and fluked our way to a 3-2 lead, and with just seconds remaining a hopeful ball was pumped into our box. In truth, we hadn't dealt with that line of attack very well all day, and true to form Nathan Ake won the header. He looped the ball back across goal and a marginally offside Callum Wilson diverted the ball in with this arm. 

The referee's assistant (oh the irony of that title) immediately raised his flag, and the goal was all set to be disallowed. At that point Madley trotted over to the sidelines. That, in itself, is fairly unusual given that he has a radio link with his assistants and I'm not sure I've ever really seen a referee do that for a straightforward offside decision. After a lengthy enough deliberation for a video referee to have reviewed the incident in real time and made the correct decision, Madley awarded the goal, because of course he fucking did. 

Delving into the world of conjecture for a moment I have to suspect that the following happened: the assistant flagged for offside, Madley intimated that he didn't think Wilson touched the ball, the assistant pointed out that this couldn't really be true as the ball wasn't going in until Wilson used his arm to push it in, Madley disagreed because Callum Wilson is a theoretical concept and awarded the goal and the stadium announcer promptly told the world that Callum Wilson has just scored the equaliser. Some fucking magic, that. 

In the end, I don't believe this was anything more than poor officiating but it's easy to get drawn into thinking otherwise. After all, I believe that there is an institutional corruption that sits at the heart of most sport. Had this happened against Manchester United, for example, I think that Madley would have disallowed the goal purely because human beings typically do the things that allow them the easiest lives. Referees know that they can make a decision like this against West Ham and be in the news cycle for one night. Do it against Mourinho and you're infamous for months. 

So there you go: I think that elite level football is ludicrously tilted towards the rich; I believe that pretty much every high level athlete is using performance enhancing drugs and just because it started with track and field, swimming and cycling doesn't mean it won't be football and rugby soon enough; I believe that cup draws are probably at least partially fixed to satisfy the demands of television, sponsors and Vladimir Putin; and I think that one reason that governing bodies in football are so reluctant to introduce measures to help referees get more decisions correct is that big clubs don't want that to happen - why, after all, would you give up one of the inherent advantages of being a big club - namely that you can rely on most line decisions going your way? 

But for all that might make me a tin foil hatted conspiracy theorist in your eyes, I can honestly say that I don't think referees are biased against West Ham for the simple reason that there would be no point. So when you boil all of that down, the reality is probably just that Bobby Madley is a bit of a shit referee. 


"This is the highlight of your miserable life
A pessimist is never disappointed"
- Theaudience, "A Pessimist is Never Disappointed"

I could write yet more about the decisions in this game, and how I can't see any difference between the "deception" of Manuel Lanzini and the "magic" of Callum Wilson, but fixating too much on officiating would detract away from yet another disappointing performance. It may seem strange to say that when we scored three goals, but we spent most of this game clinging on to the coattails of a decidedly poor Bournemouth team and were particularly fortunate to pull level at 2-2, when Marko Arnautovic took advantage of Asmir Begovic wearing clown shoes in the driving rain.

We started well enough, with James Collins celebrating his recall by thumping home a trademark near post header from an Aaron Cresswell corner. I especially enjoyed this because Bournemouth placed a man on the post to specifically prevent this and he moved far enough from his spot to allow the ball in. It is worth remembering stuff like this when we question how managers can't organise their teams to defend properly - some footballers are so poor at concentrating that they can't even stand still when they're told to.

God bless men who can't stand still

That early lead didn't look particularly secure, however, as our back line seemed to have over indulged at Christmas, and the home team flooded forward in search of an equaliser, creating plenty of opportunities. King should have scored from one such chance, before Dan Gosling latched on to a weak Collins clearing header and rifled home the leveller. Oddly, we really should have been two ahead by this stage as Arthur Masuaku produced another trademark run before picking out Andre Ayew, who put the ball narrowly wide. On such slender threads can satisfactory Boxing Nights hang.

By this stage the rain was hammering down like Blade Runner, although even Roy Batty might have seen some new things here. After Ake scrambled home another shittily defended set piece to give the home side the lead their pressure warranted, it looked as though we would have yet another disappointing trip to the coast. Enter Begovic, who casually controlled a backpass before falling over his own feet, allowing Arnautovic - who hadn't stopped running - to capitalise with a neat left footed finish. Score one for the Moyes school of sergeant majoring the fuck out players.

Better was to come when Masuaku again went roaming with just a minute to go and picked out Chicharito who made a complete Benteke of it, but was saved when Begovic again lost control of his limbs and Arnautovic poked home his fifth goal in as many games. With just injury time to come, it seemed as though we had done enough to steal a win we didn't really deserve - a trait that Moyes would be very welcome to bring with him from all those years at Goodison.

Unfortunately, there was still some Truly, Madley, Deeply action to come and as it was we are left to ponder what kind of world we live in where we can take four points from Arsenal and Chelsea but just one from Newcastle and Bournemouth, and that the only consistent thing about this team is that you don't ever know what they are going to do.

The worry is that these were two games where we could reasonably have expected to have shown a little more in attack. Sitting back and soaking up constant pressure is fine against the teams with several hundred million more to spend on their squads, but these were supposed to the games where we showed we could punch back against our fellow strugglers. And so we scored five and conceded six and the only thing we know is that we know nothing.


"Am I moving back in time? Just standing still?"
- The War on Drugs, "Pain"

High up on my list of concerns is the way in which our team seem to be ageing in front of our eyes. Pablo Zabaleta had to replaced here because Bournemouth targeted him in much the same way as Newcastle did, and got nearly as much joy from it. He gets a light ride from the London Stadium crowd because he's enthusiastic and runs around like a toddler on Fanta, but the truth is that his positional play still leaves a lot to be desired and we are forced to expose him as a wing back because we can't defend without playing three in the middle. The chances of him being able to play twice in three days strikes me as minimal, meaning that I suspect we'll see Rice at Wembley against Spurs, and seriously - are Sam Byram's hamstrings made out of spaghetti?

Zaba's going on a run again!

Zabaleta has also been booked seven times already this season, opening him up to red cards, and when players like Ryan Fraser can give him the kind of torrid afternoon that he did here, it bodes poorly for the remaining eighteen months of that characteristically stupid contract. Likewise, Winston Reid didn't even make the team here as he dropped out for Collins and we are now reduced to hoping that he didn't injure himself in doing so. With Fonte also out long term, it would explain the apparent interest in Alfie Mawson who might cost £25m but can at least still go on an 18-30 holiday if he wants to. I don't know much about Mawson, but it would be lovely if Moyes could target a centre back who can actually pass the ball rather than hoof it in the general direction of Andy Carroll irrespective of whether he is on the pitch or not. 

In front of them, Cheikhou Kouyate had another afternoon to forget, as his Catherine Wheel impression continued to have little impact on the game. Pedro Obiang has attracted a lot of opprobrium for his performances in these last couple of games, but I thought it was noticeable how much better he played alongside a proper central midfielder - Mark Noble - than we saw here. There is quite a lot of pressure on that central midfield area in this formation, given that we are giving up a body to play in the back three, and it asks a lot of the defensive midfielder. After a promising start, in which Obiang looked like he might actually improve a little under Moyes, he has regressed and was replaced here by Carroll - our Goliath for all seasons. I'm not quite ready to judge the Spaniard in this system until we see him get a run out alongside a better midfield partner, but I don't think it was a coincidence that we looked much better when Lanzini went deeper and started our attacks. Either way, I predict some reinforcements will be arriving soon. 

