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West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth (And Other Ramblings)


Filed: Wednesday, 24th January 2018
By: HeadHammerShark


"Why everything's turned inside out, instilling so much doubt
It makes me so tired, I feel so uninspired"

- Bic Runga, "Sway"


Thirty eight days.

Eleven games.

One replay.

120 minutes.

Ten injuries.

Zero new signings.

The sixth highest average attendance in Europe.

The thirteenth highest wage bill in Europe.

The tenth highest supporter spend in Europe.

The seventeenth highest revenues in Europe.

Still, Shrewsbury were well organised.

I don't think it should be too much of a surprise to anyone that we ran out of steam today. This was a team that was not so much running on empty, as crawling on their bloody hands and injured knees toward a far off oasis in the desert. Since playing Arsenal on December 13th we have been averaging two games a week and as a result our dressing room has a distinct ER vibe to it.


5.55pm. The West Ham dressing room. Gary Lewin - what a signing!


This week Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell hobbled off to join Jose Fonte, Winston Reid, Edmilson Fernandes, Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho, {pauses - my fingers are cramping} Michail Antonio, Andre Ayew and Reece Oxford in the corridors of Whipps Cross Hospital, and as a result our bench was like a boyband audition. It is rarely promising when your substitutes are warming up while singing "Backstreet's Back".

Worse still was the news this morning that Marko Arnautovic will also miss significant time, with another hamstring related injury that we can't say we weren't warned about by Arsenal fans, after they had years of them under Gary Lewin.

But our failure to beat Bournemouth wasn't for a lack of effort, or indeed of quality, but more a lack of fit bodies able to summon up the necessary energy levels needed to influence games at this level. We dominated the opening exchanges of each half, but couldn't find the breach in the wall that would have allowed us to pour through. Bournemouth probably deserve some credit for that, as they defended stoutly, rode their luck and engaged in some typically world class shithousery.

But for all we might feel that we were the dominant force in the game, it is worth pointing out that we were dead on our feet for the last period. After Lanzini went off with the first hamstring injury heard all around the world, we retreated deeper and deeper and resorted to smashing the ball long in the vain hope that Javier Hernandez had transmogrified himself into Andy Carroll.

What all of this did was highlight the folly of this squad composition. Watching us put out a team at the moment is to be reminded of a Guy Ritchie thriller, in so much as the twists are inevitable and when it happens it's not actually thrilling. This is a disaster that has been months in the making and if you'll excuse me repeatedly beating this dead horse I see here in front of me, it is unbelievable that nobody at the club apparently saw this coming.

We regularly top the Premier League injury tables, sold off more players than we brought in, and overloaded ourselves in areas where we didn't need to by buying players wholly unsuited to our playing style. If this January goes the way we all think it will, then it would be the fifth consecutive transfer window where the recruitment team at West Ham has failed. That is some fucking record for people still in a job.

So while Joe Hart sits on our bench picking up a six figure weekly salary for being inferior to our current keeper, we are forced to turn to members of Blazin' Squad just to patch up our midfield with minutes to go in a crucial game against relegation rivals. I say again - it defies belief that apart from Bilic, those same people are still making the decisions about the composition of our playing staff.

So, as frustrating as this game was, I think this was a fair enough result given the circumstances. I couldn't fault the efforts of our exhausted players, and on another day with some better luck we might have been ahead at half time and given ourselves the opportunity to hit the visitors on the break. As it is, perhaps everyone at the club can resolve to never again approach a transfer window using the motto "Fortune Favours The Old".

***

"Lord, I tried enough, kept on hoping
Kept my fingers crossed, I tried everything I know"

- The Boothill Foot-Tappers, "Get Your Feet Out Of My Shoes"


After the game I was keen to see this Caley Graphics shot map as I was interested to see how many truly good chances we created. We had so much of the ball and pressed so well that it felt dominant, but I couldn't recall too many clear cut opportunities. For instance, Pablo Zabaleta picked out Marko Arnautovic with a fizzing first half cross and Asmir Begovic pulled off a great save to deny the Austrian, but in reality I'm not sure he could have done much more than he did, given that the ball arrived at such pace and through a crowd of defenders. It was straight at Begovic and he did well to tip it over.




As it turned out our best chance was probably when James Collins flicked a header across goal for the stretching Lanzini to miss by inches at the back post. I'm not sure it's a failure of xG as such, but chances like that don't get captured on the map above.

But what was most encouraging in this game doesn't really show up there either. Our football in the first half was as good as I've seen since Payet left, and perhaps better than anything we've produced since we played Chelsea off the park at Stamford Bridge in 2016. A game we drew, by the way. See if you can guess who refereed that day and awarded Chelsea a last minute penalty when Ruben Loftus Cheek fell over his own feet outside the box (*).

