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West Ham United

Marko Arnautovic: Exploring the struggles of West Ham’s club-record signing

Martyn Cooke

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Marko Arnautovic

When West Ham United broke their transfer record to secure the signing of Marko Arnautovic in the summer it was widely seen by many supporters as a definitive statement that, after a disappointing debut season in the Olympic Stadium, the club were keen make a significant impact in the Premier League when the new campaign started.

The Austrian winger had been a revered figure in The Potteries and was adored by the Stoke City supporters who relished his swagger, arrogance and character.

Yes, Arnautovic could be a frustrating talent to watch and was prone to the odd moment of madness or a disinterested shrug of the shoulders, but when the chips were down more often than not the attacker could be relied upon to produce a moment of magic with the ball.

His departure from the Bet365 Stadium saw him quickly burn any bridges that he had with the club and its supporters. Arnautovic claimed that he wanted to join a club that were more ambitious whilst Stoke were left disappointed that their star winger, who had just signed a new long-term contract to become the highest paid player in the squad, had chosen to jump ship. In The Potteries he went from hero to zero and was perceived as being a typical modern player – ungrateful and with a distinct absence of morality or loyalty.

Despite the ill-feeling between the player and the club, you would be hard pressed to find a Stoke supporter who was not left downhearted by the Austrian’s departure or who would not take him back in the blink of an eye.

A big fish in a small pond

For Marko Arnautovic, the transfer to West Ham United has seen a rapid decline in his reputation and recognition in the footballing fraternity.

He walked into the Olympic Stadium as a superstar but, in just two short months, the winger has found himself isolated, jeered by his new supporters and playing in a team that is struggling to find any form or consistency under the guidance of a besieged Slaven Bilic. The club-record price tag of £25 million has weighed heavily on his shoulders and The Hammers faithful have simply not taken to, nor understood, the Austrian’s unique character and personality.

There is little doubt that Arnautovic has just simply not performed since relocating at the Olympic Stadium and supporters have quite rightly been critical of his displays on the pitch. He was sent off on his second appearance for The Hammers when he bizarrely and needlessly elbowed Jack Stephens – a decision that has pretty much set the tone for his contribution during the opening months of the campaign.

And his contribution has been severely limited and ineffectual.

On Friday evening Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were scathing in their assessment of the Austrian’s performance in West Ham’s 3-0 defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion. He was described as being “woeful” and accused of thinking that he “is Cristiano Ronaldo in his own mind … he thinks he is better than he is”. Arnautovic was substituted in the 74th minute of the contest, having been barely involved in the game and was jeered off by sections of his own supporters.

This was undoubtedly not what he had in mind when he joined The Hammers in the summer.

Disinterested and arrogant? Or a misunderstood talent?

The main problem for Marko Arnautovic is that he is no longer a big fish in a small pond, like he was at Stoke City. At West Ham he has found that there is a much greater weight of expectancy from a fan base that relishes the success of their club’s history.

At Stoke, the winger was adopted by the supporters because they recognised an exceptionally talented, yet somewhat flawed, character. After watching season after season of direct football under the guidance of Tony Pulis, which was based on players that had limited ability but an outstanding work ethic, the arrival of Arnautovic as one of Mark Hughes’ first signings in the summer of 2013 came as a pleasant surprise.

For The Potters, the winger was powerful, pacey and was capable of producing moments of outstanding magic when he got on the ball. He was very much the main man at the Bet365 Stadium, outshining even the likes of Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri, and his contribution to the team was demonstrated by the fact that he was directly involved in over two-thirds of Stoke’s goals during the 2016/17 season.

The Austrian would often go missing for long periods of games, look disinterested at times and fling his arms around in despair, but the Stoke fans were prepared to give him some leeway because, when push came to shove, the winger would often create or score a goal. His body language was often questionable but there was a recognition that Arnautovic was capable of producing that little bit of magic when it was needed the most.

At West Ham, the supporters are a little less patient and hold much loftier expectations than their counterparts in The Potteries. Arnautovic arrived with a heavy price-tag that, so far, he has failed to justify and with the team struggling for form and consistency fans are looking towards their club-record signing to make an impact and produce something special.

For whatever reason the winger has failed to hit the ground running and his demeanour and price tag have made him an easy, if not entirely innocent, focus of some of the criticism.

The swagger and arrogance that came with his technical brilliance at Stoke has yet to be replicated at the Olympic Stadium. This has left him looking very much like a player with a large ego, who has yet to produce any performances that justify either his self-confidence or transfer fee.

