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Photo by Steindy, CC BY-SA 4.0

When French left-back Arthur Masuaku was sent off for two bookable offences in the Hammers’ goalless draw at newly-promoted Aston Villa, most fans were concerned about his replacement during his suspension. It just goes to show that two weeks is a very long time in football as Aaron Cresswell has stepped up to the plate and demonstrated the kind of form that previously made him a fan favourite and a contender for the England national squad. Cresswell deputised for the suspended Masuaku for the home clash with Manchester United – and boy, did he make an impact.

It was Cresswell who put the cherry on top of an exceptionally tasty cake for the Hammers, curling in an exquisite free-kick into the top right-hand corner of David De Gea’s goal. Aside from his stunning strike, Cresswell appeared to be back to his energetic, combative best, having struggled with form and injuries during the last 18 months. The arrival of Arthur Masuaku forced him down the pecking order too, with the French-born full back becoming something of a cult figure on the terraces.

Masuaku’s red card was a green light for Cresswell

Masuaku and Hammers boss Manuel Pelligrini were both bitterly disappointed at referee Mike Dean’s decision to send him off at Villa Park. Perceived play-acting from Villa full-back Ahmed El Mohamady was taken seriously by Mr Dean, who gave Masuaku his marching orders and a subsequent first-team lifeline to Aaron Cresswell. The ‘King’ Masuaku, as he is affectionately known by the Hammers faithful, has been Pelligrini’s first-choice left-back for some time now. A new long-term contract extension taking him to 2024 must also set alarm bells ringing for Cresswell that his time at the London Stadium may be drawing to a close.

Cressie’s inclusion in the squad to face Manchester United may have been viewed by him as something of a last chance saloon. There’s no doubt he played in that manner too. He was first to every second ball, committed in the tackle, dynamic on the overlap and a threat from set plays, as his second-half finish testifies.

Following United’s fine 2-0 victory over the Red Devils, Cresswell was unsurprisingly in-demand with the press post-match. The 29-year-old spoke frankly and candidly about his form and performances of late, admitting that he deserved to be dropped having struggled in the opening day hammering by Manchester City – pardon the pun. Cresswell said in the post-game interviews that he “clearly wasn’t good enough” against Manchester City and since then Masuaku has “come in and done well”. Although he admitted that his free-kick was “one of the best” of his career to date, he was equally as pleased “to get the clean sheet” as a defender.

Could the Oxford humiliation work in Cresswell’s favour?

Oxford’s Kassam Stadium: The scene of United’s League Cup crime

Photo by Flippo, CC BY-SA 3.0

Perhaps surprisingly, West Ham boss Pellegrini opted to recall Arthur Masuaku to the side for the Hammers’ midweek League Cup tie at League One Oxford United. However, the trip to the Kassam Stadium was something of a nightmare evening for the Premier League side, who were humbled 4-0 by the team two leagues below them in the English pyramid. Pellegrini took much of the blame after the defeat, insisting that he “picked the players” for his much-changed starting XI which “didn’t compete”. Masuaku was a victim of being part of the team that didn’t function well all over the pitch, which must surely give Cresswell a chance at returning to the fold in the league.

Pellegrini certainly won’t want his side’s League Cup exit to derail them from their aims in the Premier League this term. After just one defeat in their opening six league games, the Hammers sit pretty inside the top six – three points clear of the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. If you fancy putting a speculative wager on the Hammers securing a European place in 2019/20, Oddschecker have a regularly updated list of free bet promotions from leading bookies to help maximise your stake and potential winnings.

A return to the starting XI that defeated Manchester United would not be beyond the realms of possibility for United’s trip to Bournemouth, giving Cresswell a second bite at the cherry. Some might argue that Cresswell simply hasn’t been the same since suffering a nasty knee ligament injury back in the summer of 2016. Ironically, he recovered in time to receive a call-up to the England senior squad to face Spain but failed to do himself justice on his debut. Since then, it’s felt like Cresswell has been treading water and going through the motions, rarely affecting games in a positive manner.

It’s a far cry from the 2015/16 campaign when he made the greatest number of appearances in a West Ham shirt that season, starting 37 of United’s 38 Premier League games. Cresswell arrived at United to significant fanfare. Following a solid upbringing at League One Tranmere Rovers, Cresswell was snapped up by the then-Championship side Ipswich Town on a free transfer. Cresswell was a virtual ever-present in Suffolk, making 132 competitive appearances in a three-year stay at Portman Road. Town’s failure to get promotion back to the top-flight meant that they were forced to cash in on Cresswell in the summer of 2014 when the Hammers came calling with a £3.75m bid.

Two years later, Arthur Masuaku joined the club, agreeing a four-year deal in a £6.2m deal from Greek giants, Olympiakos. Masuaku had captured the attention of scouts from Italian giants, Juventus, Inter Milan and Roma, so the signing was seen as something of a coup. In the first couple of years, Masuaku certainly struggled with the speed and physicality of the Premier League. However, the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini has certainly seen the 25-year-old given a new lease of life in a Hammers shirt. His latest contract could keep him at the club until 2026. By then, Aaron Cresswell would be pushing 37, so it’s clear that the Hammers hierarchy view Masuaku as having the best potential in terms of performances and resale value. The challenge is for Cresswell to try and keep the Congolese international out of the team.