Manuel Pellegrini’s winless stretch continues as West Ham kindly allowed Arsenal to come from behind to beat the Hammers, ensuring Unai Emery his first three Premier League points. That said, Pellegrini’s side performance was not so bad as the final score (3-1) would suggest. So, here are some thoughts we learned from this trip at Emirates.
It was a game of counter-attacks. West Ham were dominated in terms of ball control (63% to 37% for Emery’s side) but they still have been able to produce some decent counter-attacking plays. From here, the Hammers built some scoring opportunities.
Unfortunately, West Ham wasn’t able to capitalise on these situations. They could and should have built something out from them, after Marko Arnautovic’s opener. That’s especially true when it comes to Jack Wilshere. The 26-year old midfielder produced a promising effort through the middle of the field and he was largely involved in some of the most dangerous West Ham’s counters.
The Hammers exposed Arsenal’s high defensive line which already showed to struggle against pace in this start of the season. Pellegrini’s decision to line up Carlos Sánchez with him, benefited Wilshere as the ex-Arsenal footballer was allowed more freedom to push higher up the field.
One of West Ham’s summer additions, Wilshere struggled during the first two Premier League games due to the fact he was paired together with Mark Noble, another player not well-known for his defensive attitude.
Against Liverpool and at the London Stadium versus Bournemouth, Pellegrini’s decision to pair both these midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation didn’t pay with Noble and Wilshere that have been outplayed. The Declan Rice experiment lasted just one half in the opener against the Reds.
A former no.10 then moved back into a deeper midfield position, Wilshere still remains a technically gifted player with decent field vision and a good ball control and dribbling that make him able to keep the ball in the often tight spaces through the half-spaces.
Pellegrini’s recent statement that Wilshere’s future lies in a deep-lying playmaker spot could be right or wrong. But now, West Ham look to need Wilshere playing in a more advanced role.
And Wilshere’s advanced position is a good point to start from in order to introduce our second thoughts from the Emirates game.
Pellegrini’s starting selection
Pellegrini has opted for a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation that looked more logical and balanced than the lineups he picked in the first two Premier League games.
With Noble unfit, the Chilean manager inserted Sánchez in the middle of the field, as aforementioned. The Colombian midfielder provided some stability over there, allowing West Ham’s offensive players to run forward.
But the new things weren’t limited to the insertion of former Fiorentina’s player. In fact, Pellegrini moved Felipe Anderson up top in an attacking midfielder role just behind Marko Arnautovic. This decision paid off. In fact, even if the Brazilian was a bit frantic in terms of passing (just 66% accurate passes), he hit 3/4 long balls and delivered three key passes.
With Felipe Anderson free to roam all around the final third, West Ham was more dangerous both with the ball at their feet and in counter, with the Brazilian acting with Arnautovic as starting point on the breaks.
Playing as an attacking midfielder, whilst Sánchez was covering the back, Anderson helped the Hammers to mould team’s 4-4-2 in a kind of 4-2-3-1 when in possession, with Robert Snodgrass and Michail Antonio acting as wide-forwards supporting Arnautovic from the flanks and the half-spaces. And the Austrian took the edge from this offensive support by opening the score through a Snodgrass’s pass.
Felipe Anderson has been excellent playing as second forward/no.10, and he was basically involved in every West Ham’s best chances to score. Furthermore, move Felipe Anderson up top decreased his defensive duties.
The Brazil international was the best West Ham’s player in the field.
Still a work in progress
Indeed, although West Hams still showed to be naïve in terms of defending – France international Issa Diop’s performance has been a nightmare – they seemed a bit more balanced from a defensive point of view with Antonio playing on the flank rather than Felipe Anderson.
That said, West Ham need to produce more when it comes to positional play. Their better scoring opportunities had come mainly from counter-attacking plays whilst the Hammers have been a bit disappointed in terms of attacking when Arsenal was defending.
Pellegrini needs to have more from Snodgrass and Antonio on these situations. Stats show us as both having a decent game: Snodgrass has been good in terms of passing (83% of accurate passes) and he also produced two key passes; Antonio too registered two key passes, has been two on two on dribbling and has never been dispossessed when in possession. True to be told, he wasn’t so accurate with just 75% of accurate passes.
The problem over there doesn’t rely on Snodgrass and Antonio’s individual play but rather on the way they have been involved in the offensive play. In fact, the Scot had the chance to play just twenty-five passes while the former Nottingham Forest player has made merely nine passes. Barely touched the ball within the game.
It meant Arnautovic was less involved than expected when you bear in mind that the Austrian forward has been the second most involved players in Premier League goals during this year.
West Ham need to involve him more and better as Arnautovic looks to be the only real scoring weapon at Pellegrini’s disposal in this moment. In fact, when the Chilean was forced to withdraw him, sending Mexican Javier Hernández on the field, the Hammers quickly lost their offensive power.
To improve the involvement of their best striker, West Ham need to get a better use of the half-spaces. It starts with a better occupation of these pivotal part of the field through the movements of Snodgrass and Antonio – or whoever will play on the flanks – and of Wilshere.
Playing a holding midfielder behind these players should help to add more balance to West Ham’s offensive play. As stated before, Sánchez provided some glimpses of stability in front of the backline against Arsenal. It was good news as this has been an area of concern since the time in which Slaven Bilic unsuccessfully tried to pursue Sporting Lisbon’s midfielder, William Carvalho.