When Arthur Masuaku earned himself a six match ban for spitting at an opposing player in the FA Cup tie against Wigan at the end of January, he was rightly vilified for his actions and would later seek to make amends. This heinous crime against decency was condemned by both players and manager alike…as well as the fans, however what added to the frustration was that he was just on the verge of producing a consistent end product to his meandering dribbles…it was no coincidence that West Ham’s form dipped thereafter.
“If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.” – Aldous Huxley
It seemed an age for his punishment to pass, given the three week fixture break in between, however when he eventually returned in the Southampton match there was a noticeable difference in his play. He still had the desire to take on players and drive forward to relieve pressure on the West Ham defence. He still had the uncanny knack of being able to run past players with the ball seemingly glued to his feet…however the big difference now was that his end product was sharper, crisper and…err…better!
In his previous guise he would likely be head down and dribble to the goal line before attempting to make some sort of cross into the penalty area with alarming inaccuracy, however on his return, he was far more eager to put in an early cross…one of which Arnautovic was able to beautifully latch onto and score.
Many fans would look upon this as some kind of aberration, knowing all too well that he would return to his formative ways sooner rather than later. However it was evident for all to see that Masuaku gave the team a balance that had been lacking for a long time and was able to dominate the left hand flank for the whole game.
In the Chelsea game, many of the other players had a dip in form and on the whole Masuaku was quieter too, however he still showed the traits of wanting to cross the ball in early to find Arnautovic or to link up with Noble and Cresswell in midfield or defence…and this has carried on since.
One can only assume that the spitting cobra has had a long good look at himself in the mirror during his time off and has decided to make good on his actions but perhaps David Moyes has been the catalyst for this also. West Ham have struggled all season to retain the ball and to exploit the wings to deliver tantalising crosses into the box. They needed to bounce back from the three inglorious defeats and they required some tactic that would catch the opponents off guard…and these early balls from Masuaku appear to be doing the trick!
Last night against Stoke City, he once again was able to provide the impetus to drive the ball forward and to link up with other players that would aim to dominate the game in terms of possession, albeit his ability to find the early ball or accuracy on his crosses largely eluded him. West Ham have failed all season to find a player that would be the link from the defence to the attack and in Masuaku they have found a player that understands the defensive limitations and the attacking aspirations too.
The fans roared once again in last night’s game and were encouraged to do so by many of his runs. It is this kind of adventurous play that would engage the supporters even more and lend itself to more vocal encouragement…one feeds the other and in return is fed once again. Perhaps this is what has been missing from the West Ham camp for too long and what Moyes has struggled with to emulate with other players.
Masuaku is an oddity in many respects. This wingback role was alien to him but he has begun to excel in it, especially going forward, however his defensive responsibilities will always be monitored under a Moyes directive. He has the opportunity to be one of the key players for West Ham in the remainder of the season and certainly going into the next campaign…if only the owners can resist any tempting offers from other clubs to prise him away in the summer.
Once again the realistic success of the club would be determined by how ambitious the owners really are and which transfer deals they would make at the start of the summer break. There are players that will undoubtedly leave, however the club must retain the better players and certainly those that can inspire hope and incite excitement in the crowd. In Masuaku, West Ham have such a player and although he was considered the mutineer of a sinking ship, he is still one of the most exciting players that is witnessed by the monacled masses wearing claret and blue ribbons.