Opposition Focus | West Ham
Sam Inkersole, West Ham correspondent for Football.London, tells us what we can expect from the Hammers on Saturday.
The general consensus is David Moyes has improved West Ham since replacing Slaven Bilic – how has he gone about doing that?
“He hugely improved their fitness and got them a bit more organised defensively as well. He's also turned around the form of a few players, specifically Marko Arnautović, Arthur Masuaku and Angelo Ogbonna. They have all drastically improved their performances.
“They've been a lot more competitive and he had made them hard to beat – until they got beaten a couple of times! That was one of the main things. He wanted to make them more defensively sound, which they were, and harder to beat. There's a lot of pressure on Saturday's game.
“It has been a bit up and down, though. He's done some good things and got them up to tenth in the table. But they've not won any of their last three. It's not that they've gone downhill but they've hit the skids a little and are in that tight area between 12th and the bottom three.”
Moyes’ first game as West Ham manager was a 2-0 defeat at Vicarage Road. How much have the Hammers improved since then?
"They are still fallible to the same things they were under Slaven Bilić – the defensive collapses, mistakes and so on. He's not eradicated those issues completely but he's certainly improved the team from his first game when he only had the international break to work with the players.
“They have improved, though, and the 4-1 away win at Huddersfield has been the highlight. I think we've now come to the crunch with important fixtures against teams around them in Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Brighton and they have not won any of them.
“They're a more confident than they were in that first game and boast more of an attacking threat.”
The appointment of Moyes, who was relegated with Sunderland last term and has high-profile failures at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, wasn’t well received. Has he got the fans onside now?
“He still has his doubters. But I think what's happened behind the scenes has almost detracted from what's happening on the pitch and deflected criticism away from him when results haven't gone to plan in the last month.
“He has got the fans all pulling in the same direction. If they survive, I think they'd be quite happy to see him stay on – not fully thrilled, but they'd be content with him staying on. But if they get relegated it is highly likely he won't be kept on.”
One of the big beneficiaries of Moyes’ appointment has been Marko Arnautović. How good has he been and what’s been the difference?
“Moyes told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't put a shift in he would not be playing. He was used as a luxury by Bilić who allowed him to do what he wanted without pulling him up on anything.
“Moyes has given him a striker role and put made him the focal point of the attack, rather than playing him as an orthodox winger who tries to get crosses into the box. Now he's the one getting into the box. He's been given a lot more responsibility and Arnautović thrives on that. He got injured at the wrong time, in the middle of those three crucial games. He has been the best player of Moyes' reign and it's even close.”
West Ham appear to be somewhat Jekyll and Hyde at the moment, following up good performances with disappointing ones, in the FA Cup most notably. Why is that?
“In terms of the Wigan Athletic game, West Ham were already beaten before they got there. Moyes almost said as much. The Premier League is their priority and they have a small squad which is starting to catch up with them – that's why they've signed Patrice Evra and I wouldn't be surprised if they signed another free agent.
“Fatigue seems like an excuse but it hasn't helped because a lot of players have played a lot of games. It's just starting to catch up with them. Manuel Lanzini and Arnautović both suffered hamstring injuries in the same game – they're injuries which are down to fatigue.”
“All of a sudden they've realised they need some players or else they will struggle.”
January was a pretty quiet month with Jordan Hugill the Hammers’ only permanent signing. How has he done and can he be a success in the Premier League?
“He's a prospect but I don't think he's any more than that at the moment. You can't expect him to come in and hit the ground running and score, say, eight goals between now and the end of the season.
“You look at the length of contract they've signed him to – four and a half years – and the fact he's only 22 and it’s clear he’s a one for the future.
“He's a bit more elegant than Andy Carroll. They're both big, tall guys you can knock the ball up to but Hugill has got a bit more about him; he's better with the ball at his feet than Carroll who is just a battering ram.
“Hugill has to adapt to the Premier League. Five years ago he was playing non-league football in Middlesbrough. Now he's been catapulted into the Premier League. He's going to work and try to get into the side before the end of the season, but I can't see him starting regularly.”
Javier Hernández looked like he might leave at one point. Does Moyes not rate him and why has it not worked out for him after an encouraging start?
“It's been a strange season for Hernández because he got two goals at Southampton in the second game of the season and it looked like he was up and running. Then he got injured just as Moyes came in so he wasn't part of his plans immediately.
“Moyes seems to prefer Michail Antonio and Arnautović found his form so Hernández was pushed to one side. Then, even when Hernández was playing they weren't playing to his strengths. He's someone who gets in the box and poaches goals here and there. He's not someone who plays with his back to goal and he was doing a lot of that.
“He came out and said he wanted to leave in January but, because of the injuries and selling Diafra Sakho and André Ayew, West Ham said he couldn't go anywhere.
“Then he responded by scoring against Brighton and Bournemouth. The big question is whether he will stay in the side when Arnautović is back and you'd have to say he'll start ahead of Hernández at the moment.”
Joe Hart’s form has drawn plenty of criticism and eventually seen him dropped. Is there a way back into the side for him and should he remain England’s No.1?
“He shouldn't be England's No.1 because he's not played enough and there are plenty of better keepers ahead of him – Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope at Burnley are just two.
“It's not worked out for him, although the defence in front of him haven't been playing great either. Adrian has come in but he hasn't been outstanding; he's just done a bit more than Hart. He's not kept a lot of clean sheets but Moyes seem to favour him because he instills a bit more confidence in the defence.
“If Adrian ships two or three on Saturday you might see Hart back in goal. He needs a clean sheet.”
West Ham have a few injury concerns – who will miss Saturday’s game?
“Edimilson Fernandes, Andy Carroll and Pedro Obiang are long-term absentees. Lanzini is out and Masuaku is serving as six-game ban for spitting. Arnautović could be back in the squad after returning to training on Monday and Antonio is nearing full fitness. "
How do you expect West Ham to line up?
“Adrian; Collins, Ogbonna, Rice; Byram, Noble, Kouyaté, Mário, Cresswell; Hernández, Antonio.”
Finally, can we have a prediction please?
“You never gamble on these results but I think it will be a draw. West Ham can't afford a lose so I think it will be 1-1.”