Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Stag or Drag: Some Thoughts on the Rice Conundrum

Ireland or England? For most occupants of the Islands of Britain and Ireland that question is a no brainer. Born of Irish emigrants, I grew up in Essex until I was ten and then made the move back to the Emerald Isle. Yes, I supported England as a kid and Ireland as an adult, the apparent contradiction of which has never really troubled me. It may seem strange to some, but you can have an allegiance to both while also being 100% committed to either.

Add in the club piece and suddenly the Irish perspective on football gets weird - rabid Irish fans of Man United can cheer with venom against those same players when they turn out for England! Personally, I don't think that I could ever cheer against a Hammer, no matter what country they might be playing for. And therein lies a key point, For many serious football fans the International thing is just a sideshow, a mere titillation that keeps us amused during every second Summer recess. Matches in which our greatest concern is that our star players don 't pick up an injury.

Yes, I am still aggrieved about Dean Ashton's career ending injury whilst on duty with England and yes, I did tremble with sadness when he scored that delightful overhead kick goal in Mark Noble's testimonial - reminding us of the tremendous talent that we were denied. And while we are on the subject, Diafra Sakho was a thorough menace to opposition defences until that controversial international break with Senegal in which he aggravated a back injury and was never the same again.

In short, Club football is where it is at and in reality neither Ireland nor England are likely to win anything of significance during the next decade. If you accept that, then its a question of where the better deal lies for those of mixed allegiance - the FAI are an amateurish outfit, prone to bad preparation and a variety of other gaffes, but ultimately the Boys in Green stick together, no big notions, no superstars, no media humiliations after poor results. Declan will know that from his time through the underage system and in the three friendlies he has appeared in to date.

In contrast, non-English observers watch with awe as the circus around each tournament unfolds. Initially inflated as major prospects, inevitably the nastier element starts to creep in and by the end of most tournaments the England squad need to go into hiding to escape the vitriol from the tabloid media. Gareth Southgate has escaped that so far, but would anyone bet that the European championships don't bring a fall from grace with all the associated unpleasantness, so much of which seems unnecessarily personal and often plain vicious.

As an Irish hammer I'd love to see Declan opt for Ireland, partly because of a sense of patriotism and the sense of hope that a player of his tremendous ability would bring to a team that at present is short on talent but big in heart. In addition, as a Hammer you want him to be happy and to dodge the bullet that is being an English international caught in the eye of the tabloids.

Maybe the final word on the matter should go to Jason McAteer who, when asked about what it was like returning to Liverpool after international duty explained that Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman would return from England duty usually quite sedate, sometimes crestfallen. In comparison, McAteer described usually feeling fully refreshed and ready for club action after what he described as 'like going on a stag weekend'!

No brainer then, I guess!

BTW Happy 20th Birthday Declan and Thank you for Saturday - we got to witness the loudest and most sustained moment of Hammers joy since the move to Stratford. Every man and his dog could sense that something really significant had just occurred and we loved it! 


Monday, 14 January 2019

Chinese Turn up the Heat in Arnautovic Campaign

Reports this morning indicate that the attempted hijacking of Marko Arnautovic by Shanghai SiPG has gone into a higher gear as the club have reportedly increased their £39 million bid to a whopping £45 million for the 29 year old.

With Oscar and Hulk already on their books, they are looking for another high profile signing to boost their profile. Arnautovic headed to Austria after Saturday's victory over Arsenal, with the intention of celebrating the Serbian New Year with his family. Hammers fans would probably prefer to hear that he is spending time with the likes of Mark Noble to steady his head rather than with his brother Danijel who seems to be the main energy driving the career-ending move.

Arnautovic has realised his best ever form at West Ham and would perhaps benefit from observing how Dimitri Payet's stratospheric rise came to an end when he moved back to Marseille under somewhat similar circumstances. Arnautovic has struggled with inconsistency during his career and really only found regular form since being switched to a central attacking role by David Moyes just over a year ago. 

Many seasoned observers would feel that he will be wasting the most productive  period of his career if he moves to the Chinese League which is regarded by many as second rate at best. Of note, Arnautovic himself has had no formal comments and much of the media speculation is surmised from his brother's comments and their reading of his body language.

Manuel Pellegrini has handled the episode quite differently from Slaven Bilic, who seemed to feel compelled to be seen to be strong with Payet and relegated him to training with the kids (including none other than Declan Rice!). Pelle has played down the affair as something that may well just blow over. One senses that Marko is quite a different person to Payet and that he is more prone to impulsive behaviour, while Payet seemed dead set on a move at any cost.