The double substitution of Carroll and Chicharito was supposed to galvanise us, but in reality just highlighted the paucity of attacking options that we currently seem to have. With only Lanzini and Masuaku able to create from deeper areas, we have to either rely on the mobile physicality of Antonio and Arnautovic or resort to the long range bombing approach and launch mortars at Fort Carroll and hope for something to land at the feet of Chicharito. And while we do that, the plan was that the sturdy defensive setup constructed by Moyes would allow us to keep clean sheets. 

If we can't maintain any defensive structure while being more expansive, then Moyes will have to apply the handbrake and revert to a less attacking style to try and give us a chance of winning games like this 1-0. It might not be pretty, but relegation scraps never are. In the driving rain of the South Coast, we dropped two very precious points because of some awful refereeing, but also because we were defensively all over the place. 


"Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is, I wish they'd cut it out quick, but when they will I can only guess"
- Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"

It's nearly January everyone, and that means that David Sullivan is going to be staying up really late ringing agents in South America and furiously flicking through YouTube highlight reels in search of the next Nene. As every West Ham fan knows, the New Year generally brings yet more stupidity in the boardroom, and with the team waist deep in relegation trouble, this time will be no different. Brilliantly, someone in the West Ham/Sullivan PR team decided that a great way to kick off this particular transfer window would be to carry a story in the Mail about how Dave Sullivan Jr lives in a £40m luxury flat and "works harder than anyone he knows".

Another heart warming Christmas story

In fairness to the kid, I'd hate to be judged on things I said and did at the age of twenty, and so I'll choose to ignore the generally crass theme of the article and the incredibly tone deaf decision to celebrate unfathomable, undeserved wealth at a time when so many people in the country are suffering in a stagnant economy. But, honestly, who the hell thinks this stuff is a good idea? Why do these kids keep getting repeatedly exposed to public scrutiny of their lives and activities when it is such a red rag to a fanbase who already think their father is tight and screwing money out of the club? None of this is complicated - but when we're about to enter a month of transfer activity which will define our season, why would you be in the media boasting about your wealth...

...if you're going to do things like this?

Can you see how these two pictures cause problems, Dave? It doesn't matter whether the N'Zonzi story is true, or the fact that I agree that a loan approach is better, because the account that carried it has over sixty thousand followers and this cheap looking style fits a club who seem to have no money.

There were also lots of rumours today about Reece Oxford moving permanently to Germany, although we may now apparently recall him to play for us instead. The rumour there was that Moyes was keen to move the kid on in order to get some cash in for new signings. Quite why we should need cash given that we spent such a low sum in the summer is an issue in itself, but beyond that it also highlights the total stupidity of allowing a potentially temporary manager to make such decisions. Ask yourself whether you would want the substitute teacher expelling your kid, and that will give you an idea of how good a decision making set up this would be. 

Moyes doesn't need to worry about what our squad will look like in 2020 because he knows that if we  go down this summer he won't be here to worry about it. Once again a Director of Football would be best placed to make such a decision, and once again we don't have one. Let's therefore hope that the Oxford recall is with a view to turning him into a better West Ham player, rather than with a view to turning him into enough cash to buy declining 29 year old players for a relegation battle. We already have a squad full of them. 

It's unimportant that one of these can get you a Mirallas

Yes, Oxford might have an attitude problem, and maybe he has a difficult agent, but those things are true of lots of teenage players. In the end, this is a chance for us to get a potentially high quality player for nothing, and flogging him to allow Sullivan to waste yet more funds on his idea of good footballers doesn't do anything for me. Oxford will mature one day, and we'll regret it immensely if he does so somewhere outside East London. Ultimately, when teams who are better than you want your players, that should tell you something about the asset you have. If we truly don't think we can get the best from an eighteen year old then I guess we should move him on, but in turn I would be asking some questions about exactly why that was the case. 

So, who should we target? Well, I've outlined above how I'd like a centre back - although that is a slightly difficult assessment to make given that we don't really know how highly the club rate any of Reece Oxford, Reece Burke or Not Reece Declan Rice. A right sided defender to cover Zabaleta and Byram's incredible Chinese noodle hamstrings would also be useful. But we also clearly need a central midfielder who can get about the pitch and create something, while a striker that Moyes can trust to do some Diafra Sakho type things without being Diafra Sakho would really be helpful too. 

There is absolutely no chance of us getting all of those players in January, so to my mind they absolutely have to target the midfield as we are currently only playing a three man midfield and still had to play strikers in there for the Arsenal cup game. N'Zonzi wouldn't have been a bad short term acquisition but at 29 he would be yet another to add to the phalanx of ageing one-last-contract types that clutter up our squad. 

A better approach, for this season only, might be to target the big clubs and look at non playing member of their squads who are borderline choices for their countries and taking them on short loans. Anyone wanting to play at the World Cup will need game time between now and May, and we would be the ideal place for someone to stage a revival, provided we don't introduce them to Joe Hart. 

As such, the link to Andre Schurrle makes sense, as would a return for Andre Gomes - a rumoured target around the time of the William Carvalho debacle. I like the idea of getting these hungry, motivated players, who can arrive and have an immediate impact. Of course, historically this has never worked for us but if the alternative is buying another Robert Snodgrass, then I'm happy to give it another whirl. 


"But the drumbeat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new born day"
- Al Stewart, "The Year of the Cat"

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't post an article for the Newcastle game. This wasn't a fit of pique but more because I decided to spend Christmas Eve with the family rather than spewing out 3,000 words on how our midfield was overrun by Mo Diame. I did, however, vent a little on Twitter which you can find here. 

I've also been asking for some recollections from fans on Frank Lampard Jr, for a retro piece I'm writing at the moment. Any contributions would be gratefully accepted.

And with that, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Happy New Year and to thank you for reading The H List in 2017. See you in 2018 - it's West Brom to start, so that's bound to be hugely entertaining.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Arsenal 1 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"I'm wasting all my time
I push it all away"
- Day Wave, "Wasting Time"

Context, context, context. Breathe in, breathe out, stare longingly at that semi final draw and try and put all of this into context. We have a lot of injuries. Arsenal have enough players to have two separate teams. Arsene Wenger's dad is refereeing. All those eighteen year olds. It was cold. 

But even with all of that being true, this still feels like a hollow defeat. To borrow from cricketing parlance - we died wondering. And so, on the way home last night, I found myself pondering whether this had been one of the most pointless endeavours in human history. Ninety minutes played with just a single shot at goal from us, and only one shot on target from both sides in the entire game, which Joe Hart most certainly did not save. What a colossal waste of time. 

Watching such impressive futility I couldn't help but think of the Roman Emperor, Caligula, who was apparently so furious with the sea that he ordered his soldiers to take their spears and stab the water, and then commanded them to collect sea shells as tokens of victory. In his defence, I have often felt like this about my new Sky Q box.

Sadly, this story is unlikely to be true and is widely regarded to be a concoction of Roman historians, but as I watched Aaron Cresswell battle gamely here as a very makeshift right wing back, I couldn't help but think that if we gave him some Speedo's, a beachtowel and a speargun he couldn't actually do any worse than he was doing. 