On Friday night the sight of Arnautovic being substituted and jeered off by a section of the West ham supporters will have brought a sly smile to the faces of many observers back in Stoke.

Nonetheless, The Potters have their own issues to contend with and there will be many fans who will be wishing that the Austrian was still wearing red and white stripes – maybe the player will be wishing the same come the end of the season.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

West Ham United

Five free agents looking to follow Patrice Evra and earn a contract in the Premier League

After Patrice Evra completed his return to the Premier League with West Ham last week, Martyn Cooke looks at five former top-flight players who are currently free agents.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

West Ham United confirmed the signing of former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra early last week as manager David Moyes was left desperately looking for a left-back following Arthur Masuaku’s six-game ban.

The Frenchman had been a free agent since his acrimonious departure from Marseille, where his contract was terminated after he kicked a supporter following a pitch-side confrontation prior to a Europa League match in November, but he is unlikely to be anything more than back-up to Aaron Cresswell.

However, Evra was not the only former Premier League star who was looking for a new club.

Here The Boot Room looks at five former top-flight players who are currently free agents.

Alex Song

The Cameroonian midfielder was once one of the most sought after defensive midfielders in Europe after rising to prominence at Arsenal and agreeing a big-money move to Barcelona in 2012.

However, his spell in Catalonia was ill-fated and he has become something of an unwanted quantity over the subsequent six years and he has been without a club since being released by Rubin Kazan at the start of the year.

Song is still only 30 and could still have something to offer for clubs in the bottom half of the table.

Sulley Muntari

It seems a lifetime since Sulley Muntari was plying his trade for Portsmouth at Fratton Park and the central midfielder has certainly had a prosperous career in Italy.

He won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho whilst at Inter Milan in 2010 and has also appeared for AC Milan and Udinese prior to a sharp decline in prominence.

The 32-year-old undoubtedly possesses a wealth of experience and has been without a club since suffering relegation and subsequently being released by Pescara in the summer.

Samir Nasri

Another one of Arsene Wenger’s former protégé’s, Nasri was once one of the most prominent creative midfielders in the Premier League during spells with Arsenal and Manchester City.

However, the Frenchman was surplus to requirements following the arrival of Pep Guardiola and was shipped out on loan to Sevilla in 2016 before joining Turkish side Antalyaspor when his contract expired.

Nasri made just eight appearances for the club, which became embroiled in financial turmoil, before being released six months into his deal.

Only 30, the Frenchman certainly has something to offer in the Premier League if clubs are willing to meet his wage demands.

Anderson

The Brazilian midfielder won four Premier League titles, the Champions League and two League Cup’s during a seven-and-a-half-year spell under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Manchester United spent £26 million in the summer of 2007 to secure Anderson’s surfaces but he never truly fulfilled his potential in England prior to returning to his homeland with Internacional in 2015.

However, Anderson has suffered two consecutive relegations with two different clubs in Brazil and was released at the turn of the year.

He does not turn 30 until August, although Premier League clubs that are in a relegation battle may want to steer clear if his recent record is anything to go by.

Sebastien Bassong

Bassong spent the over a decade in the Premier League with Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City but has been without a club since the summer.

The central defender is certainly no longer the force that he once was when Harry Redknapp spent £8 million to bring him to White Hart Lane in the summer of 2009 but could still have something to offer for a Championship, or possibly a bottom-half Premier League, side.

However, any potential suitors will also need to invest in a bus pass for the Cameroonian – he was banned from driving after he was caught speeding at 110mph in October.

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Preston North End

Jordan Hugill: From the Dickens Inn pub to West Ham United

West Ham’s latest recruit Jordan Hugill has come a long way since his days spent in the Glenn Hoddle Academy and he is now ready to establish himself as a top flight striker, writes Ryan Smart.

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Jordan Hugill

Just over five years ago, new West Ham signing Jordan Hugill worked shifts in the Dickens Inn pub, situated in his home city of Middlesbrough.

Hugill had just joined non league Marske United on loan, still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered whilst playing for Whitby Town.

The striker was originally supposed to go on trial with then-Premier League side Sunderland in 2009, but suffered an ankle injury and eventually went on to join the Glenn Hoddle Academy.

Hoddle spoke of his pride, on the evening of Deadline Day, at seeing the 25-year-old progress from that academy all the way to West Ham United, who he has signed for nearly £10 million from Preston North End.

Hammers boss David Moyes formerly managed North End, and still has close ties with the club.

He has attended various games at Deepdale this season, so will know the qualities that Hugill will bring to the table at the London Stadium.