In reality, while Arnautovic has won the hearts of Hammers fans, the side has started to gel under Pellegrini to the point that fans have a handful of stars to sing about, including Felipe Anderson, Issa Diop and Declan Rice. Given the treacherous nature of the January window, maybe West Ham should bank the money and use it to prepare for a serious assault upon the Premiership next season?


Sunday, 13 January 2019

That Historic Rice Moment Seen From the Bobby Moore Stand

It's been a pretty crazy season to date. Beating Man United was certainly a high point, with the 2 minute cameo where we played keep ball one of my favourite football moments ever, but undoubtedly Declan Rice's first goal for the club was history being made - and everybody in the ground realised it as we rejoiced in one of those rare moments where the reason for spending so much time and emotional energy on a silly game where men kick a piece of leather about a field makes sense.

Following Murphy's law as my eldest son was late getting back to his seat after half time, i decided to video any key moments. Hence this delightful footage of Declan Rice's goal as seen from section 252 row 60. Sometimes i wonder if its worth all the hassle dragging ourselves out of bed at 4.45am on a dark and cold Saturday morning to make the long trip to East London from the West of Ireland, but at times like this it makes sense again.

This is what we are. COYI!!!


Is This The Trophy That Arnautovic Covets?

An image of the future that Arnie simply cannot get off his mind

Danijel Arnautovic's statement regarding his brother Marko's desire to move away from West ham to China in search of trophies is starting to attract quite a degree of ridicule. While most of us can appreciate that wages of 200k a week or more can be a tempting prospect, the opportunity to compete for the Yanjing FA Cup trophy is possibly a little less credible as a reason to exit the world's most competitive league and Football's most historic competition in the FA Cup!

OR perhaps we have got it all wrong and in Austria schoolchildren dream of scoring the goal that wins the Ping’an Chinese Super League!

Marko needs to wake up and realise that he can still make that money in 3-4 years time when similar offers will undoubtedly still be available and that for now he should focus upon doing his very best at the highest level.

The real question seems to be whether Danijel can wait that long for the cash? Such a pity as Arnie clearly loves the competitive challenge of top level football and would surely miss playing against the best if he left now.

Julien's Faux Pas #9

As the Marko Arnautovic story trundled on, 19 years old Declan Rice reminded us that modern football can still include stories that warm us to the core. In addition to bossing midfield, young Rice treated the assembled to a truly brilliant moment when he scored his first ever goal for the club, followed by the stadium exploding with joy! Arsenal simply could not match the passion of West Ham and afterwards the stadium emptied much slower than usual as fans savoured the moment.


To celebrate, let's take in Julien's Faux Pas #9.


Saturday, 12 January 2019

Forget the Chinese Whispers: Shanghai is a Stalking Horse

If we are to believe the media, Marko Arnautovic has already stated a desire to leave  West Ham (e.g. "I want to go" in Today's edition of the pointless rag that litters our trains, otherwise knoqn as the Metro). This article really is out of order as it has no such quote from Arnautovic!

To date, the only statement on the matter from Arnie's camp has been from his brother who amongst a tirade of provocative statements says that his brother wants to go to China to win trophies!

If meaningless trophies are what Marko wants, we have a small plastic model of the FA cup that is awarded to the winner of our back garden footy competition each week. It doesn't come with a massive salary (but for Marko we would certainly have a generous whiparound) but its a trophy nonetheless.

We've got another trophy for 'Prat of the Week' which we have awarded to Danijel for his efforts to destabilise Marko's position at the club just as we are on the verge of having a squad that actually can compete for trophies, and real ones at that. We'll let you gu3ss what shape the trophy is!

All the same, you have to wonder what is going on behind the scenes. When the furore over China dies down will we see the real predator in this tale....Chelsea, Man United....the rest of the top six don't need him and you'd have to think West ham are towards the top of the chasing group - now the fastest growing club in Europe?

If Marko really wants trophies, you'd have to say that after this season of building, West ham will be looking to genuinely compete in the following two seasons and have a squad that is improving at an incredible rate. For the doubters, imagine beibg able to select a West Ham frontline from Arnautovic, Lanzini, Anderson, Yarmolenko, Nasri, Carroll, Chicharito, Antonio, Diangana and Silva!