"I wonder if there are any central midfielders in here?" says David Moyes

"Oh is this the way they say the future's meant to feel?
Or just twenty thousand people standing in a field?"
- Pulp, "Sorted Out for E's and Whizz"

So what did this mean exactly? What was the point of that stirring, life affirming, renewing-our-vows-of-fidelity comeback at Wembley if we were going to surrender so meekly here? After all, this was a quarter final of a major trophy and it's a pretty messed up set of priorities when we're exchanging all of that glorious possibility for a shot at finishing 12th in the league. But it's really a bit more nuanced than all that.

Of course, we took seven thousand fans last night, and even at a tenner a ticket we were being fleeced, given the performance, but before tearing into Moyes and the players too quickly, I will ask a broader question of those fans who are rightly angry at such an insipid display. For me, the issue here is not one of whether we should have been more attacking, but more one of whether we actually could have been more attacking? Because, while I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that we should never spurn any opportunity to win a trophy, I think it's also reasonable to ask exactly what people would have done differently. Simply saying "have a go" or "show a bit of passion" isn't sufficient because those are meaningless phrases. The question here is...how?

The problem for Moyes essentially boiled down to the fact that he had no midfield available to him. He lost Edimilson Fernandes, Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble to the West Ham annual Christmas injury bug, and Manuel Lanzini to a suspension after he was found guilty of diving whilst playing for a team with a turnover of less than £150m. Similarly absent were Josh Cullen and Reece Oxford who are on gap years somewhere getting their hair braided on the Inca trail, and Michail Antonio was declared unavailable by our medical team after it was confirmed that this game would last longer than an hour. 

So before he even began Moyes was shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic, and his answer was to hand starts to a pair of eighteen year old kids in Declan Rice and Domingos Quina. Alongside them was Obiang and they sat in front of a back five where Cresswell was pushed into service as a right wing back because Sam Byram has hamstrings made of blancmange and Pablo Zabaleta has bingo at Help the Aged on a Tuesday. To say we were under strength doesn't quite cover it. I didn't see a lack of effort on the pitch, but more a startling lack of ability. 

Declan, you go here, Aaron, you go here...

As such, we battled manfully enough, but with no creativity in the middle we kept running into problems once we got past the halfway line. Our sole opportunities came when Arthur Masuaku was on the ball and was able to run with it. Beyond that, we were reduced to aimless punts in the direction of Chicharito, and generally hoping that we might get a corner and smuggle one in. 

For his part, I didn't think that the Mexican did enough to hold the ball up, and instead spent too long trying to run off the shoulder of the last defender. That's not proper forward play, and unless you have some pretty accurate long range passers in key positions, is destined to fail - and we had James Collins and Declan Rice. 

Ironically, the one time Chicharito did get in behind, he latched on to an Obiang through ball and was immediately bundled over by one of Chambers or Holding (I couldn't tell them apart). It was a certain foul, and possibly a discussion over a red card. Instead, referee Kevin Friend just ignored it and waved play on. Ho, hum, get the tin foil hats out again lads. 


"There's the hum, young man where you from? Brooklyn number one
Native son, speaking in the native tongue
I got my eyes on tomorrow"
- Mos Def, "Hip Hop"

On a night of vanishingly few positives, and a literally vanishing Andre Ayew, I took some comfort from the performance of Domingos Quina. He started uncertainly, which is fair enough when you're up against players of the experience of Coquelin and Elneny, but I felt he grew into the game and showed some nice touches. He is diminutive in stature and clearly needs a bit more game time but I thought he showed enough to warrant further looks. 

By contrast, I felt the game mostly passed Rice by, which is also fine because he's a centre back being asked to play in midfield and is also just eighteen. I can see why he gets in ahead of Quina, because he is versatile and more physically ready, but ninety minutes of passing the ball four yards sideways to Obiang didn't convince me that he has a future in midfield. To be honest, I'd rather he went on loan somewhere in the Championship for a month and got kicked around a bit and made his mistakes there instead of for us. I'll also note that I don't want him to have a season long kick-the-issue-up-the-road loan, like Reece Burke is having. 

I must also confess that, particularly in this venue, it caused me to once more ponder the merit of sending Reece Oxford elsewhere. I suppose it's always true that on nights like this, players who aren't in the team can certainly improve a great deal. 

With those two youngsters alongside him, Obiang was frequently overrun and so Ayew was often seen dropping back, and as a result we really struggled to get forward at all. it also highlighted that none of Ogbonna, Reid or Collins can distribute the ball, and really hammered home the benefot of having Fonte or Cresswell in there, simply so that the ball can be passed forward with an entire bloody rosary of Hail Mary's to accompany it. As you can see from this 11Tegen11 shot map, we managed a solitary effort at goal - a Cresswell free kick - and apart from that were reduced to cheering the half time penalties going in past the Gunnersaurus.

I mean, honestly, that's not even a shot map - it's a Subbuteo pitch with some gravy spilled on it. The goal was a cavalcade of shitness as Hart stayed rooted to his line, while our centre backs bumped into each other like they were blindfolded and drunk and playing party games, and Danny Welbeck popped up to shin the ball in after controlling it on his stomach. As a metaphor for the game itself, it was a little too on the nose if anything, and even the guys waving those annoying flags behind the goals did so a bit sheepishly. 

And that was it. A League cup quarter final that circled the drain and disappeared without even the hint of an intervention. Not even the late, desperate decision to fling on Carroll and Sakho paid off as the latter was sulking and the former spent the entire time giving away fouls or being fouled. Sadly, the referee was adopting the old boxing adage of giving the edge to the team on the front foot, and thus ignored all of that. He also failed to do anything at all about Arsenal's timewasting and injury feigning in the last ten minutes - the only world class thing anybody did on the pitch all night. None of it made any difference of course, as we were so bad, but on a night when there was no beer on sale, and no spark on the pitch, it all just added to the irritation. 


"Just wait 'til tomorrow
I guess that's what they all say, before they fell apart"
- New Order, "Regret"

But let's deal with something now, namely that this was a big game, and we never showed up. Context is important, and we can't ignore that we're in no position to sacrifice league points in pursuit of anything, but what this also signified for me was two things; firstly, that our squad is almost criminally weak, and that the death of the league cup as a credible competition is almost upon us. 

The timing doesn't help. We are about to enter a period when our season will be determined, and we'll be playing five league games in fifteen days. We will have to play those fixtures without any help from January additions, because the game will all be over before they get here. So Moyes had to pick his poison and I can't argue with how he chose. 

By contrast, a team like Arsenal actually need these games because it allows them to give playing time to fringe players. Between the league cup and the Europa League it's actually eminently possible for Wenger to give these guys a dozen games before Christmas, which is a nice way to keep your players happy. As such, this competition has become a godsend for those with bloated squads (the big clubs), and a nightmare for anyone trying to preserve ageing legs going into the woodchipper that is Christmas (everyone else). 

What this has done then, is reinforce the point in the minds of chairmen and managers that the Premier League TV money of £80m is a far greater reward for a season's work than a cup victory. And while fans might disagree with that on a cellular level, we all also know that there is some truth in that. I hear plenty of fans arguing that they would take a Cup victory and relegation, but I have to assume that those people have not heard of Wigan. Sadly, even though I hate myself for typing it, it's not as straightforwardly binary as making that kind of choice. Fans forget that when you make a semi final now it's a two legged affair in January, when your knackered, depleted squad might very well lose 9-0 on aggregate to Manchester City, so even in that theoretical scenario it's not guaranteed that winning here would get us a trophy. 

