Thursday, January 17

The programme's progress

National crisis averted. My West Ham versus Arsenal programme has arrived, promptly dispatched by Programme Master. The sellers at the London Stadium seem to be selling out by 2.45pm (has no-one told the printers we now get 60,000?) and this left me in danger of crashing out of the stadium with no programme. Ordering it online cost me £1.95 in postage, but it was worth it as getting a programme is one of this May's red lines. Without a programme the game wouldn't have counted and West Ham would still be on 28 points…

Wednesday, January 16

Should West Ham pay over the odds for a striker?

It seems West Ham could be left striker light after the window. Marko Arnautovic's body language suggests he wants a move and there is the argument, voiced by Ian Wright and Jermaine Jenas, that a sulking Arnie could ruin the dressing room spirit. If Shanghai upped their offer to £45m it would be hard to turn down for a soon to be 30-year-old player whose brother insists he wants to leave for the sake of his wallet, sorry I mean challenging for titles. 

Meanwhile Valencia are after Chicharito and the player is apparently keen to go. Much could depend on man management here. Could Pellegrini persuade either of our wantaway strikers that the PL is the place to be and why not give it another five months and see if West Ham can win the FA Cup or finish seventh? And would they go on strike if denied a move?

If just Arnie left there might be a case for making do with Hernandez, Antonio, Carroll and Perez as strikers. With 31 points on the board WHU should be out of the relegation scrap. Strikers bought in the transfer window tend to be massively overpriced, with Bournemouth mentioning a stonking £75 million as a price for Callum Wilson. Or they are panic buys — anyone remember Jordan Hugill? 

There are a lot of options to ponder. Perhaps a deal for Tammy Abraham (wanted by Wolves) might be the answer as at least he's young? Or playing Nasri behind the main striker? Though if two strikers left it would leave the Hammers desperately short up front and relying on Andy Carroll staying fit. Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring, don't panic!

Monday, January 14

Nasri still exudes class

The performance of Samir Nasri against Arsenal was highly promising. He needs more time to get match fitness after 18 month ban, but his class shone though and he looks hungry to play. Like all quality players Nasri seems to have time on the ball and was nicely unhurried in the way he calmly laid the ball off, most notably for Anderson's shot wide in the first half and then the winner from Declan Rice. It was hard on Robert Snodgrass to be dropped (and we certainly missed his corners as Anderson still can't taken them) but Nasri certainly gave the side something extra with his intricate passing. At 31 he's still got a few years left and whisper it quietly but West Ham might just have got a world-class player for nothing.

Saturday, January 12

Rice cracker defeats Arsenal

Declan salutes the fans at the final whistle…      Picture: Michael the Whovian
West Ham 1 Arsenal 0

Well, a great team performance and lovely to see Declan Rice get his teenage kicks through scoring the winner. Credit to Anderson for the initial pull back from the goalline. A weak defensive header saw Nasri lay it off perfectly into the path of Rice who scored with a thumping shot. Declan celebrated like he enjoys playing for West Ham, the first teenager to score for WHU in ten years since Junior Stanislas. It was also a good moment for Nasri who looked like he can still be a quality performer against his old club.

It's in to the Best Cafe early doors with a tardy daughter Nell for a late brunch and a dash to the London Stadium, where disastrously we find the programmes have sold out. Matt and Lisa are sitting at the back of Row Z to allow his nephew and wife to join us along with Nigel, Fraser, Scott and Aussie visitor Connor.

At the kick-off a pessimistic Michael mentions he's never seen us beat Arsenal. Fabianski has to make a decent stop from Lacazette early on but the Irons improve for the rest of the half, with Antonio causing problems, Nasri hitting the side netting, Anderson shooting just wide and Rice missing with a free header. Arnautovic is involved although looks understandably preoccupied at times, but the side look up for this and so does the crowd. And without the Vicar's Son alongside us even the ref seems to be having a good game.

We wonder if West Ham have scored too early after 48 minutes. But Arsenal don't threaten that often and Pellegrini makes sensible substitutions with Carroll on for Arnie (who gives a farewell clap to the crowd?) and Snodgrass replacing the tiring Nasri. 