So, a word of advice to Marko - stick around and head for China and tgat £200k weekly wage in 2-3 years time when your contract is ending and you can also get a massive signing on fee.

And yes, i'd be delighted to take over as your agent when you tire of your brother's unhelpful antics!

Player Ratings as West Ham Decomission the Gunners

Lukasz Fabianski - 8

A clean sheet against his former employers will undoubtedly please him. Had to work for it as the Gooners piled out the pressure towards the end. Good distribution throughout the game provided the foundation of an assured performance.

Pablo Zabaleta - 8

How our defence looked so much more confident with him back and our overall shape was so much better. Class. Dont you wish he was 5 years younger!

Issa Diop - 8

Back to his best after a few below par performances since Zab and the General went out on sick leave. Looked like he enjoyed the battle with Arsenal's physical front unit.

Angelo Ogbonna- 8

Solid throughout with plenty of sound decision making and a determination to play out from the back. If reports of a two month absence for Balbuena are true, then Angelo demonstrated again that he is a fine replacement.

Aaron Cresswell - 8

Laid down his claim as our starting left back with a solid defensive performance along with a more than decent contribution up front as he and Felipe Anderson are finding the same frequency.

Declan Rice - 9.5

Absolutely outstanding. Wrecked Arsenal's momentum again and again in the match by always seeming to be there just when they looked to have finally picked our locks. Then topped it all off with the crucial goal! He looks bigger every time he walks on the pitch.

Mark Noble - 8.5

Captain Claret looked totally up for it from the kick off. Ran and ran and harried the opposition while constantly keeping us ticking over. There was a delightful cameo where he made a particular point of celebrating Rice's goal with him after the melee settled. Class.

Samir Nasri- 8

Pelle really dies a great job in player rehabilitation. Snodgrass, Antonio and now Nasri. Looked keen and sharp. Another great purchase by the wise one. Almost grabbed a goal early on. Left the field to massive applause - deserved too.

Felipe Anderson - 8.5.

What a signing! Not only is he our most exciting player going forward but he really puts in a decent defensive shift with his interceptions and as an outlet to break forward. Almost scored a cracker in the first half. Class - and keeps the opposition honest with his pace and dribbling ability. Even tried a Maradona-style run in the second half that almost came off....would have been our goal of the season for sure!

Michail Antonio

His best performance in a long time. Has rediscovered his pace and it all flows from there. Won an incredible amount of headers during the game and provided a level of  physical presence that allowed us to dominate for long periods and set up that winning platform.

Marko Arnautovic - 7

Understandably looked a bit distracted all afternoon. Let's hope we can avoid a Payet II affair. Regaining his match fitness with each passing week.


Andy Carroll - 7.5

A joyous entrance as he galloped about annoying the hell out of the Arsenal defence.

Robert Snodgrass- 7

Helped shore things up as we focused upon preventing an Arsenal equaliser.

Pedro Obiang - 7

Once again put in a solid 10 minutes as he helped us see the game out.

Media Wolves Circle Hammers (again)

It's become tediously predictable that every time a West Ham player hits form that the. media start speculating about a move to a 'bigger' club.

This January its the turn of Marko Arnautovic, sparing Issa Diop and / or Declan Rice and /or Felipe Anderson the dubious 'honour' of having his circumstances churned around in the media cesspool, often with false quotes thrown in to add to the hysteria.

Perusing this morning's outpourings, a tone of certainty has emerged about his departure. Hilariously, he is heading for China!!! In all honesty, West ham may have a battle to hold on to Marko in the Summer but, to a seasoned eye moving to China at this point in his career would be ridiculous. Maybe when he is 32 or 33 Marko might want to cash in with a move to China but right now he must have other priorities.

In short, Hammers fans can rest awhile, mostly because Ole Gunnar won't be given much shopping funds as Man U have essentially given up on this season.

West ham issued a statement that he has a contract and is expected to honour it. Hmmm. Its hard to know what they could say that won't add to the furore but that statement does seem a bit tetchy and has hardly calmed things.

As for Today's game, both sides are in and out at the moment but Arsenal have an irritating habit of finding their best form against West ham. With Pablo back and Antonio released to do what he is good at rather than pretending to be a full back, maybe that will tilt things in our favour. A shaky Arsenal defence needs testing and you would expect the combination of Arnie, Anderson, Nasri, Carroll and Antonio to be able to mount a decent assault upon them up front but we need to get a decent share of the possession, something that we have been so much better at under Pellegrini.