But what's also maddening about this, and the piece I sympathise with enormously, is that this is one of only two things we can win. As a mid table club, we are totally reliant upon cup competitions for actual silverware, and therefore to pack up and give up on half of our chances doesn't sit well. In fairness, I don't think it sat well with Moyes either, and as I've said above, I saw his stance as being one of necessity rather than ideology. But the fact is, West Ham are precisely the kind of club for whom the League Cup should be an aspiration. We should be too good to go down and too inconsistent to dream of much else, so this should be a target that we go after with all the zealotry of a Republican congressman cutting children's healthcare in an attempt to reduce his own taxes. But that's just not possible with this squad. 

And even though I gave David Sullivan some credit for his hiring of Moyes at the weekend, I sincerely hope he spent this ninety minutes with his cheeks burning and his eyes on the ground. Look at the state of that midfield, David, and tell me you're proud of your summer's work. The folly and hubris of those purchases was laid bare as we ended this game with Ayew and Arnautovic in a three man midfield, and Rice as a wing back and even then our best hope of scoring was still our left back. 

I thought it was telling that at the weekend, Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe rotated his entire midfield for their game at home to Liverpool. Not that it did them any good, but the point remains. Other teams have depth where we have none, and it's going to be an incredibly long winter if that's not addressed, no matter how well organised our back four has suddenly become.


"But my mother always said you can forgive and forget, and expect that most promises won't be kept
I guess I gave credit where it wasn't deserved
Some brothers must have preferred not to keep their word"
- Jurassic 5, "Great Expectations"

Another day, another falling out with Diafra Sakho. I understand why he, and other fans, might be frustrated with his lack of playing time, but he's seemingly such a disruptive influence that I can understand why Moyes isn't prioritising his happiness over that of people like Ayew or Hernandez, who aren't openly campaigning to leave the club at least. 

So, with the Senegalese apparently getting £50,000 every time he starts a league game, he has started...zero league games this season. All very Entertainment 720, for those of you who know your Parks and Recreation, and seemingly a sure fire way to piss off a player who you need. 

Fifty grand to start!

It's not that I think we owe anything much to Sakho, given his propensity for disappearing when the going gets tough, but I just don't understand why he would be given this incentive and then actively prohibited from reaching it. He has been ignored all season, firstly in deference to Carroll and lately in favour of two midfielders turned forwards. I can see why he might be a bit pissed off, and think that was a deliberate attempt to avoid paying him his due. 

In addition, the sad reality is that he is the only one of our actual forwards with the capabilities to do what Moyes clearly wants from his front men - namely, to run channels, hold the ball up and get about the pitch with more mobility than a trebuchet. But from where Moyes sits, I can certainly understand how little desire there would be to accommodate the wishes of a player who is openly determined to leave. 

What a way to do business. 

Up the other end Joe Hart had another one of those evenings where he didn't do anything wrong but he didn't do anything right, and he won't be back between the sticks on Saturday. There was a strange, slightly down moment when some fans started singing Adrian's name after Hart came charging off his line and was booked for - as far as I could tell - not touching Welbeck. I get that fans feel Adrian has been hard done by, but when that manifests itself in actively trying to undermine the confidence of the guy on the pitch then that's a bridge too far for me. I accept that this was a frustrating night, a Fast and Furious movie of a night, a One Direction members solo album of a night and a general waste of time. But we must be better than that. 

After all, slagging off players generally has one outcome - it makes other players dislike the fans and the club. What do we think that Hart's mates in the dressing room think when they hear that? What about prospective signings, who are already wondering about joining a club with a near constant media circus surrounding us, a rehabilitating manager and an owner with a tendency to comment on them in the press? It's no wonder that Sullivan has to work harder than Antoine Griezmann's PR company just to get anybody through the door for a chat. 

Come on folks - we're better than that. When I wrote my retro pieces about Ian Bishop, Trevor Sinclair and Jack Collison, the unifying feature was how all of them felt a connection with the wider West Ham fanbase that helped them in moments of darkness. I'm sure that there are plenty of other players who would state that they had the opposite experience, but the point does still hold, I think. We can make a difference, and we should try and make the difference a positive one. Otherwise, we're just wasting our time. We might as well stab the sea. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Stoke 0 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Honey, it's been a long time waiting
Such a long, long time
But I can't stop now"
- Embrace, "Gravity"

We may be into territory where we need to admit something here. It's been around eighteen months since I started writing The H List again on a regular basis, inspired by the nascent exhilaration of the 2015/16 season, and during that time the club have managed to get pretty much everything wrong. The stadium move was a painful disappointment, the transfer dealings have resembled a Brewster's Millions remake and the ongoing saga over when Slaven Bilic would be fired did little to suggest that the Directors of the club had any idea what they were doing. 

I've finally found a manager in a worse position than me!

But as David Moyes' new look West Ham side swept away a woeful Stoke City, it occurred to me that we probably need to acknowledge that David Sullivan may have played a blinder here. When Moyes was first mooted as a possible successor to Bilic I fell into the same trap as many, painting him as a cheap, busted flush who had failed for five years and somehow managed to threaten a female journalist in his last job. 

I'm still uncomfortable at the last point, but that might be a discussion about contrition and punishment for another day. As it is, Moyes seems rejuvenated. He no longer has the thousand yard stare of a three tour Vietnam veteran and instead looks like a man in control of his own destiny once more. By contrast, Mark Hughes wears the permanent sneer of a man who haggles in Poundland, and I don't mind admitting I'll raise a glass when he gets his P45 for Christmas. I suspect it will be bitter, much like the Welshman. 

It's too soon to be feting Sullivan as a genius, especially given that the reason for the precarious nature of our current position is that he persisted far too long with Bilic when he'd clearly lost his way. But if he has to carry the can for that inertia, then he should also get the credit for this - currently - good looking appointment. It has been a long time since I've seen a West Ham team go away from home like this and simply dismantle an opponent with fast, incisive counterattacking and a solid defence. It won't always be this way, of course, but if we can't take a moment to drink in a victory like this, and simultaneously revel in the disappointment of our vanquished opponent, then what the hell are we here for? It's this misplaced sense of superiority which binds us all together as football fans, after all. 


"I went out into the night, I went out to find some light
Kids are swinging from the power lines, nobody's home so nobody minds"
- Arcade Fire, "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)"

This game ended up kicking off an hour late because Mark Hughes got into an argument with a traffic warden and staged a one man sit in outside the Britannia Stadium gates. This prevented electricians from getting in to restore power to the area and the stand off was only ended when some local children agreed to pay the £60 fine for Hughes. I imagine. 

Uncle Mark's coming for Christmas, kids!

It's always a little disconcerting for fans when things like this happen, as you never quite know how players will react to small changes in routine. The extra hour of warming up, or physio or sitting around listening to music affect different people in different ways. We came flying out of the traps, however, and settled into a nice looking style of play where Manuel Lanzini was able to get forward in support of Marko Arnautovic and Michail Antonio. Without the constant need to worry about losing the ball and not getting it back for ages - as with recent weeks - we pushed our wing backs further forward, and noticeably sought to play higher up the pitch than we did against the good teams we've been playing lately. 