Arnautovic and Lanzini continued to show that quick thinking footballers able to carry the ball at pace will inevitably always pose a threat. Behind them our defensive pressing was outstanding, which meant that the visitors simply couldn't get out of their own half. Having Cresswell back helped as he snapped at the heels of attackers, and made sure that the distribution had a bit less of a "smacking golf balls into the sea" feel than it did when Collins and Ogbonna were having a go in his absence.

But as Begovic stood firm, we faded gradually because pressing with that intensity requires a team with an average age of lower than 54. Not long before half time I thought Bournemouth had scored when a well worked corner kick flashed narrowly wide, but in general it felt that we'd let them off the hook by not capitalising on that early pressure.

The second half, however, saw an upturn in fortunes as we pressed well once again and began creating lots of promising situations going forward. There was still frustration as we seemed to always be a slightly misplaced pass away from being in, but we still had enough ascendancy to feel like the late winner would be ours. Somewhat typically then, we conceded with twenty minutes to go as Ryan Fraser slipped into the right side centre half's channel and ran on to a lovely Junior Stanislas pass to drive home the opener.

I thought Adrian got himself into a bit of a mess with his positioning and ended up in the middle of nowhere and pointless, like a footballing Creamfields if you will, but it was still a good finish. Sadly, this was another goal conceded between our golden oldies of Collins and Zabaleta and perhaps a salutary reminder that when half your back four qualifies for a free bus pass, it's probably not wise to leave them one on one with fast, nippy wingers.

Mercifully, Bournemouth then unveiled a flawless homage to Huddersfield as they allowed us to equalise directly from kick off, when an Ogbonna punt was flicked on by both Kouyate and Hernandez to Arnautovic. His shot was blocked by Ake but bounced up nicely for Hernandez who poked home from ten yards. If you haven't seen the goal, it is pretty much exactly what we signed him for, and an enduring reminder of the value of a goal poacher. Rather than being the springboard to a full blooded finale, however, it felt rather more like the culmination of a month's worth of Herculean effort. We faded badly, and were indebted to a couple of Adrian saves and some diffident finishing to hold out for a point. For all that the visitors looked dangerous and so, so pace on the break, in fairness, a defeat would have been wildly unjust.

(*) Bobby Madley. But you knew that. Even if you didn't.

***

"And I suppose that's the price you pay
Well, oh, it isn't what it was"

- Arctic Monkeys, "Leave Before the Lights Come On"


And now, at last, a break of sorts as we go to Wigan in the Cup. But for Lanzini that break will last for at least a month and for Arnautovic three weeks, and will rule them out of the vital home games with Crystal Palace and Brighton. With them goes all of our attacking drive, leaving us at the mercy of playing Hernandez or Ayew and all the evidence so far suggests that the lack of artistry will be painful, and that this will work out about as well as the time that Glen Roeder decided we didn't need any cover up front as we had Ian Pearce in case things got a bit hairy.



Shit


All of this seems to me to be an inevitable corollary of having to play such a ludicrous schedule, and using so few players in doing so. I know that some fans think it was worth risking or even sacrificing our Premier League status for a tilt at the FA Cup, and while I don't agree, I realise there are many that do.

But this is the cost.

Lanzini played the full 120 minutes in the midweek game against Shrewsbury, and Arnautovic came on as a substitute and when the body is pushed to those sorts of limits then you see muscle injuries occur. In any other year, with a better constructed squad and more cover and with the league not being so tightly contested I would be the first to demand a cup challenge, but none of that is the case right now. It is to the eternal shame of the club, but we simply don't have the playing resources to compete on two fronts at the moment.

I think, therefore, that this has been the first misstep that Moyes has made, and by overplaying the likes of Lanzini, Arnautovic, Ogbonna, Masuaku, Kouyate and Obiang he opened us up to an unnecessary and potentially fatal risk of being without them in games that really matter. It is my fervent hope that when that team is announced at Wigan on Saturday that the most common response from most us will be "who?"

What is particularly painful about losing Lanzini and Arnautovic is that their nascent partnership was just starting to take shape. I'm not sure I really believe that there is anything much more to it than just the simple fact that they are both classy players who understand the way in which the other is trying to work. Those movements into space that each of them can read before the other does it - to me that's just what good players do, and they do it better than any of our other strikers.

Presumably we will now see Hernandez return, at which point I suspect we will see the canny interplay disappear, as we will simply have to try and figure out ways of getting the ball into the box at the earliest opportunity for the Mexican to try and latch on to. My worry about that is that it places too much burden on uncreative players to do the creating, but also that we've been so ineffective when Hernandez has been on the pitch. This is primarily because he likes to play high, and off the last defender and he's not really into the idea of mazy dribbles and quick one twos that pull defences open. At present our most inventive attacking threat is probably Arthur Masuaku. Let's all take a moment shall we.