Cresswell has a fine game at left-back and makes one great saving tackle and Obiang replaces the crocked Antonio. The Gunners' best effort sees Iwobi shoot just past the post. Nigel says he can see us getting at least a point as we enter added time, which is usually the kiss of death, but despite a disallowed header from Koscielny we hold on as Bubbles envelops the stadium and then Twist and Shout comes on the PA. An early day tonic. Irons!

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Zabaleta 7, Diop 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 8; Anderson 7, Rice 9, Noble 7, Antonio 7 (Obiang 6), Nasri 7 (Snodgrass 6); Arnautovic 6 (Carroll 6).

Wilshere's tale of woe

Quite an insightful piece by James Olley on Jack Wilshere in the Evening Standard this week. His ankle problems seemed to start with a hairline fracture of his ankle when he was 16. He was told to cure it through rest over that summer, but later discovered it hadn't healed properly. He then got a kick on the same ankle which required surgery at the end of the 2010-11 season. The piece also points to the fact that he played 54 games in 2010-11 when he was just 19. Since then he's been on and off the treatment table and often rushed back too soon. 

He's looked like a poor West Ham signing with that injury record, but you've got to feel sorry for Wilshere too. For a professional athlete it's never easy when your body won't function properly, as Andy Murray has just found out. Let's hope his last chance at recovery finally succeeds.

Friday, January 11

West Ham should not be dictated to by agents

Not every encouraging noises from Marko Arnautovic's agent, his brother Danijel. He says that it is Marko's "great desire that West Ham accept the offer from China" and that "he wants to go to a new market and challenge for titles". You half expect him to add that Marko has supported Shanghai SIPG since he was a nipper in Vienna. 

You really hope this doesn't develop into a Payet-style situation. Ever since Arnie did the crossed Hammers sign at his former fans at Stoke last season it's been clear that loyalty might not be his strong suit. But he doesn't strike me as the sort of player who if selected would deliberately not try either. It could all be leverage in order to get a better deal too. West Ham can't be dictated to by agents and it's time to get tough. He's under contract and should stay. If he really wants to go to a not very good Chinese league that could be arranged in the summer if the Chinese offer silly money. That way the club would have time to sign a replacement. For the moment we need him to try and challenge for the FA Cup and Europa League.

Thursday, January 10

Chinese whispers about Arnie

Bad news that an unnamed Chinese team has made a £35 million bid for Marko Arnautovic. West Ham are not under any pressure to sell and although every player has his price, we really need to keep hold of Arnie and make a strong bid for the FA Cup or Europa League. You can't see that football-wise he'd be interested in leaving the Premier League for China, although he is 30 in April and his agent/brother might be tempted by the cash on offer. More disturbing rumours come in the Sun, claiming that Man City see Declan Rice as the long-term successor to Fernandinho, who is 33. At least we now have Declan on a long-term contract. The board needs to show its ambition. if West Ham are to reach 'the next level' the Irons need to hang on to top players like Arnautovic and Rice. 

Wednesday, January 9

What do West Ham need from the window?


West Ham have had a good start to the transfer window by signing Samir Nasri on a free, who should give the side some flair if Anderson isn't firing. So what else do the Hammers need? Much will depend on who is available, with players overpriced at this time of year. Left back is still a problem — Masuaku and Cresswell are decent going forward but struggle defensively. We also need a long-term replacement for the admirable Zabaleta and I would have thought a loan deal for Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne might have been an option before Bournemouth nabbed him. WHU are also short in central midfield if anything happens to Rice, Noble or Obiang, which is why Pellegrini is said to be after former Cardiff player Gary Medel. While there are rumours Perez could be going back to Spain, which might make another move for a striker a possibility. Rumours of swapping Carroll for Jonjo Shelvey appear unlikely, though you never know. It should be an interesting month.

Monday, January 7

Is Antonio now back to his best?

Another assist for Michail Antonio in the win against Birmingham. It's been a good couple of months for the injury-prone utility player. After the 4-0 home defeat to Man City Antonio said that he felt fully fit for the first time in two years (which makes you wonder how WHU's medical team got his recoveries so wrong). 

Since then he's played as an emergency full back against Cardiff and scored with a header and scored at Fulham in a game where he caused a lot of problems as a striker running up the channels. He was then used as cover for Zabaleta at right-back and while still looking suspect defensively, he made Anderson's winner at Southampton with a great ball out of defence. 

