With an apology to the late, great Ian Dury, a more realistic title should probably be reasons to be cheerful (part 3003), swiftly followed of course by an equal number of reasons to be disappointed, bemused, frustrated… Scratch beneath the surface of the current situation, the team and the squad however, and there are causes for real optimism going forward. It will require some changes, and those all too commonly sought after but rarely found commodities in top tier football – patience and luck, but the foundations are starting to appear.
This season can be summed up by all the aforementioned adjectives. After a busy summer, and one that looked like it would reap exciting rewards, it quickly looked like a relegation battle was more likely than pushing for a European place. The ship has been steadied and that threat averted, but the season has fizzled out before Easter. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Hammers will not pick up another three points in the remainder of the season. So what is there to be excited about?
Another Summer of Change
It wasn’t just the number of signings last year, it was the nature of them that looked so promising. You would have been hard pressed to find a Hammers fan in the first week of August that was not feeling very bullish. For whatever reason – and there are many of them, it just did not work out, and the team took longer to gel than everyone would have hoped. It looks like there is going to be a similar summer ahead, but with one important distinction. We have a more than decent framework on which to build a team around. The signings this summer can be more targeted.
Masuaka, Carroll, Obiang, Perez, Wilshire, and not forgetting Arnautovic are all likely to leave at the end of the season. Some will command a fee, others won’t. Even with those losses, and let’s face it, only one, perhaps two of those will missed, the changes needed are specific, not wholesale. The most pressing is a forward. The type of player we all wanted Carroll to be. We will get goals from midfield, and Hernandez is still useful off the bench, but as soon as we have a number 9 with broad enough shoulders and talented enough feet, the pressure will be realised from those around him. That is easier said than done, and we will join the queue among every other Premiership side. If the Arnautovic money is spent on that, we will be nearer the front of that queue than the rear. Central midfield is another area than needs looking at, with Torino’s Soualiho Meite a possible candidate.
Looking Forward not Backwards
There is no doubt that injuries have played their role this season, combined with the unsettling Arnautovic saga and the poor start, it meant that for too many weeks we were either battling ourselves, or playing with the spectre of relegation over us. As soon as one of those was lifted, another reared its head. Anderson, an undeniable success, was asked to shoulder too much of the responsibility and his – and our – form suffered as a result. If we have some better luck with injuries, if we can focus on matters on the pitch, then come November, December next season we will be in a position to push on as opposed to consolidate. It is hard to look forward when one eye is constantly looking over your shoulder.
Since returning to the EPL, we have established ourselves as a mid-table team. That in itself is reason for, if not celebration, then certainly some measure of happiness. It is the move, the owners and the likes of Wolves and Watford who appear to have leapfrogged us that makes it harder to take. Mid-table is a hell of a lot better position to kick on from though, than from the bottom 5 or even promotion from the Championship.
Going into this summer we will have the likes of Anderson, Nasri, Diop and a fully developed Declan Rice, four players that can, on their day, be outstanding and can change/win games. Cresswell is a better player than a lot of people give him credit for, Fabianski has impressed when others around him haven’t and if Zabaleta can get his legs through one more season, it is one less place that needs replacing. Above this all we have a manager who has a pedigree and reputation over and above anything we have had for a long, long time. Due to events on and off the field this season, we are a year behind the progress he would have liked to have seen. If we are in the exact same position this time next year, then maybe we can say something is not working, but I for one believe that we have enough important pieces in place to think that (at least slightly) more exciting times are ahead.