Opinion

West Ham suffered defeat for the first time in four matches on Friday night at Brighton and Hove Albion, following a number of missed opportunities.

The Hammers had been in excellent form coming into the game, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side came up against a stubborn Seagulls side and were, in many ways, unfortunate to come away from the seaside empty-handed. Once again, it was Glenn Murray that punished West Ham, as he scored the only goal of the game, to make it six goals in his last five matches against the East Londoners and secure the three points for his side.

Analysing West Ham defensively

After improving considerably at the back in recent matches, the Irons were a bit shaky on Friday night. It was mostly down to a lack of organisation, which led to Brighton getting in behind or creating chances from crosses into the box. In previous weeks, the high line that the defence has been instructed to employ had been working well – but that wasn’t the case against the Seagulls. The full-backs, at times, are pushing too far up the field, leaving gaps in behind for the opposing strikers to move into and exploit – just like they did for Murray’s goal.

Arthur Masuaku is not a good enough defender – it’s as simple as that. To be honest, he isn’t really giving enough going forward to justify his position, either. Despite having 84 touches of the ball, the most of any player, the left-back made just one successful dribble. Masuaku also only attempted one cross into the box – which was unsuccessful – and he was dispossessed five times. On top of that, he was at fault for Brighton’s goal, as he didn’t follow instructions from Issa Diop and allowed Murray to slot home in acres of space inside the middle of the box. It’s time for Aaron Cresswell to return now, surely.

The centre-back duo of Issa Diop and Fabían Balbuena didn’t look quite as assured as they have in recent weeks. The pair are both heavily focused on beating their opponent’s to the ball and making interceptions, rather than just sitting in and ensuring that they are in a solid defensive position to snuff out the attack later on. Whilst this tactic works sometimes, it isn’t going to be a success every time and they need to work on this. It is still early days for this partnership, though, and the signs remain promising.

Analysing West Ham offensively

One thing is for sure, the Hammers look a lot better going forward than they did a few games ago. Yes, they didn’t manage to register a goal against the Seagulls, but they had more than enough chances. Pellegrini’s side had 17 shots on goal, however, just four of them tested Ryan in the Brighton net. Remarkably, that is the most attempts that West Ham have had in any Premier League game this season.

Marko Arnautović worked hard, but it just wasn’t his night. The striker had a number of efforts on goal, yet only one of them was on target. That clinical edge that we have seen over the past nine months appeared to have alluded him against the Seasiders. After being starved of the ball for long periods, he found himself dropping quite deep, instead of playing on the shoulder where you would ideally want him. Arnautović was dispossessed five times and had six unsuccessful touches. The Austrian will be back and hungry to make amends after the international break, though – you can count on that.

The Irons’ wingers didn’t quite do enough, particularly in the first half. Andriy Yarmolenko spent a lot of the game facing his own goal and looked to pick the ball up in deeper areas. This is not where you want the Ukranian. As you have probably noticed in recent weeks, the winger gives away the ball a lot – which is why you do not want him in possession in his own half or on the halfway line. It was his mistake that led to the Brighton goal, by doing just that. Things didn’t really go his way in the final third either, as the Seagulls did well to stop him linking up with Arnautović.

In fairness, Felipe Anderson grew into the game and did look dangerous in the end, making six key passes over the 90 minutes. However, the Brazilian had just four touches inside the Brighton box, which is not enough for your most creative player. In terms of creativeness from the deeper-lying midfielders, Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang struggled to link up play as they have in recent matches. Brighton superbly closed down space in central midfield and stopped the pair from having much of an offensive impact, managing just one key pass between them.

Conclusions

It just wasn’t West Ham’s night. They played well in spells, but never really found their feet for prolonged periods in the game. Having said that, despite the defeat, it was still a lot better than what we had witnessed from the Hammers in the opening weeks of the season.

Seen as though the Irons have struggled to beat the teams in and around them, maybe it could be worth looking at a different system for those type of matches. Perhaps though, it was just the energy and enthusiasm of Brighton that got them through the game – they are well known for that. It is an area Pellegrini is clearly trying to work on – and the fitness levels should continue to improve over time. A bit more ruthlessness in front of goal and slightly better defensive organisation is required in future as well – there are bigger tests just around the corner.

The Hammers will now go away and regroup over the international break, to prepare themselves for a huge clash against Spurs in just under two weeks time. The countdown to that one is most certainly on.