I am slowly coming to terms with our front two comprising a pair of converted wide forwards, because both are physically strong and have enough mobility to stretch defences. It is a far cry from watching us smash it long towards Andy Carroll in the manner of kids launching water balloons at an abandoned tree house, after all. So it was that we had a number of early long range chances, as we used our smaller share of possession much more incisively than the home team. Antonio and Lanzini had sighters and generally we carried a sense of menace that has been absent for a while, as that front pair pushed and pulled the immobile Stoke backline out of their preferred positions, and received a few bruised ankles for their troubles. 

We were very fortunate to take the lead, however, as Ryan Shawcross took a break from kicking Antonio to head a cross against a post. Thereafter followed the big controversy of the game as Lanzini carried the ball seventy yards before falling under the challenge of Erik Pieters. I thought that Masuaku committed a foul before it got to the Argentine anyway, but there's no denying that his run was brilliant and also that Pieters was stupid to go to ground in the box and not get anywhere near the ball. 

But we also have to accept that diving is a blight on the game and, while I feel no sympathy for Stoke, we do need to try and eradicate it because decisions like this can just as easily go against us. So, although I thought Lanzini went over slightly in anticipation of a physical contact that never really came, he bought the penalty with a dive and had it been at the other end I would have been fuming. 

As I write this, Lanzini has been charged and will miss the next two games. I'm not unhappy about divers being punished but there are a couple of points to observe here. One is that players will now have to take oncoming contact in incidents such as these. I guess that's fine until you have to play against, well, Stoke and Ryan Shawcross comes a knockin'. Secondly, this creates a huge imbalance in the disciplinary process whereby players who are booked for a foul cannot be punished later, even when a red card is merited. Therefore we get a situation where Harry Kane and Dele Alli can commit red card tackles in the game at Manchester City and yet neither will miss a match, while Lanzini misses two for an offence that didn't physically endanger anybody. That isn't fair. 

It's worth keeping an eye on who gets punished under these rules too. We all like to highlight opposition players who dive - Kane, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling and Ashley Young off the top of my head - but don't like to accept it when it's closer to home. Lanzini dived and deserves a punishment, but there will be plenty of others who will do the same this season and I will be very interested to see how many Top Six players are hit under the same rules. I'm also slightly perplexed that players who go down in a game and are noticed will get either a booking or nothing, but players punished retrospectively get a two game ban. That seems...inconsistent. 

After all of that, Mark Noble stepped up on his 300th Premier League appearance for us and gave us a deserved lead. As we saw at Everton a couple of weeks back, it's very useful to have a man who can hold his nerve in such situations. 


"But now it's come to distances and both of us must try
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye"
- Leonard Cohen, "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye"

Stoke fans have not reacted well to Marko Arnautovic heading south in pursuit of fame and glory and, well, yes loads more money. We're in no position to talk, of course, given that there are West Ham fans who were not born until the Nineties but still boo Paul Ince's son, for reasons they know not why. We hold grudges better than anyone, and in fact I feel it might very well be our defining feature as supporters. Cross us and we will boo the shit out of you forty years later when you're trying to buy a mobility scooter. 

What is odd though, is that even the most one eyed Stoke fan can surely see the logic behind his decision. West Ham can pay far more in wages than Stoke, so it's perfectly logical that a 28 year old, signing his last long term deal, would plump for the club that can pay him the most. I won't even descend into the parochial rabbit warren of arguing whether London is a better place to live than Stoke, but just purely from a financial standpoint it is an obvious decision. Stoke fans will of course argue that West Ham is a basket case club, but when the options on the table are "earn the same and stay at this middling Premier League club" or "earn more and move to this basket case middling Premier League club" I simply cannot see how there can ever be any surprise when a player chooses the latter.

Arnie, here, Adebayoring it very nicely indeed

It probably didn't hurt that good ol' Slaven was doing the buying because you get the sense that Moyes wouldn't ever buy a player like Arnautovic, even if he is doing a substantially better job than Bilic of utilising him. It also couldn't have hurt to have been leaving Mark Hughes behind, given that he has the permanent expression of a man who heckles children at school assemblies.

What is even stranger about all this is that the Stoke fans then dished out all the abuse they could manage and then still seemed utterly shocked - SHOCKED I TELL YOU - to discover that Arnautovic would then want to give them some back when he scored. Even better was Hughes giving him some abuse as he walked off, and then later expressing his disappointment that Arnautovic had responded at all. Then we got the usual bullshit about how Stoke had "taken a chance" on him when nobody else would, and he should have repaid that faith. Yeah, calm down Sparky - you're making it sound like you recruited him to the Dirty Dozen from Death Row. Arnautovic is a professional footballer who was playing for Werder Bremen at a level very similar to the one he found in England. Football fans and managers love to pull out the sanctimony card, but the reality is that clubs like Stoke can drop £2m on a player like him without blinking an eyelid, so portraying that as a huge risk is mendacious and patronising.

So, he played very well for Stoke and then saw an opportunity for a big payday and took it, and in doing so displayed all the loyalty to Stoke that they would have shown him if he'd broken his leg six months from the end of his contract. And talking of that, it's worth remembering that when Stoke fans try and clamber on to the high ground they do so as a bunch who booed Aaron Ramsey for having the temerity to have his leg shattered by one of their players. Football fans are a strange bunch.

This is a ruthless business and while I understand the frustration at losing players to a team they think (incorrectly) that they are better than, I struggle to get how Stoke fans feel that some type of blood oath has been shattered. I would give them the same advice I give myself whenever we encounter our own Arnautovic types - Hi Dimitri! - forget about the players, we're cheering for laundry.


"Well, I'm so tired of crying
But I'm out on the road again, I'm on the road again"
Willie Nelson, "On The Road Again"

I feel I should also point out, for any of you who missed the game, that although a 3-0 win where the opposition are restricted to no shots on target sounds like a comfortable win, it didn't necessarily always feel that way. This was primarily due to us missing more chances than one could have conceivably believed without prior knowledge of a match fixing scandal. Arnautovic alone had five clear chances before scoring, and hit the woodwork twice, and generally looked like he would never score, until he did. After Diafra Sakho was introduced he also had a couple of good chances himself, including one where he attempted to manoeuvre the ball in using just his groin, which was an admittedly interesting development.

Thus, there was a cavalcade of "Mighty Ducks" style misses before Arnautovic finally scored in the 75th minute. He then left the field four minutes later to the sound of Hughes berating him for not signing up to his petition demanding that spikes be placed in doorways all through Stoke to deter homeless people from sleeping there, 'cos "they'll never learn otherwise, Beryl". Probably. 

Sakho then popped up with a third, and we could easily have grabbed a fourth but for Hernandez shooting from a tight angle when Lanzini was unmarked about eight fucking inches from goal. It is superbly churlish to say it, but we actually missed out on a chance to massage our goal difference a bit in this game.

The Caley Graphics shot map does show that Stoke had some decent chances, albeit they never managed to direct any on target. The best of them fell to Ryan Shawcross when the score was still at 1-0, but because he was unmarked in the area he had nobody to kick, and thus with all his focus on an actual footballing skill, he headed it over.