Mystic Mark Lawrenson predicts a Gooners win, citing no particular reason other than his  anti-West ham hunch. The bookies tend to agree and have West ham at 5/2 and Arsenal evens for the win. Either way, we can expect a high scoring contest.

Rory Nostradamus (who incidentally is right beside me on the morning flight from Shannon  to Stansted) reckons it'll be a 3-2 classic for the Hammers.

Predicted Starting XI: Fabianski, Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Rice, Noble, Snodgrass, Anderson, Antonio, Arnautovic.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Julien's Faux Pas #8

It really was a good old fashioned FA Cup atmosphere at the London Stadium yesterday as the mighty Hammers outclassed the gutsy Blues to move into the Fourth round. It's enough to make you want to don a claret n blue rosette and swivel your wooden ratchet a few times.

To celebrate, let's have another Coldwar Steve-style image...



Player Ratings: West Ham 2-0 Birmingham City

Adrian: Captain for the day and reminded us that he’s a great keeper. You’ve gotta feel sorry for him that he’s got Fabianski to compete with. Vital save towards the end when he went down bravely on the Birmingham striker who was through one on one. 7/10

M. Antonio: Had a good game and looks back to full fitness. He needs that pace to have confidence as his first touch is a bit muddy. We should be reported for a human rights violation for continually abusing his good will by forcing him to play at right back when he just is not suited to that role. Chequebooks out Messers Gold and Sullivan and buy a right back asap and lets free Michail to do what he is good at up the right flank before Yarmolenko returns and displaces him. 7/10

I. Diop: Looked steady all day and handled the physicality of Birmingham’s physical frontline. Appears to be missing Balbuene more than we expected but equally, Zabaleta has been absent for much of that period which doubles the deficit at the back. 7/10

A. Ogbonna: Solid. A great back up centre back to have in the ranks but you suspect that the General will slip straight back into his usual position once he is fit – which may be next week from reports. 6/10

A. Masuaku: Typical Arthur – tasty going forward and tenacious with the ball but another lapse could have cost us dearly. He manages to slip up at least once every game. 6/10

S. Nasri: Nothing too extraordinary but fitted in nicely and looked very fluid in midfield. Early days but looks like a good piece of business and if still near his best he can bring some creativity to our midfield that we have been lacking. Imagine the day when we field Nasri, Anderson, Lanzini and Rice in midfield  - with Yarmolenko hovering on the sidelines! 7/10

D. Rice: A huge presence (as always) and didn’t put a foot wrong. He has the confidence of a young Roy Keane or Billy Bonds. If we were to indulge one minor aspect that he might work on - maybe could shoot a bit more?  8/10

P. Obiang: As Sleaford Mods would say ‘mediocre’. Works hard and has a non-glamorous role. 6/10

G. Diangana: Lively all day and constantly giving the opposition something to think about. Still needs to work on his end product and defensive contribution. You really wish for him that he scores soon as one suspects that will push him to another level in terms of confidence and give the fans a chance to single him out for celebration.. 7.5/10

X. Silva: Looks sharp and was unlucky that things didn’t quite connect for him yesterday. Lots of good link play and has an abrasive edge. Certainly worth more game time and raises the question whether we really need Perez at all. 7/10

M. Arnautovic: His presence, even only for a run about for 20 minutes, changes the atmosphere on and off the pitch. He has an unusual charisma. Love to see the passion when he was taken off to keep him fit for Arsenal – we really need to beat them to get that awful defeat hoodoo off of our backs and we need Marko fully fit  to do that. 7/10

Carroll: Great to see him galloping about the pitch. Should’ve had a hat trick but did get the killer goal. As always, if only he can stay fit……7/10

Snodgrass: Decent contribution and definitely in good form. 6/10

Anderson: Interesting substityution – when most would’ve brought on a more defensive player, Pelle chose to bolster the attack and we almost scored on a number of occasions when Felipe came on. He created a  gilt-edged chance for Big Andy that was wasted. 6/10

QUACK QUACK!!! Anyone for a Cup Run?

Listening on the radio feed to yesterday's game the crowd noise was unmistakeably that of a cup game! Loud and passionate, you could sense the passion and excitement. Things weren't too bad on the pitch either, as Manuel Pellegrini fielded a strong side who ultimately had too much for a gamey Birmingham City.

