Another week with a couple quick turnarounds, as Arsenal welcome West Ham to the Emirates today. We chatted with Jonathan Liebling of Brace The Hammer to get his thoughts on the Hammers’ season so far and today’s match.
TSF: West Ham are without a league win since February, and four losses in a row. Are you worried about sliding back into the relegation places, or is there enough time and talent to get things back on track?
BTH: I cringe every time I see ‘four losses in a row’. You know, I’m not ready to cash out on the season yet, unlike many other Hammer fans who believe the sky in East London is falling. When we were close to battling for relegation in November, Slaven Bilic saw us through. During the nasty injury plague running rampant through the club house that left us without a viable option at forward, Slaven saw us through. When Dimitri Payet decided to abruptly stop playing for West Ham United, Slaven saw us through. Bottom line, I trust in Slaven to take West Ham United across the finish line. I still believe a top half finish is certainly a realistic goal as we sit one point behind 10th.
TSF: How much of West Ham's form this season is down to adjusting to the new home, and how much to the more traditional on-pitch problems?
BTH: Moving from the historic Boelyn Ground to London Stadium has certainly not been easy on fans. The memories built there is not something you forget in one offseason. So much so, the board called a face to face meeting with fan organizations and bloggers to discuss all of their issues and grievances and learn how to better the situation. It’s a step in the right direction, but it certainly hasn’t been a ‘home’ for West Ham United. I’m not even referring to their home record of 8-2-10 in all competitions, but just the general feeling of the grounds. Personally, I think people enjoy the river boats outside the stadium as much as they do inside the grounds.
The real issue with West Ham’s performance has come down to injury. I know every team has their setbacks but we’re setting records at London Stadium. We haven’t had a consistent XI yet this year and it’s a guessing game as to who will be subbed for who on any given day.
Of course, many still point to the board’s failures to secure successful signings these last two windows. Simone Zaza, Alvaro Arbeloa, Gokhan Tore, and some others that have just been complete busts.
TSF: Has anything in the last four games given you hope that things might turn around soon, or is the mood getting overly fatalistic?
BTH: Manuel Lanzini. Since Payet decided to bugger off he’s really filled those shoes nicely as the creator. If we have any chance of getting a result, it will be because of this lad.
TSF: Let's assume West Ham survive and remain in the Premier League next season. What holes would you like to see addressed in the transfer market?
BTH: West Ham has been attempting to address their issues at the forward and right back positions for two windows with no success. We seem to be linked to a new name almost daily from Daniel Sturridge to Wayne Rooney. In reality, we’ll probably end up with some disgruntled Argentinian forward who wants nothing more than to just go home, and call it a successful transfer window. Just kidding Jonathan Calleri, you’ve been great…
When healthy, Andy Carroll is one of the best and most lethal physical specimens in the air. Unfortunately, he’s never healthy. Sam Byram is a young right back who could be a solid Premier League full back one day… but he’s no Kyle Walker.
TSF: Does retaining Premier League status save Slaven Bilic's job?
BTH: Probably not. We’ve been debating what would be considered a ‘successful’ season for Slaven Bilic going forward over at Brace The Hammer. We don’t have to look any further than co-chairman David Gold who said the aim is to finish in the top half of the table. Anything short of that will see Slaven Bilic out the door. Roberto Mancini is thrilled.
TSF: A goal difference of -13 would seem to indicate a lack of firepower. West Ham have three players with 7 or more goals, but after that it's a fairly steep dropoff. is it fair to say that one of West Ham's attacking problems is in getting the goalscorers the service they need, or is there something else?
BTH: The biggest issue has been keeping players on the pitch. There’s a new midfield and attacking line every weekend so it is difficult for the players to find any sort of fluidity amongst each other. We built an offense around Dimitri Payet, that’s the truth of it. Unfortunately, the club is now reeling from that decision. It also doesn’t help that we can’t keep our star forward in Andy Carroll on the pitch for more than a few matches at a time.
TSF: Fill in the blank: For West Ham to beat Arsenal, they must (blank).
BTH: For West Ham to beat Arsenal, they will have to utilize the counter to perfection. My prediction is the Hammers will be forced to reside mostly in their defensive third and sniff out a quick counter when possible. It would really help if Michail Antonio is declared fit as he is our best hope to making the quick transition from defense to attack. If Antonio and Lanzini can create chances, if Andy Carroll can be the force and presence we expect, and if Jose Fonte and James Collins develop a solid partnership – there’s a chance we can grab three points. That’s a lot of ifs, however.
8. Same last question for you: predicted lineup, and best guess as to a result.
Randolph – Kouyate, Fonte, Collins – Masuaku, Noble, Nordtveit, Byram – Antonio, Lanzini – Carroll
I think Arsenal will be too much for West Ham. We lost Pedro Obiang and Winston Reid for an extended period of time and they were critical to our spine. Defensively we’ve been shaky at best and even if we are able to press for an extended period of time, we’re extremely susceptible to the counter. Arsenal take it 3-1.
Thanks to Jonathan and Brace The Hammer for taking time to talk with us.