As a sub against Brighton he changed the game, making a great run and cross for Arnautovic's equalising goal and then surging into the box with a mazy run only to shoot wide. He followed this up by providing the cross for Andy Carroll's late goal against Birmingham. So there's plenty of evidence that Michail is getting back to his best; and on this form he surely deserves a place in the starting line-up.

Sunday, January 6

Trouble at the Birmingham match

Regrettably there was some trouble at yesterday's FA Cup tie with Birmingham. Those there say that despite some attempts at segregation, "it broke down before the crowds got to the tunnel and suddenly hundreds of Birmingham fans were charging. The police horses intervened and it was nasty with loads of children around." My pals used local knowledge to get to the ground and avoid the aggro but it was, "easily the worst seen at the new stadium and shows how difficult to police it was."

Some Birmingham fans can certainly be very unpleasant. I recall them trying to attack us after West Ham drew 2-2 there and were relegated, and again trying to get at us past police vans following the 3-1 league Cup defeat under Avram Grant. Let's hope they don't get promoted anytime soon.

Saturday, January 5

Carroll keeps Wembley dream alive

West Ham 2 Birmingham City 0 (FA Cup)

Missed this one as it was my sister's 50th birthday lunch (very poor planning by my parents to have a child in the football season), but luckily the Hammers' Wembley dream is still alive. It was certainly an eventful afternoon for Andy Carroll, who headed a City effort off the line, rounded the keeper only to poke it wide, dug out a shot that hit the bar and in added time scored with a trademark header — his first goal for a year.

West Ham had started perfectly after two minutes with Arnautovic nodding home after Ogbonna's header was saved by Camp. Arnie was then subbed by Pellegrini who wanted to protect his knee twinge, with Marko throwing a minor strop.

Birmingham had several chances to equalise, as Masuaku and Antonio made desperate clearances and late on Harding was foiled by a good save from Fabianski. Bringing on Snodgrass and Anderson helped tip the game, with Antonio providing the late cross for Big Andy's goal.

All in all, a useful exercise for West Ham, with Nasri getting 58 minutes of game time and Silva getting an outing too. The Cup Final breakfast is still on round at Nigel's gaff in Kew.

Thursday, January 3

Arnie salvages point for Hammers

West Ham 2 Brighton 2

It's into the London Stadium where Matt has a free copy of the Watford programme, provided by Clarence his guardian angel from It's A Wonderful Life. Clarence has shown Matt a vision of what Stratford Falls would be like if he had never lived — the Broadway would be full of dodgy pubs, Lisa would be a librarian and West Ham would be a mid-table side struggling to defend set pieces.

The first half is very scrappy and the 60,000 crowd is quiet. Andy Carroll, making his first start for a year, looks rusty and not on the same frequency as Arnautovic. Obiang often passes straight to the opposition and as at Burnley, the WHU side looks jaded. Arnie has a penalty shout, Anderson fires a half-chance into the keeper's gloves and Arnie has a good curling effort saved by Button, but that's as good as it gets. Brighton look well-coached by Chris Hughton and difficult to break down.

Pellegrini takes off Carroll at half-time (to be fair to Andy he's not received one high ball) and brings on Perez. The Hammers make a better start as Anderson weaves through the Brighton defence only to shoot just wide. "At least we're not 2-0 down like at Burnley," suggests Mystic May.

DUFFY DEFENDING
Just as Nigel is saying Brighton are dangerous at set-pieces Fabianski punches a corner straight out to Stephens, who fires home as Snodgrass and Perez fail to close him down. And what has happened to having a man on the post at corners? A defender on the line might have kept it out. 

Two minutes late Brighton score from another corner. Diop is caught ball-watching as he loses Duffy, who hooks home from a tight angle. This could be embarrassing against our bogey side. Bernardo ghosts past Zabaleta and almost makes it three as Fabianski saves. Pellegrini acts by bringing on Antonio and Noble and it makes an instant difference. 

On 66 minutes Nobes plays a well-flighted long ball into the path of Arnautovic. It's all about strength as the burly Austrian holds off Dunk and prods beyond the keeper. Then, being Arnie, he gets involved in a tug-of-war for the ball with Dunk. The crowd senses a comeback. 

