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Arsenal 3-0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

Filed: Monday, 10th April 2017
By: HeadHammerShark

1. If You Were There, Beware

Blame Blogger for the lateness of this article. Well, that and the crushing, unrelenting misery of having to write about this game at all. Indeed it was so terrible that most of this piece is just me trying to find ways to avoid talking about what actually happened on the pitch.

In fact, consider this piece to be my version of the following (real) answer given by Donald Trump during his inexplicable 2016 Presidential campaign:

Q: How will you bring back the American Dream?

A: “Look. We can bring the American Dream back. That I will tell you. We’re bringing it back. OK? And I understand what you’re saying. And I get that from so many people. ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ They are asking me the question, ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ And the American Dream is in trouble. That I can tell you. OK? It’s in trouble. But we’re going to get it back and do some real jobs. How about that man with that beautiful red hat? Stand up! Stand up! What a hat!”

This man is now launching Tomahawk missiles, while sitting in his underpants tweeting about TV ratings. Cut me some slack.

2. From The Ritz To The Rubble

It is probably fitting that it ended here.

It was only eighteen months ago, but that 2015 Opening Day victory at The Emirates seems like another lifetime. Back then, all things seemed possible as the veneer had yet to wear off the new manager. Then, Slaven Bilic was a polyglot, master tactician whose primary work had been carried out far from the eye of most West Ham fans and was thus afforded a respect borne largely of ignorance. We didn’t really know if he was good, but his humiliation of Steve Maclaren was still fresh in the mind, and his nascent West Ham team played with a verve and brio that Sam Allardyce wouldn’t or possibly couldn’t countenance. Back then, in the glorious August sunshine, all things seemed possible.

But here, in that same stadium, the Emperor stood naked before us and the truth was evident. We have gone full circle, as those promising new beginnings were finally and incontrovertibly ground to dust in the very same place they were born. Against the worst Arsenal team for two decades, with the home fans restless and our situation perilous, we offered…nothing.

Absolutely nothing, fam.

Heavy hangs the crown these days

Gone is the golden promise of that new start, and indeed most of the team who created it. Instead it is replaced with the harsh glare of this late season relegation reality, headlined by five straight defeats, and a vertiginous drop into a battle for survival that we are absolutely not prepared for.

I know that these articles are supposed to have humour, but then again so do Jack Whitehall stand up shows. I apologise in advance, but having witnessed this debacle in person I'm not in the mood. It's come to something when the most obvious highlight of the evening was the Arsene Wenger Hokey Cokey song.

I do promise I'm going to try and make it to ten points, but given that the players haven't managed a single one themselves since the end of February I'm not going to worry about it too much.

3. When The Sun Goes Down

So what do I mean when I say "it ended"?

It seems clear that Saturday is win or bust for Bilic. This has been heavily leaked by Sullivan to his preferred journalists and fan sites, and in fairness, that makes some sense. Lose on Saturday and Swansea will be within two points of us, with a trip to Sunderland beckoning. There is logic in trying to extract some kind of dead cat bounce before that game, because thereafter we are playing tough fixtures all the way. Already, the chairmen are preparing the ground.

But really, Bilic is as good as gone either way. I've taken a rather cowardly position up to now, by refusing to commit one way of another but having seeing this display it seems clear to me that his position is untenable.

We approached this game like a lower league side playing away in a Cup tie at a big team. Hang in there. Stay tight. Maybe we can nick one from a corner. Maybe the keeper will have the game of his life. Maybe someone will see this article and ask me to write a book. Maybe Hayley Atwell is an avid H List reader and...well, perhaps it's as well my wife doesn't read these.

More chance that she reads this than we had of scoring last night

In the end I'm not sure we performed any more creditably here than non-league Lincoln City did in their cup quarter final. We certainly didn't create any chances as good as they did. Sure, I'm biased, but the Cowley brothers made a better fist of it than Bilic did last night.

Had a Sam Allardyce team turned in such an insipid performance I would have been livid, so I can't very well pretend it's acceptable now. I have no idea how we intended to win this game, but the fact that what little attacking intent we had disappeared as soon as Antonio went off should ring the loudest of alarm bells.

