Apologies for the lateness of this, but it’s been a hectic week. Anyway, we chatted with Charlie Walsh of SBN’s West Ham blog Brace The Hammer about West Ham’s new digs, their season so far, and their thoughts on the match. My conversation with him is over at Brace the Hammer now, so check it out!
TSF: How's the new home? To an outsider, it looks like a throwback stadium, and not necessarily in a good way - the running track separating the pitch from the stands, the somewhat austere surroundings, etc. How does it compare to Upton Park?
BTH: Upton Park represented what West Ham was really well. It had countless faults and was a complete mess in places but it felt real. It was in the middle of the local community, a melting pot of ideas and cultures. It didn't pretend to be something it wasn't. To use a worn-out cliche, it really did feel like home. The Olympic Stadium represents what's wrong with West Ham now just as accurately. It's removed and isolated, a corporate shell that feels rushed. Nothing works as required. It's a pretender. A wannabe.
The stadium wasn't, and despite all the modifications still isn't, designed for football. West Ham don't own or run the stadium. The people who do are hugely inept and had no idea what they were getting themselves in for. From the conception of the stadium way back when we bid for the Olympics to now, everything has been mismanaged to an unreal degree.
TSF: In a related note, and I swear I'll get to playing questions in a minute, there's been a dramatic surge in crowd trouble at the new home. Why is this becoming a thing again - is it just because of lax policing, or are there deeper, more ingrained issues that are surfacing?
BTH: Oh boy. However I go about this will be reductive because the full answer would probably require something the length of the complete works of Tolken but basically, the move was highly contentious.
As a fanbase we understood our position and knew that to get to the fabled next level we would need to move to a bigger stadium but the Olympic Stadium wasn't what we wanted. It was designed for Athletics and nothing else. We sold our family home of 112 years to move into temporary accommodation because it had more chairs in it.
This caused massive tension with the owners whose ruthlessly pragmatic stance told fans everything was hunky dory and nothing could go wrong. We weren't sold a dream, a dream was forced upon us and we had no choice but to accept it. It wasn't long before cracks began to show.
During the opening games, people towards the top of the stadium would arrive to where their seats should be to find concrete blocks in their stead. The "retractable" lower tier used to move the stands closer to the pitch were not only ridiculously far away still, but they also resembled scaffolding more than the high tech solution they were made out to be.
Fans were told explicitly by the club not to stand up in the ground, a rule never enforced at Upton Park. Fans were threatened by the board with bans if they weren't to comply. Comply they did not, and so bouncers were brought in to rough handle the offenders. The stadium didn't have radio facilities in it for the Police to use so they refused to work there.
The friction between fans and owners that already existed before has since reached an untenable level. We're in a situation not too dissimilar to your own where fans are now asking for them to leave the club. This could've all be forgotten on matchdays as the excitement of watching our club takes hold but the continuous abject failure on the pitch only serves as a constant reminder of the state the club is in.
Of course none of this is to excuse trouble between sets of fans, more to give it context. No matter what happens or who the culpable support, violence isn't acceptable. The stadium operators need to get a grip of the stewarding situation. The troubles largely went away for our last home game against Stoke but this London derby will be a truer test of what progress has been made.
TSF:. The team itself is struggling, new home or otherwise. Is there any one cause for the team's struggles, or are there several factors?
BTH: The worst thing is, I honestly don't know. Everything has gone wrong at once. We've looked horrendous since the start of preseason. Almost every one of our players has flopped massively. Our stadium is a mess. Our board have never looked so out of their depth. Bilic doesn't seem to be able to get anything right.
Our course needs to be corrected fast because we're heading for a giant Iceburg with the words "relegation" scrawled on it and, like Leo before us, I'm not entirely certain we can escape this one without sinking to the frozen depths of The Championship.
TSF: What will be the impact of Andy Carroll's return? Do you see that being a turning point in the season?
BTH: God I hope so. If he wasn't injured so often, the £15m we paid for him would look like a bargain. The dude is amazing. We all know how stupidly deadly he is in the air but he's also surprisingly good on the floor.
Whether that'll be enough to save us though is another question.
TSF: With West Ham fighting to stay above the relegation zone, do you see the team being active in the January sales?
BTH: You'd hope so but our owners are notoriously conservative in their spending, especially in January. Besides our purchase of Byram last season for around £4m, the last time we bought a senior player in January (while in the Prem) was 2010/2011. We were fighting relegation and brought in Demba Ba and Gary O'Neil to try and survive. It didn't work. The reality of the situation is that going down would be catastrophic for us but I just don't believe our owners will wake up and smell the Championship.
I'm not convinced that spending is the way out of this situation either. We have the players, we have a current Ballon D'or nominee in the team for goodness sake, but they just aren't performing. We need to find a way of getting them back up to speed again, whatever it takes.
TSF: Fill in the blank: In order to beat West Ham, Arsenal must (blank).
BTH: Turn up. I could pick out numerous problems we have at the moment but those two words depressingly sum it up quite aptly. It is defeatist I admit but I just can't see past an Arsenal win. We proved last season that when our team is performing to it's full potential, we can beat anyone. However we're about as far away from that as possible right now.
TSF: Finally, a predicted lineup and score?
BTH: As is the norm in East London we have a bunch of injuries to deal with, the latest of which were our top goalscorer/reluctant RB Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell. Diafra Sakho, who returned in last weekend's game against United to become our first striker to score this season predictably got injured straight after meaning we'll also be without him. I suspect we'll stick with the in vogue 3-4-3 we've been playing and hope a second start in succession for midweek goal scorer Ashley Fletcher is on the cards. Save Carroll for am impact substitute. DO NOT rush him back.
Kouyate Reid Ogbonna
Fernandes Obiang Noble Masuaku
West Ham 2 - 3 Arsenal