What is immediately noticeable about our chances is how many were inside the box and how many were really high quality chances. By contrast, Stoke had a lot of efforts but had nine blocked compared to just one for us. We managed to get seven efforts on target, compared to none for Stoke, and also hit the bar twice. That is a good day at the office.

We also absorbed the loss of Winston Reid to suspension by bringing in James Collins, a man with the distribution qualities of an Amazon delivery driver. Still, even with Collins smacking it over the neighbour's gate every so often, we still built nicely from the back, and really got purring late in the day when Stoke advanced and left space for Lanzini to run riot. I continue to be astounded at the deathbed conversions of Ogbonna and Cresswell who have transformed themselves from shell shocked Tommies to confident SAS types in the space of a month, and it says much for the system that Moyes is building that this was the third different iteration of his three at the back system, and we've still only conceded to Manchester City using it. Rice for Reid for Collins and everything has kept on rolling as it is. That's how it's supposed to be.

When Bilic left we had one wheel firmly in the ditch by the side of the road, the airbags had gone off, the hazard lights were flashing and someone had left the radio tuned to bloody Capital, with a broken volume setting. In short...hell. What Moyes has done is dragged us out of that ditch and put us firmly back on the road again. We're only at the beginning of the journey, but I'm certainly encouraged by the fact that the driver at least appears to know which way he's supposed to be going.


"No sweeping exit, or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter, or treat you unkind"
- Gram Parsons, "Wild Horses"

With a corner definitively turned and everything on the up, it could be argued that we could really have done without an away cup quarter final at Arsenal. Unfortunately, given the size and quality of their squad it's hard to see that we'll get much change out of a well rested set of Arsenal reserves, especially without Lanzini and Arnautovic who both look like they will be missing.

It's worth pointing out that if we didn't get bad draws in cup competitions we wouldn't ever get pulled out of the hat. Of course, we can't say for certain that's what happened this time as Carabao conducted entire thing offscreen in a not-at-all-suspicious draw that miraculously kept all of the biggest teams apart. Presumably someone had overheated the balls before hand and one had burst in to flames and set the whole set on fire.

As it is, our draws since the beginning of the 2014/15 season are as follows:


League Cup

Sheffield United (h) : 1-1 (Lost on penalties, those useless bastards)

FA Cup

Everton (a)  : 1-1
Everton (h) : 2-2 (Won on penalties, those wonderful bastards)
Bristol City (a) : 1-0
WBA (a) : 0-4 (That's right - four. FOUR fucking nil to West Fucking Brom)


League Cup

Leicester (a) : 1-2

FA Cup

Wolves (h) : 1-0
Liverpool (a) : 0-0
Liverpool (h) : 2-1
Blackburn (a) : 5-1
Man Utd (a) : 1-1
Man Utd (h) : 1-2


League Cup

Accrington Stanley (h) : 1-0
Chelsea (h) : 2-1
Man Utd (a) : 1-4

FA Cup

Man City (h) : 0-5


League Cup

Cheltenham (a) : 2-0
Bolton (h) : 3-0
Spurs (a) : 3-2
Arsenal (a) : Erm

FA Cup

Shrewsbury (a) : Double erm

"Do you think they'll notice we haven't actually done a draw?"

So for anyone keeping score at home that's each of the self styled Big Six, including Manchester United twice away from home in quarter finals. In addition, we managed to get Leicester away in their title winning season, and of the eighteen draws made in that time we've been away on twelve occasions. I've not got too much time for conspiracy theories on that last point, as rigging draws to keep us from playing at home really would be a spectacular waste of time and effort, but in general nothing would surprise me less than a revelation that Cup sponsors are able to request that bigger teams are kept apart in the draw.

So it's a bit unlucky, and tomorrow nights game comes in the middle of a run of important league fixtures where we absolutely have to pick up points. At this early stage, with Lanzini suspended, Noble and Fernandes apparently injured, and Kouyate still a doubt, it does rather beg the question of who plays in midfield. People might be yelling for Sead Haksabanovic and Domingos Quina, but chucking two 18 year olds in to face Arsenal seems like a recipe for disaster, especially as another - Declan Rice - will presumably be playing as well. It's at times like this that it seems even more foolhardy to have the likes of Josh Cullen and Reece Oxford warming the benches of other clubs when they could be playing in games like these, but perhaps that's hindsight gone too far.

So we travel to the Emirates more in hope than expectation, although that was pretty much the same deal when we went to Spurs and that turned out alright. If nothing else, this will be another chance for the now famous Moyes defensive resilience to be tested, as well as a chance for a run out for Joe Hart which will be nice, so long as nobody shoots in that one side of the goal where he can't save anything. And here's a thing I noticed on Saturday, that gives me a little bit more confidence going in to this game than I probably should own up to - there were players laughing and smiling at Stoke, during the game. There was a confidence in the team that I can't really recall seeing for a year or two. PLayers like Cresswell and Lanzini suddenly look as though they are living their lifelong dreams once again, rather than being pressganged into a bank robbery that they really think is going to end badly.

Contrast that with Mark Hughes, a man replete with a face like he's just stung a bee.


It occurs to me that I never mentioned my big night out at the FSF Awards. I appreciate that not all of you waste your time on Twitter so may not know that I didn't win the Best Blogger Award, despite investing in an expensive and - I now realise - fraudulent Russian hacking scam offer. 

I would, though, like to thank all of you who voted for me either for the nominations or in the vote itself, and I am very appreciative of all the good luck messages on the night. Kieron at The Swiss Ramble won the award and is a very worthy winner. Still, one should never turn down a free meal and I did get a nice cheer in the room from the Hammers in situ. My thanks to all, it was a nice ride. 

This is not me, it's Ledley King, but I forgot to take any pictures

Friday, December 15, 2017

West Ham 0 - 0 Arsenal (And Other Ramblings)

"Yeah but be careful what you wish for friend
'Cause I've been to hell and now I'm back again
But I feel alright, yeah I feel alright tonight"
- Steve Earle, "Feel Alright"

All the pieces matter

One of my long held dreams is to write a script. Lots of people have the same idea, and while I'm hammering out three thousand words a week on West Ham's lack of either any defensive midfield cover or transfer strategy, then I'm unlikely to ever get round to it. I did write a few for FourFourTwo and once described a match at Hull through the medium of a screenplay, but mostly I start them, don't finish them and they sit unread on my hard drive. 

But what led me to want to do this was my love for the seminal TV series, The Wire. Set in turn of the  century Baltimore, it covered the never ending drug war between gangs and the police before detouring into social commentary about the school system and the effect of modernisation on such eclectic groups as stevedores and journalists. Even today, it remains the gold standard for interconnected storytelling and opened my eyes to the power of a brilliantly constructed storyline and supporting screenplays. 

(By the way, I made a flippant offhand comment about my love for this show in a previous column and was forced to run a poll to confirm that Season Two is indeed the best, so that is now decided and there is no need to contact me to tell me you wrongly believe otherwise). 

None of which should really be of any relevance to West Ham playing Arsenal. Except that as I watched us gamely battle for a point here, I kept returning to the central tenet of The Wire - namely that all the pieces matter. From the lowly drug addict to the mayor, by way of the Polish dock workers and the inner city teachers, there is a role for everyone and everything in the hands of the right author. 