I like the personality that Bilic brings to the job, and I think he has done a good job of pandering to the rather niche whims of the West Ham fanbase. We are fatalistic and romantic, unforgiving and loyal, with a pervading attitude that swings wildly from insanely optimistic to remarkably phlegmatic in the blink of an eye. I can't comment with authority as I don't support anyone else, but that feels like a unique combination and Bilic has managed it well.

But in the end, PR isn't enough. Allardyce never pandered and was never loved but he survived because he kept us above water. Bilic might be passionate (why ever the fuck that's relevant), and he might be "one of us" but when you lose home and away to that shithouse Leicester team it's a pretty good indication that your time is up.

4. Leave Before The Lights Come On

Last night our second half front four cost £54m. Let that sink in for a minute.

It's easy to say that nowadays this is peanuts, but it's not really. There are teams above us in the league who can't even dream of spending that kind of money. The fact that Manchester United spend that on reserve full backs is neither here nor there. The only place we are competing with them is in terms of who has the most clueless board.

To field such an expensively assembled team and be so horribly, painfully uncompetitive is an embarrassment. It's why I see no way back from here for Bilic. His redeeming feature has always been that he has been able to extract battling performances from the under strength teams you always have to field as West Ham manager, due to injury or a poor squad or because someone is on strike.

To my mind, this elevated him above the likes of Allardyce and Curbishley, who so often seemed to have conceded these type of games before they started, preferring instead to keep their powder dry for easier pickings further down the road.

But proper clubs don't do that, and Bilic didn't do it last season. Not once. No backward steps, and no giving up. It was a breath of the freshest air imaginable. But we're barely landing a punch on good teams this year. It's one thing to lose, it's quite another to lose 8-1 on aggregate to an Arsenal team who are playing Granit Xhaka in midfield without even being blackmailed to do so.

We were fucking terrible here. Certainly we defended stoutly enough, but that's the bare minimum that we should expect from our team. Jose Fonte and James Collins have come in for quite a lot of stick for their performances but I thought they did passably well. Certainly there was a lot of Tommies on grenades style defending for the first hour as we clung desperately to parity, like Katie Hopkins telling herself that people really do care what she thinks about anything.

However, if you look at the @11tegen11 pass map above you see something interesting. Our best players using the xG Chain metric were Fonte, Collins and Randolph. What this metric attempts to do is figure out who is creating chances for teams by looking beyond assists and shots. It should tell you everything about our attacking uselessness that our fucking goalkeeper appears on the list.

By contrast, the equivalent Arsenal trio was Mustafa, Elneny and Walcott in case you're wondering, which I suspect you weren't because your head is already on the desk and the tears are already welling up again.

As you can see, Luis Ayew Morte was again anonymous, existing in the sweet spot between "considering breaking into a sweat" and "getting a good nap in before binge watching Breaking Bad later". He is a man without a position in a world where we desperately need him to be everywhere. Lanzini and Noble battled manfully, but watching us try and create anything was painful. Think Neil Kinnock presenting "Have I Got News For You".

5. A Certain Romance

I'm halfway through and running out of ideas. I'm not sure what to do here so in a homage to our soon to be former manager, I will just use Michail Antonio.

The irony of this sign is not lost on me

6. Cornerstone

What do we do about Andy Carroll? Used properly as a battering ram against weak teams, he is a formidable weapon. On Saturday he ran Hull ragged, and had we not collapsed like a Tory budget in the second half he could have had a hat trick. It was the same at Middlesbrough, at Swansea and against Palace. Against poor teams he is a Sherman tank.

Unfortunately against anyone decent he is proving to be a fish tank.

I'm not even sure that it's his fault. We just don't set up to get the best out of him and this tactical incoherence has been a signature feature of Bilic's reign. When faced with mobile, organised and talented defences I don't see how Carroll can play as a lone striker with nobody near him. In last nights game it was noticeable how he didn't get the extra touch or the brief extra moment to line up a link pass. Instead, Arsenal swarmed him and gave him no way out. With Shrodinger's Ayew dead inside a box somewhere, there wasn't anyone for him to bring into the game, especially in the second half, and as a result we never once looked like we might create a chance, let alone score.