With our yeoman midfield behind providing stability but not much attacking threat, we really, really, really need the medics to patch up Michail Antonio and then find Jack's YouTube password because when the entire bottom half of the table is separated by two wins, you cannot take survival for granted. Plenty will disagree, I know, and it pains me to say it because I have frequently said that if we aren't trying to entertain and win trophies then we're merely taking up space, but that was also said in the context of us having a squad that could beat Shrewsbury without needing 210 minutes to do it. It's also true that the league doesn't have any obviously cut adrift teams at this point - God, I miss Sunderland - meaning that a couple of losses can drop a team like a stone.



Where have you gone, Jozy Altidore, our nation turns it lonely eyes to you


I would even go so far as to suggest that this might be the most important eight days of Sullivan's tenure so far. Inertia now could see us relegated. A typical overspend could see us unable to sign anyone in the summer. Ho hum, Sully, you haven't even told us how hard you're working yet. Is everything ok?

I'm not saying that I don't understand those who would prioritise a Cup run over league position, but I think it does need to be pointed out that the league position we might end up forfeiting could be 17th. That seems far too high a price to pay for the inevitable Fifth Round away trip to Old Trafford.

***

"I'm crazy
Crazy for feeling so blue"

- Willie Nelson, "Crazy"

Here is something I observed on Saturday which I have decided to call The Three Stages of Pablo Zabaleta.

Picks up the ball on the edge of his box


I am abandoning my post and going on a wonderful adventure!


Passes the halfway line


Blimey, I'm certainly not playing for Manchester City anymore am I! Where the fuck is everyone?


Loses the ball high up the pitch


Oh my God. There are people trying to kill me, everything is on fire and their winger is in behind me again! I think Big Andy's gone down again!


I think Pablo needs a rest.

***

"Oh I really want to know
So tell me, where does all the money go?"

- The Libertines, "What a Waster"


I wonder, then, about our transfer activity. Things have changed a lot in the last eighteen months, as the fan backlash finally seems to have convinced the club to keep more of their activity in house and limit official announcements made via the Twitter account of the owners' teenage son. (I wonder how many times Real Madrid bloggers have ever had to write a sentence like that).

But what also seems to be evident is that something is off. We shipped out more players than we brought in this summer, and some even requiring our CFO to look up the term "profit" for the first time. But even with that, and even with the alleged increased revenues from the move, we still seem to be wanting to let someone go before we can bring anyone in.

If that is true, it suggests that the next company accounts will be fascinating reading. We've seen the Mayor's report so we know that West Ham contributed very little to the stadium conversion, meaning that the bulk of our costs are therefore out on the pitch. I don't know the details of our wage structure, but Hart and Hernandez are perhaps the two best paid in the squad. Along with Carroll and Reid they occupy a huge slab of our overheads and yet are so rarely on the pitch.



So. Much. Money.


The folly of not treating good health as a skill on a par with finishing or passing is once more haunting us, as we suffer our annual injury crisis and are again forced to convert Rush Green into a field hospital. It still boggles my mind that anyone would want us to sign Jack Wilshere given that this crisis is literally a yearly occurrence. Karren should really replace the crossed Hammers with crutches if she wants total brand synergy.

I've written in the past about the stupidity of our January transfer activity, and we shouldn't ignore the fact that when you do dumb things like pay 10m for Robert Snodgrass, the repercussions of that are felt for a while. It's entirely possible that we wasted some of the summer budget last January, and the domino effect has trickled all the way to here. If I'm honest, I can't actually see how that could be the case given that we got 25m for Dimitri Payet, but I'm clutching at straws, because the alternative is that they spent it all on wages or are choosing not to spend money at all, and either of those would be too depressing a reality for a January evening.

As it is, I don't want the club to waste yet more money on desperation signings, but doing nothing is no longer an option. A deeper midfielder is vital to cover Noble and Obiang, and a player with the ability to create chances is equally important, be they a striker or a wide player. I have no idea where Moyes goes from here tactically, but we'll probably have to accept a reversion to the cautious defensive pragmatism of his early days as we try and inch our way clear of the quagmire. It is at times like this that I am grateful to have him - the thought of Bilic trying to get something out of this team is terrifying.

And so it is that we might look back on these cold, soaking wet, slate grey January games and be eternally grateful for the points we eked out when we were at our lowest ebb. This might feel like a disappointing result, but context remains our friend and with our sights now set so low they might as well be underground, this scrambled equaliser could be priceless.

And so on we limp, the walking wounded who now finding walking a bit of a struggle. Context might be important, but on another day, at a later date, with safety secured, we're really going to have to have a chat about what we all think is an acceptable return for all of those big numbers at the top of this article. I don't know about you, but I sure as hell don't feel like this is it.


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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