And without waxing too lyrical about a man who has won just once in his six games, you can see elements of that holistic approach to what David Moyes is doing at West Ham. For so long we have become accustomed to watching a team that is very obviously less than the sum of it's parts. And yet now I feel that even as I watch us struggle to contain Arsenal, there is something happening. Players who, just two weeks ago, looked like Baltimore junkies are now bursting about the pitch with newly discovered energy and drive. 

From towels on the side of the pitch to aid Michail Antonio's long throws, to the resurgence of Marko Arnautovic, there is the overriding feeling that this is a team finally being given a sense of structure. Witness how many times in this game a recovering defender was in the right place to stick out a leg or make a vital block. It might be tempting for Arsenal fans to write that off as a bad night at the office, but what I saw was a Premier League team organised into a unit that is, finally, hard to break down. 


"You wait for it to happen
Like it will fall into your lap
An unbreakable habit"
- Hundred Waters, "Wave to Anchor"

After this game started, and Arsenal had come flying out of the traps like Sam Allardyce sprinting into a Toby Carvery Happy Hour, we struggled to get a foot on the ball. At one point, after a series of dangerous raids, I looked up to see how long we had to go until half time and realised we'd only been playing for seven minutes. That's not a great sign. I usually reserve such clock watching for when Mrs Shark makes me watch films starring Katherine Heigl. 

I have little doubt that under Slaven Bilic we would have conceded in this period and gone on to lose the game 4-1. I've watched The Wire a few times over, but I've also seen us get tonked at home by the big boys plenty of times too. This game had all of those warning signs, but here is where all of the pieces did their job. Shots were blocked, tackles were won, saves were made and the post was rattled but we survived. We got through it. 

And then suddenly we had the ball in the net, and although it was ruled out because Arnautovic had criminally allowed himself to stray offside despite looking down the line, it did prove that for all the focus on defence Moyes does seem able to conjure up some pretty decent chances.

As usual the Caley Graphics shot map pretty accurately matches my recollection of things as it shows Arsenal having lots of low quality chances that were so high in volume that you figured one would eventually go in, but actually they never got too close. We reserved most of our attacking for the last five minutes when we suddenly burst into life and Chicharito rattled the bar with a great chance that would have given us an undeserved win. To be honest, the only difference between this game and Chelsea is that we took our chance on Saturday.

What struck me about this game is how frustrating it must be to watch Arsenal all the time. I do admire them, and I like Arsene Wenger, because they are one of the few English teams with a true footballing identity but they seem almost impervious to the realities of modern football. Wenger has refused to equivocate and continues to have his teams pass the ball incessantly, which they did here again tonight to the tune of having the ball 70% of the time. But what is also noticeable is how much of that play was in front of our defence. They rarely got behind us and so for all the laser guided precision of their passing and movement, there wasn't a huge amount of substance to those attacks. 

Indeed, Arsenal remind me of the show homes you see when you go to a new development. Your initial impression is likely to be one of great desire, but it is important to ask yourself - "Is this practical? Does this actually work? Will this be of any use in the real word?"

The Arsenal - Looks lovely, that's about it

And this is where Wenger's masterplan falls apart. A limited but spirited West Ham team, with a new manager and a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder from this fixture last year, were able to repel his team with some ease. I have no dog in the fight beyond the fact that Arsenal are one of the few other Premier League teams I will watch in a game not including us, because their football is so enjoyable to watch. But at some point it surely has to be worth asking whether that show home is really any use. Because in real life the fact you've got two dozen boxes of books and your sofa is slightly too big and the kids leave their bags everywhere and the washing machine is in an open plan room all really matter. 

The difference between them and Manchester City is palpable, but that's true of every other team. But they also don't compare all that well to Spurs or Liverpool either. I don't think either of those teams play a scintillating, easy on the eye style like Arsenal but I reckon they are both better because they are simply more clinical. The Gunners seem to think that goals will eventually come simply through the repetition of those lovely passing patterns, without ever apparently getting round to determining how. 

At the heart of the Arsenal display here was Jack Wilshere who has long been linked with a move "back" to West Ham, as we are his childhood club apparently. Watching his first half performance here it was impossible to imagine that Wenger would let him leave, as he was the best player on the pitch. His movement was delightful, and he has that high class ability to look like he has time when he really doesn't. It was tempting to see all that and dream that he'd be the perfect January addition, sitting alongside Manuel Lanzini and adding some sorely needed creative spark. 

But we can't take the risk. If we have learned anything in the last few years it must surely be that paying players to sit in Whipps Cross Hospital is a waste of time. It's bad enough that Andy Carroll now has his own MRI suite at home to save time, but Antonio is also beginning to look like he too is catching the bug. I remain unconvinced that he is over his hamstring injury from last year, which is an incredibly debilitating injury for a player like him, and as such he is essentially a passenger from sixty minutes on in any game he currently plays. 

Against the backdrop of our small squad and horrendous record with injuries I just can't see that Wilshere makes any sense for us. I should also add that we've also been linked with Olivier Giroud and that's just fine with me. If nothing else, we'll appreciate his tonsorial expertise more than those North London heathens. 


"We are always running for the thrill of it, the thrill of it
Always pushing up the hill, searching for the thrill of it"
- Empire of the Sun, "Walking on a Dream"

Much has been made of the newly acquired fitness of the team under Moyes, and the resultant increase in our miles covered. In a sense it seems obvious that simply covering more ground is a good thing for a football team, but it also has to be acknowledged that they need to be doing it for a reason. If not, then we might as well just put non sentient beings out there like robots, Dyson vacuum cleaners or Robbie Savage, and just let them cover ground unthinkingly. 

The thinking mans' vacuum cleaner

What was evident under Bilic was that players weren't doing enough running, but it also seemed to me that at least part of that was down to the lack of clarity over what their roles were and what they should be achieving through their running. There is a reason that each Jose Mourinho player gets a dossier before each game talking him through every aspect of his role, and why Sam Allardyce spends the entirety of his Friday training sessions literally walking his team through their defensive alignment. It is because footballers respond well to clear, pointed instructions, particular when they implicitly trust the person giving that guidance. 

The more I see what Moyes has achieved in six weeks the less I am impressed by Bilic and his staff. After all, Moyes has taken more points from games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal than Bilic did from his fixtures against the promoted teams. Perhaps it can be argued that Moyes was weirdly fortunate to get those fixtures consecutively, because it allowed him to set up defensively without needing to worry about the reaction of fans. Ultimately, I don't know if West Ham fans are any more or less knowledgeable than any other group, but it seems clear to me that we have collectively decided to hold our nose and accept that this season will be a turgid scramble for safety, and if that means 5-4-1 at home to Arsenal then so be it. File that away under "Necessary Evils".

As it was, we were slightly more adventurous than that as Arnautovic and Antonio were deployed as kind of rotating strikers, with a brief to drop back when necessary. As such, we alternated between 3-5-2 and variations on the theme, before going to 5-4-1 to see out the game. 

I have no issue with any of that. Look at the state of this squad. Moyes had four strikers on the bench - none of whom he trusts - and two defenders. I would argue that we could have done with some fresh legs in midfield to see out the game, but all that was available was unscrewing one of Carroll's false ones and chucking that on. And so Noble played two high intensity games in five days and did just fine. Good on him - two fingers to the doubters, as he continues to rage against the dying of the light. 

