The S J Chandos Column
Can West Ham's fit strikers capitalise on the 'opportunity' presented by Arnautovic's injury absence?
As a Hammers fan you always fear the worst when Marko Arnautovic sustains an injury. And quite rightly so, the Austrian forward has become our talisman and hitherto the striker most likely to score on a regular basis. Arnautovic proved that last season, recovering from a shaky start to his Hammers career, and so far this season once again leading the way with a five goal haul. But it is not only his goals that we could miss, it is also his link up play and ‘never say die’ attitude that inspires the team and attracts the admiration of the fans. There is little doubt that we will miss him on a number of levels, but it does raise the question whether it will it be an opportunity for the other fit strikers in the squad to shine?
Indeed, Pellegrini has addressed this very issue, challenging the other West Ham strikers to ‘step up to the plate’ during Arnautovic’s anticipated month long absence. He has been quoted as stating:
‘We know how important Marko is for our team. We have too many players injured in a month that we have to play seven games and then in January six more games. But I always have the same answer – we have a squad and it is a chance for another player to demonstrate why they are here. So we must continue working with the players that are able to in this moment and hope that the others can recover as soon as they can.’
‘I was very happy with Lucas Perez, the other day, that he took his chance and scored two goals. I am pleased for him because he is a player that I brought to this team. I have known for years before that he is a good striker, but for different reasons he could not start in other games. The important thing is when they have the chance, they take the chance. With the long injury to Marko, Andy Carroll is back now as well and Perez, Javier Hernandez Xande Silva. I hope that all of them cover the absence of Marko.’
There is not doubt that Perez took his chances well against Cardiff City. While Hernandez looked much more like his old self in bagging a brace at St James in the previous match. The question for me is whether either Perez or Hernandez can play up front on their own in the way Arnautovic does so well? Hernandez (unsurprisingly) seems to struggle in a lone strike role and it is probably no coincidence that his improved performance against Newcastle Utd came in playing in a front two. The same may apply to Perez, so could it be that Pellegrini will adjust his formation to accommodate starting two strikers, with Silva promoted to the bench? We shall see on Saturday? The due consideration tactically for Pellegrini, in pursuing that course of action, is the potential consequences of losing a player out wide or, more likely, in midfield to in order to accommodate it.
It was interesting that Pellegrini mentioned Silva and put him firmly in the frame. As readers will recall, Silva started the season like a steam train in the U-21s and his progress was only halted by injury. He is now back from injury and looks the promising young player that we anticipated him to be. Pellegrini’s reference is a very likely indicator that he has him in mind for a possible elevation to the bench. Again, we shall see? One player that does definitely need to make a positive impact now is Andy Carroll. He has been out since the summer and needs to start earning his not inconsiderate ‘corn’ at the football club. If he is finally injury free and, achieves some sort of form, he could be a very useful alternative option. I know he is usually heralded for his obvious strengths, such as his physicality and dominance in the air, but he is also a far better footballer (on the deck) than he is ever given credit for by most commentators. It is a shame that Carroll never got to work with a coach like Pellegrini earlier in his career, he may well have better developed the more technical aspects of his game. Regardless, I imagine that practicalities mean that Carroll will start off on the bench and build up his playing time gradually.
However, Pellegrini has also been the bearer of some bad news about Jack Wilshere’s availability on Saturday. It appears that Wilshere is feeling some discomfort in his ankle and Pellegrini is going to rest him for the Palace game as a precautionary measure. He was quoted as saying that:
‘With Wilshere, it is his ankle, he is not 100% comfortable, so he will not be involved in this game. I think it is just this game, I hope that next week he will be ok.’
Amen to that! Pellegrini may be right in his recent assertion that we got a potential £100m player in Jack Wilshere, but ultimately he has to be fit and playing to prove it and make the commensurate level of impact for the club.