And yet, still we continued to play the same way. Not once did anyone run beyond him, nor overload the flanks in search of the crosses he would presumably thrive on. One has to credit Arsenal for their efficiency in denying those tactics, but wasn't this what we were supposed to have worked on all week? It might be how we would ideally choose to play, but asking him to run the channels is a waste of time. He can't physically do it, and indeed came off here with a groin injury in the second half.

I don't really have an answer to this, as playing a long ball game doesn't seem like it would work terribly well either and also wastes players like Lanzini and Noble. But this isn't working. Playing the exact same style whether we have Carroll, Sakho or Antonio up front seems to be a ludicrous idea. They are manifestly different players. It's almost like asking Apprentice candidates to go on Question Time.

The return of Diafra Sakho is welcome and long overdue, and he marked the occasion by pulling his shorts up as high as it is possible for a human being to have them. At one point I’m fairly certain he missed a header because he got his waistband caught on his beard.

But after major back surgery and only two games all season, it seems fanciful to expect that he will be able to save us. Playing him here after just a week of full training seemed premature, and he barely made any impact. That's fine, as there are bigger challenges ahead, but the prospect of an Antonio, Carroll, Sakho front three at least gives us some hope that we might be able to cover a little more ground up there and retain possession in advanced areas rather better than we have to date. It also promises to give the lads in the Whipps Cross Hospital MRI unit a bit of overtime too, so that’s a nice bonus.

Looking on the bright side, this game with Swansea couldn’t be any bigger, and having Sakho available as a late substitute is a nice luxury.

7. Do I Wanna Know?

The big problem with dismissing Bilic, whether it happens now or in the summer, is that the same people responsible for all the terrible, impenetrable thinking of the last year will be making the decision on who replaces him.

It's why I find it terrifying that they might be lining up a short term replacement for him after the Swansea game. Just who could they possibly be thinking about? These people who have apparently already agreed a three year deal for 32 year old Pablo Zabaleta despite the fact that they have no idea who their manager will be next year and he is thirty fucking two. These people who somehow spent £18m in January on players we didn't need and still made the team worse.

It boggles my mind that the flawed decision making by the flawed decision makers is never questioned or interrogated. Instead, they blunder on like some sort of Brewster's Millions tribute act, making judgements that no other club in the country is making and then being astonished when it doesn't work out.

The West Ham board enter another negotiation

If they apply the same logic as they do to new players - that they must have Premier League experience - then the pool becomes much smaller. Roberto Mancini is the bookies favourite, but the owners have previous for failing to get big name managerial appointments over the line, with both Martin O'Neill and Rafa Benitez wavering at the last. I'd also throw Guus Hiddink into the mix as someone who Sullivan will have heard of, and who isn't a complete waste of space, but quite why he'd want to lower himself to work for us is a question worth asking.

Clearly the best answer for everyone is that we win on Saturday and pull ourselves away to mid table obscurity, to re-evaluate in the summer. But we're West Ham, and nothing would surprise me less than a miserable home defeat against Swansea. We've been here before, after all.

8. This House Is A Circus

3 1 5 2 0 0 1 1 2 0 1 4 1 2 1 2 3 3 2 3

No, not the amount we spent on agents in January, but the goals conceded by Darren Randolph in his twenty league games since replacing Adrian last year. It felt like a strange decision at the time, but nobody should be assured of his place irrespective of form, and Bilic wanted to shake things up, so fair enough.

But as the Irishman dived over Mesut Ozil's typically lame cross shot, to concede the opening goal here and condemn us to defeat, it continued a pattern of him failing to make big saves when we really need them. It's not that Randolph doesn't make great saves from time to time, it's just that they tend to have no impact on the outcome of games.

He made a wonderful save here from Walcott to keep it to 1-0 but the horse hadn't so much bolted as strolled out of the stable, hitched his wagon to a Bentley and was halfway to David Gold's open house. And why not - koi carp are a lot more relaxing than watching Sam Byram try and tackle Alexis Sanchez.