And once again, it was possible to see the little pieces mattering. I like to think that I'm a man of science, and sceptical of the intangible, but I loved the way that Noble and Arnautovic jogged over to slap Antonio on the back as he went off. Or the way Noble buys free kicks when he clearly has nowhere to go. Or Adrian yells to the crowd and raises the decibel level ever so slightly as we all take a break from gnawing our fingernails down to our elbows. Maybe I'm a fan who reads too much into these things, but stuff like that seems to me to be the invisible mortar that has to sit between the bricks if we're going to repel the hidden dangers of the future. If nothing else, I think there is a difference between looking at a team mate and hoping you can rely on him rather than knowing you can. If players like Noble and Adrian make that happen, then they carry a value not immediately visible in possession statistics or xG shot maps. 

So godspeed to Moyes and his emphasis on the basics, because Christ knows it's been a long time since we have seen them. He hasn't got much to work with but he's wringing every last drop from them, and there is much to admire in that. Perhaps we should ask a question about why the team with the 13th highest wage bill in Europe should be playing fixtures like this in the style of a lower league team drawn away in the League Cup, but let's do that another day. It's not the fault of Moyes, after all. 


"We're reeling through an endless fall
We are the ever living ghost of what once was"
- Band of Horses, "No One's Gonna Love You"

What has been evident over these last three games is that there has been a clear focus on a defensive system. We have reverted to the three centre back system that does seem to be the only way we can defend these days, and does raise concerns about the future when we try and go back to a four, but for now it's consecutive clean sheets and some glimmers of hope. 

Central to this resurgence has been the return of Adrian, Angelo Ogbonna suddenly remembering he's Italian, and Aaron Cresswell converting effortlessly to a central role. Between them the latter pair made seventeen clearances here, and generally seemed to be everywhere when Arsenal broke through. There was one moment late in the second half when it looked like Danny Welbeck might get away and cause us a problem but Ogbonna simply ushered him wide and physically dominated him to win possession back easily. This is the Ogbonna of Juve and the Azurri and if he's back for good then we have an elite centre back around which to build. 

Adrian - better on crosses than Jesus

Cresswell is perhaps the bigger revelation, as he had lost his form totally after a very bad injury last season. In watching him here, with proper protection in front of him from Obiang and Noble, it did make me wonder how much of his travails were down to the fact that Bilic seemed to frequently offer him about as much cover as the London Stadium roof does to anyone in the front ten rows. A season spent with a sulking Payet in front of him, followed by the likes of Feghouli and Arnautovic is enough to grey the hairs of any full back. This guy is a serious player, and credit to Moyes and his team for identifying a way to get more from him. In a world where central defenders no longer need to be Easter Island statues, it is vital that we have someone who can distribute the ball intelligently and with purpose, and he is our best option.

The acid test for this system will come, however, when we play weaker teams. Sitting back here and soaking up the pressure of Arsenal and Chelsea is fine, but we will need to be able to throw a few punches back in our next few fixtures. Stoke, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Brom is a run of fixtures from which we simply have to get some points, because for all the encouragement of these performances we still remain in nineteenth place and are just two points ahead of a Swansea team who are now giving playing time to staff in the ticket office to try and save money on overheads. This is basically the only remaining plausible excuse for Renato Sanches, by the way. Bilic might have been right on that one. 

The concern is that with the set up as it currently is, we will struggle to get forward in sufficient numbers to support our front men, whoever they may be. I think that is slightly overblown as it's hard to overestimate the cumulative impact of three consecutive games like we've just had. We will have more than 30% possession on Saturday and that will help the legs, especially in midfield. Key to all of it, however, will be Lanzini who will need to be more influential than he has been lately to give us a chance. Pushing the wing backs forward will be key, as they offer our width in this system, and then trying to get Lanzini and Arnautovic on the ball in the final third. If we can do that, and Antonio can finally demonstrate greater aerobic capacity than the American tourist from In Bruges, then we have a shot. 

These are the pieces that haven't really mattered in these last three games, but they will have to in the immediate future. Our season rests on the fixtures between now and the end of January, and we will need to score at a greater rate than we have so far this season to survive. It was for that reason that Chicharito's late miss was so frustrating, given we bought him for exactly those sorts of opportunity. That said, if I have a criticism of Moyes it's that he leaves his substitutes very little time to have an impact. It's tempting to wonder whether an extra five minutes on the pitch might have helped the Mexican get into the game before he rattled the bar.


"Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say"
- Neil Young, "Harvest Moon"

Talking of bars, I decided to chance a drink in the stadium before this game for pretty much the first time ever. I also suffered a brief malfunction of my hippocampus and decided to take up the splendid meal deal offer of a hot dog and a pint for the knockdown giveaway price of £9.50. As I handed over my money through my watering eyes, I noticed that I was being charged £9.85, leaving me with the option of deciding whether to let it go or be a dickhead over 35p. 

Reader, I am a dickhead. 

So I asked about it and the woman on the till looked at me like I'd asked her for one of her kidneys. After a minute or so of staring at each other (my eyes still weeping) she informed me that the meal deal didn't work on her till. I think I'm beginning to see how the Mayor is planning to reduce those £10m a year losses. 

Having eventually bought my pint I then couldn't find anywhere to put it down while I tried to put some ketchup on my hot dog. This was karmic retribution for me shaking my head and muttering at every report back from the meetings with Karren Brady where people complained about this very point rather than asking about why our Director of Football doesn't know he's our Director of Football. 

Mate, it's 35p, calm down - we've got to pay Carroll's medical bills somehow

And you're not paying for this content so, yeah, I am going to describe my hot dog purchasing experience. 

But all of that is a roundabout way to ask - just how much should football clubs be listening to fans? My initial thought is that confidently run clubs don't really need to, because they know what they're doing, and have confidence in their plans that is informed by an industry specific intelligence that large groups of fans simply won't have. But that is an opinion about fans wanting to be listened to on the strategic vision of the club, not around the day to day experiences of being a fan. 

And so then as I was stood there with my beer on the floor as I struggled to put some sauce on to a hot dog of indeterminate composition, I did have some sympathy with the alternate view. Our fan experience is quite a long way from that of our peers at other London clubs. As an example, there is absolutely nowhere on the concourse where it isn't cold on a night like this, because it isn't enclosed, presumably due to the cost. Athletics, after all, doesn't take place when it snows so we don't need to consider spectator comfort in that sense. 

There are all sorts of meetings between the club and various fan groups at the moment and I really don't know what to make of it. My preference is that WHUISA represent fans as they are a democratic group, but I get that others don't have the patience for that type of engagement, even if things are a little bit "Peoples Front of Judea" at present. And there is no doubt that the club clearly need to hear about certain things - like the frankly haphazard application of meal deal protocols - but I can't help feeling that is really below the pay grade of the Vice Chair of the club. 

With that said, it's perfectly reasonable for fans to complain that the facilities at the ground simply cannot cope with the half time crush that comes with football games. I also understand that the club only have a limited ability to control some of that, because they are tenants and not owners, but they really ought to be listening to that feedback and working with us to fix that. (Just put the bloody TV's on for five minutes either side of half time, by the way. It's not a crime to want to finish a drink and watch your team play).

I'm not really offering up any particular solution to any of this, but it might be worth those who have an audience with the club separating out their complaints around day to day working issues from bigger strategic and structural problems. And the club should also be prepared to hear those complaints too - after all, we actually are the pieces that matter the most.