The Blues had a number of chances to level matters along the way and will feel that West Ham were lucky to keep a clean sheet, but ultimately with 74% possession, almost three times as many passes (619 vs 211) and a vastly higher pass accuracy, West Ham were relatively comfortable winners.

There were impressive performances by the youngsters, with both Silva and Diangana posing a constant threat up front and forcing Birmingham to play relatively deep. However, the biggest talking point was the bizarre Arnautovic substitution. It seems Pellegrini may have had a rare rush of blood to the head as he pulled Marko ashore after just 20 minutes, much to the astonishment of everybody - including Arnie himself!

One disappointment from the game was that we could not get a two goal cushion early enough to give Conor Coventry a run. The cup provides excellent opportunity for younger players to get big match experience but equally, with our injury problems the Hammers did not want to concede and have to go to a replay.  

Andy Carroll got his first goal for nine months with a classical Carroll header - but not after missing two gilt edged opportunities on the floor! Its hard to know where to go with the Carroll story from here as he remains a great striker but simply cannot maintain fitness. One suspects that Pellegrini has a clear mind and will follow his plans with his usual ruthlessness. It was wonderful to hear him calmly dismissing the media in his post match interview as they tried to create a storm about the Arnautovic incident.

Next up its Monday night and the draw. We are ball 22 (Quack Quack!!!). David Gold has tweeted that he feels a Cup run coming. There is a good feeling about the club right now and that's a great time to have a run at the cup. The draw is after the Liverpool game (maybe 9.45). Ex-Hammer Robbie Keane will be pulling the balls.

Arsenal next Saturday will be a big test. The Gunners have a modest away record this season, winning four of their ten games and losing on three occasions. With Zabaleta coming back to add balance at the back, Nasri adding to our midfield options and both Arnie and Andy Carroll reasonably fit, maybe its time to buck the trend as over the past decade we have won only 1 of 22 games (2015), with 4 draws!!!


Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Kids Are United: No Sham United For Blues Visit

Having finally found our stride under Manuel Pellegrini, a cup run looks like an enticing prospect despite our injury problems. The cup can also provide an excellent opportunity to give some of our promising youngsters a chance to strut their stuff - something that Pellegrini has not been shy about. With Declan Rice now established as the central cog of our midfield, Grady Diangana gaining valuable match experience by the week and Conor Coventry having made a few matchday squads, it's all looking very youth-friendly. However, all eyes will be on Xande Silva today. The Portuguese hot shot gets his first start for the Hammers and will be looking to make his mark!

Pelle has almost certainly been asked to avoid an embarrassing defeat to Messers Gold n Sullivan's former club who are looking well organised under the impressive Gary Monk and will be no push over today. As such, the starting XI is strong with Diop and Ogbonna at the centre of the defence. and Arnie up front. There is plenty of quality on the bench if things don't go according to plan in the first hour! 

Samir Nasri gets his first start for the Hammers and will be hoping to demonstrate his value after a prolonged break from top class action. Sadly for Reece Oxford, there is no room in the squad, further demonstrating how far he has drifted off course since that impressive debut against Arsenal back at the start of Slaven Bilic's reign.

Rory Nostradamus reckons it'll be a 4-2 cracker.

Kick off is 12.30.


West Ham United: Adrian (c), Antonio, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku, Rice, Obiang, Diangana, Nasri, Xande Silva, Arnautovic
Subs: Fabianski, Cresswell, Coventry, Snodgrass, Felipe Anderson, Lucas Perez, Carroll 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Julien's Faux Pas #7

West ham headed to Burnley on the crest of a wave but, in classical Hammers fashion, fluffed their lines and were easily beaten by a hungrier and more determined Clarets side. In truth, so many games in December proved too much as even Issa Diop and Declan Rice looked tired. Full marks to Burnley who could have won by a considerably greater margin and were ruthless in their domination of a lacklustre Hammers.

There's not much else to note about a dismal display that was surely our worst under Manuel Pellegrini. Let's hope he can recharge his troops for Brighton tomorrow. Word is that Pablo Zabaleta is back and maybe Balbuena. Arnie will surely be sharper and Andy got a few more minutes game time. Xande Silva had a brief cameo and looked sharp but hardly got the ball apart from one deflected shot. He is surely a better prospect than £80K per week Lucas Perez who offered virtually nothing all game.