So, yeah, enough of this nonsense. When you replace a goalkeeper good enough to get in the Spain squad with a guy who concedes 37 goals in 20 games it's clearly not a great idea. Maybe Adrian won't make any difference because the back four in front of him are imaginary, but let's give it a shot. Continuing with this level of loyalty to a keeper who can't keep a clean sheet smacks of hubris.

9. Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But...

At some point, I think I'm going to do a piece on our finances, because the company accounts have now been published and make for interesting reading. I don't really know much about company or football finances, but as a lack of knowledge hasn't stopped me thus far, I doubt I'll start getting self aware now. That said, if someone with some actual experience in this field wanted to do it on my behalf, I'd be perfectly happy to cede the floor.

The inspiration for this ill judged foray into the murky morass of our balance sheet was this excellent piece by Charles Richards of The Spurs Report. It may be painful reading in the sense that nobody wants to see Spurs do well, but it's a brilliantly written dissection of the numbers, which gives an awful lot of clarity as to how Spurs are doing what they are doing.

People have mocked me for suggesting that we should be closer to Spurs right now, but there are some interesting things in Charles's piece that at least partially support the theory that they are doing an awful lot with not much more than us.

Take this comparative graph of wages and transfer spend in the relevant 15/16 period. There is a clear gap between the top five and the rest, with Spurs bridging the gap far better than everybody else. Indeed such is the alchemy going on at White Hart Lane that they somehow managed to reduce their spend and improve their team at the same time. It's certainly easier to do that when your youth system is actually delivering you first team players, but there has been huge value in the way they have mined the lower leagues for players like Walker, Rose and most notably, Dele Alli.

But Spurs are a historically bigger and more successful club than us, I hear you shout. And that is of course true, but wasn't it the point of the stadium move that we would now be better placed to bridge this gap? The numbers above actually cover last season, so in a sense you can say we did close the gap, but the problem is that we already know what has happened in 16/17 and the regression has been so bad that we no longer even belong on this chart really.

This shows that our spending has now outstripped Everton (a bellweather team for us), and is within spitting distance of Spurs. So, I say again, when people talk about the board being cheap I don't think they are really seeing the full picture. It's never been about the lack of investment, it's always been about where that investment was made.

Spurs aren't immune of course - Hi Moussa! Hi Vincent! - but their recruitment is so much better than ours that they can afford to spend barely more than us and build a huge new stadium, and still leave us miles behind.

Whilst the board have been quick to lay the blame at the feet of Bilic for the crap new signings, it's also worth pointing out that Karren Brady's annual report carries the following passage:

Be careful about writing things down where people might read them.

The accounts aren't just about wages and transfer fees of course. Per reports from the brilliant @SwissRamble, there are a number of other very interesting points to be extracted:

Our overall revenue of £142m puts us 7th in the league, although quite some way behind 6th place Spurs (£210m). The gap to Leicester in 8th, is just £13m, showing that we are rising to the top of the next rung of clubs rather than truly ascending to join the big boys yet. It will be fascinating to see the impact of the new stadium deal on these numbers next year bearing in mind that we don't get to keep all the profits from every aspect of matchdays any longer.

Our revenue growth is an impressive £21m, which is fourth best in the league and level with Arsenal. Man United's is £120m for context, but don't worry because they'll just spend it all on emojis and Wayne Rooney. I'll get grief again, I imagine, but when people were yelling "Brady Out" and lauding Super Slav on Wednesday night, I did begin to wonder what planet some of you are on.

Our commercial earnings of £28m were also 7th in the league, jointly with Aston Villa who I assume were making their money from a profitable PPI business because they surely couldn't have made any from their football team. Tellingly though, we are still £31m behind 6th placed Spurs, who themselves are miles behind the new Big Five.

Where I am going with all of this is that the Club is in a decent place financially and there is palpable investment being made back into the team. The stadium is separate to this, but in the end I'm fine with retractable seating that doesn't retract - the most West Ham thing ever - if we have strikers who can stay fit and score. In the end, it's all about the team, and a good team papers over a lot of cracks.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that we haven't spent £30m on a single player, it's probably better to be grateful we haven't. These guys probably would spend that much if they could - they'd probably just spend it badly.

10. The View From The Afternoon

No pressure, but please save our season.

How about that man with the beautiful hat? Stand up! Stand up!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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