It’s the battle of the undefeateds on Saturday, as Arsenal and West Ham, who between them have not defeated anyone this season, go at it at the Emirates. Tomorrow sees the return of Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez, and the first visit to the Emirates by Manuel Pellegrini as West Ham coach.
I chatted with Jonathan Lines of SBN’s West Ham blog, Brace the Hammer, about Wilshere, Pellegrini, London Stadium, and a few other things as well. I answered some of his questions too, and I’ll link those here when they go live over there. Off we go!
TSF: New season, new manager. Are people excited about Manuel Pellegrini?
BTH: Even despite the slow start I think there’s no question the appointment of Pellegrini has created a lot of excitement.
It’s been a rotten couple of seasons for us. Spending two seasons in a row fighting relegation is no fun at the best of times, but this happening at the new stadium, with the whole promise of leaving home being ‘next level football’ left fans extremely unhappy. While David Moyes did a really good job of stabilising us, when Pellegrini was announced fans were very happy.
The excitement comes mostly down to the guy’s proven track record of success, not just stability. He’s managed clubs who have won things, played good football and attracted top players. It remains to be seen what will happen but the owners were able to buy themselves some time with a bold and expensive appointment which has definitely made the fans happy.
TSF: While maybe not as high-profile as Arsenal’s, West Ham’s summer was every bit as busy if not busier. Now that the dust is settling, how do you feel about West Ham’s transfer activity?
BTH: Personally I’m happy, but am under no illusions that there’s still work to do on the squad. I’m amazed at the level of disrepair the squad fell into over time. We ended last season with only about 15 actual first team players in the squad, with a dreadful imbalance and a lack of pace.
For a change, I have to say I’m impressed at the level and quickness of action to address this. Players like Fredericks, Yarmolenko and Anderson have clearly been brought in to address our squad’s weaknesses, which never seemed to be the thinking previously. Elsewhere, Fabianski and Wilshere are upgrades and Balbuena and Diop add depth in defense. They played leadership roles at their previous clubs and look exciting, but will take time to settle .
My concern is that West Ham’s problems are much deeper-rooted and throwing money at a problem is not the way to solve it. Our system doesnt seem to work yet. Also the club is stil run at an amateurish level from top to bottom and we won’t grow until we address that fully. For instance, what other club doesn’t have ball boys and your left-back has to run half a mile to retrieve the ball in the last minute of a game when we need a goal?
TSF: Like Arsenal, It’s been zero wins from two so far for your side - is that indicative of how rough the season may be overall, or is it just, as with Arsenal, a period of uncertainty while the new coach and new players/ideas settle in and figure things out?
BTH: Our first two games felt very ‘here we go again’. There’s no shame in losing to Liverpool but the warning signs were there, and it seems the team were a little complacent in not addressing the problems we had in that game, which were of our own making and not just down to the opposition’s quality, and we paid for that against Bournemouth
’Settling in’ is one thing but I have grave concerns if the manager genuinely thinks it’s a good idea to play 4-4-2 with Noble and Wilshere as the midfield two, and the defensively hapless Arthur Masuaku as part of a back four. Those were lessons I didn’t think someone with the reputation of Pellegrini needed to learn.
I know things will take time, but to be honest we’re yet to see the foundations to build on, which does concern me. I’d like to see Pellegrini be a little more pragmatic with his approach. For instance, our squad looks well-suited to a balanced back three with pace and ball dominance against most sides.
TSF: Will Pellegrini try to use Jack Wilshere in his more natural, deep-lying midfield position, or will he just stick him in as a #10 and call it a day like both Eddie Howe and Arsene Wenger did?
BTH: The early signs are that Jack will play deeper in midfield. Personally I’m OK with this because having someone who can take care of the ball and help control tempo is something we have lacked for ages, especially with his quality. The key will be to establish a defensive balance on that area, and for the other players not to stand around like lemons while he’s waiting for someone to pass to.
TSF: He hasn’t played much yet, but do you expect Lucas Perez to have a sizable role in the club this season?
BTH: Lucas had about 10 minutes against Bournemouth and looked lively. I was impressed with his movement and he put in one cracking cross that we ought to have capitalised on. I don’t expect him to play much on his own unless we have injuries, but he will get time in the team and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.
TSF: Is London Stadium any better than it has been, or is that still a point of friction between fans and club?
BTH: Nope. And yes. The owners have put their money where their mouth is in terms of investing in the squad and the manager. And they have delivered their promise in appointing a Director of Football. This buys them a good amount of time with the fans. But the fact remains that we don’t and won’t feel at home in our soulless athletics stadium. And the only way I can see it changing is if results off the pitch start justifying the ‘upgrade’.
Thanks again to Jonathan and Brace the Hammer for taking the time to answer our questions!