DOUBLE MARKO
Two minutes later Noble finds Antonio with a crossfield ball and the winger, who seems to have found his speed again, powers past two defenders, almost runs the ball out of play, but pulls it back to Arnie who fires into the roof of the net. Two goals in two minutes! Matt suggests Marko is going to enjoy proving he's top man above Anderson.

The Hammers always look vulnerable at the back, but for the final twenty minutes the Irons try hard to forge a memorable winner. Antonio brilliantly cuts in from the wing, beats two players, and then fires wildly wide with his left foot. Rice has a fierce effort go just wide, but everything else flounders on Dunk and Duffy. But we'd have taken a point after 58 minutes.

It's been a poor but entertaining game in the second half and at least we haven't lost to bloody Brighton again. We retreat to the Black Bull and debate as to whether it was ever owned by Bobby Moore — Fraser says as there are no scorch marks it can't have been Mooro's pub. The St Austell Proper Cracker is palatable (though Michael is newly-abstemious) and we even manage to secure a 'reserved' table. Strange, as even in the heyday of Ken's Cafe, we were never offered this privilege. 

The TV is playing endless re-runs of Man United's goals at Newcastle as we reflect that at least West Ham are unbeaten this year. Though a little defensive coaching might not go amiss.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 5; Zabaleta 5, Diop 5, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5; Anderson 6, Rice 6, Obiang 4 (Noble 7), Snodgrass 5 (Antonio 7); Carroll 5 (Perez 5), Arnautovic 7.

Wednesday, January 2

Hammers in the Heart 2018 awards

Happy new year to all readers of Hammers in The Heart and let's hope we get started with a win over Brighton tonight. Meanwhile here are my awards for 2018:

BEST GOAL: Felipe Anderson's delicately chipped effort into the top corner against Palace and for importance, Mark Noble's great volley at Leicester that secured PL status. Also enjoyed Arnie's equaliser at the Emirates in the 1-4 defeat and his shot straight through Jordan Pickford against Everton.

BEST SAVE: Lucasz Fabianski made a fantastic low stop to deny Fellaini's header against Man United. 

CALAMITY JAMES MEMORIAL AWARD: To Joe Hart, for the spill that lead to Burnley's third goal in the 3-0 home defeat.

BEST SIGNING: Anderson was expensive but is starting to look like the Di Canio/Payet-style talisman we need. While for sheer value for money, Balbuena was tremendously cheap at £3.5 million and Fabianski has proved a bargain at £7m.

WORST SIGNING: A lot of competition in this category. WHU spent £10m on Jordan Hugill and then gave him 20 minutes on the pitch before loaning him out. Patrice Evra was a decade past his best and Jack Wilshere has proved to be injury-prone — who knew?

BEST MOMENT OF PARANOIA: Marko Arnautovic's declaration after his goal against Watford: "I'm surprised some people don't like me. I think I have a good heart, so they should like me!"

MOST PROMISING YOUNGSTER: Has to be Declan Rice, who plays like a 30-year-old and has excelled both in defence and midfield. While Grady Diangana has played without fear and looks a real prospect.

BEST CORNER FLAG REMOVAL: From that bloke on the pitch against Burnley.

MOST OBLIGING OPPONENTS: Macclesfield Town.

LEAST CO-OPERATIVE LANDLORD: This goes to the LLDC for persistent legal battles with its anchor tenant and arguing forever over our claret carpet.

BEST COMEBACK: Robert Snodgrass has overcome ridicule from his own chairman and a season's loan at Aston Villa to work tremendously hard and become a cult hero.

BEST HALF AND HALF SCARF: Declan Rice wins this for his England/Ireland neckgear.

MOST PROMISING STEWARD: Mark Noble showed great potential with his efforts to carry off the Herberts on the pitch against Burnley.

Tuesday, January 1

New year, new Nasri

It could well be a good bit of business to have signed Samir Nasri on a free after his doping ban ended. He's 31 and not match fit, but there's no disputing his quality, shown during his time at Arsenal and Man City, where he won two league titles. He might have a reputation for being hard work, but Pellegrini clearly knows how to handle him from his time at City and Nasri's body has been spared 18 months of wear and tear, which should prolong his career. The Frenchman won't be the first dope we've had at West Ham, of course, but he can certainly beat players and score goals — I still remember a sensational mazy dribble and goal he scored for the Gunners against Porto in the Champions League. Even on a hefty wage bill he could prove to be an astute signing.