Hugill leaves the Lilywhites with 30 goals in over 100 appearances for the club, 23 of those coming in the past two seasons, having joined in the summer of 2014 from Port Vale.

His recent move represents a huge profit for Preston, eclipsing their previous club record sale, that of David Nugent to Portsmouth for £6 million in 2007.

However, he will be a significant loss, especially considering he is their top goal scorer in all competitions this season with 10, eight of those coming in the league.

He spent two loan spells away from North End in his first season, his second at Hartlepool being an infamous one.

His four goals, including the winner against Exeter City that kept Pools in the Football League that season, wrote his name in Hartlepool folklore, despite having only been at the club for just over a month.

He made huge strides in the following two seasons, forcing his way into Preston’s starting line-up and, crucially, staying there.

Something that is uncommon in football these days is a deal that suits all parties, with this deal a good example of that.

West Ham are getting themselves the new striker they desperately needed and Preston get a good financial deal for the striker.

It also gives other members of Alex Neil’s squad the chance to press their claims to become Hugill’s replacement as North End push for the Championship play-off spots.

The club’s 3-0 away win over Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, without Hugill in the side, shows that they have players capable of stepping up.

The player himself wanted a move in August, having had a transfer request rejected on deadline day, before finally getting his Premier League move this window.

In terms of his playing style, Hugill’s hold up play is amongst the best in the country, with the striker an effective presence up front.

Andy Carroll has had plenty of success playing the lone target man role for West Ham, when fit, and Hugill will be aspiring to reach that kind of level.

His natural finishing ability does need some improvement, but working with the likes of Carroll and Javier Hernandez means he will be learning from some of the best in the business.

Hugill is still unproven to West Ham fans – he was unknown to some when he was first linked – but his work ethic and commitment to improving should bring them onside as he looks to establish himself in the Premier League.

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Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the London Stadium

Rob Meech

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Hernandez
Photo: Reuters

West Ham United and AFC Bournemouth extended their respective unbeaten runs with a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium. Both clubs have climbed away from the relegation zone in recent weeks and this was a keenly-fought encounter between two evenly-matched sides.

Following a goalless first half, the Cherries broke the deadlock through Ryan Fraser after a breakaway, only for Javier Hernandez to equalise for the hosts 64 seconds later. A share of the spoils was a fair reflection and means West Ham and Bournemouth, 11th and 12th respectively, have identical records from the past six Premier League matches. Here are three talking points…

Future looks bright for both clubs

Just a month ago, the outlook was markedly different for both West Ham and Bournemouth. At Christmas, the Cherries were in the bottom three and the Hammers were not much better off. But the eventful 3-3 draw between these two teams on Boxing Day proved to be the start of an unbeaten run for each, which has given both real hope of avoiding relegation.

Such is the congested nature of the bottom half that it only takes a couple of victories to change the complexion on the table. Both clubs have won two and drawn three of their previous five fixtures, which has been enough to put clear daylight between themselves and the drop-zone.

This game, much like the corresponding fixture at the Vitality Stadium, suggests neither West Ham nor Bournemouth should be in serious trouble at the end of the campaign – if they can maintain their form. Equally though, David Moyes and Eddie Howe will be aware that complacency is not an option.

Impressive Fraser continues his resurgence

Bournemouth’s upturn in results since Christmas has coincided with a revitalised Fraser. The Scottish winger, affectionally known as ‘Wee Man’ by Cherries supporters, now has three goals and one assist in his past four appearances. His finishing has noticeably improved this season and he took his goal against West Ham with aplomb, firing the ball past Adrian after a defence-splitting pass from the returning Junior Stanislas.

Furthermore, Fraser’s improved stamina has enabled him to be effective for longer. Previously, the 23-year-old began to flag towards the latter stages and he was often replaced. But a better diet has paid dividends this campaign and he is rapidly becoming a key figure for Howe. Fraser has pace to burn and a directness that gives the team something different. Now though, he is having a real impact in games and his five Premier League goals are second only to Callum Wilson in the scoring charts.

Can West Ham afford to let Hernandez leave?

Speculation has surfaced in the past few days that Moyes may be willing to sell Hernandez, who only joined the club last summer. His arrival under Slaven Bilic was hailed as a real coup, but he has fallen down the pecking order since Moyes took the reins, with the former Manchester United supremo preferring Marko Arnautovic up top.

Hernandez though, has a creditable career goalscoring record and underlined his predatory instinct at the London Stadium. Only a minute after the Hammers had gone behind, the Mexican popped up in the right place to poke the ball past Asmir Begovic. It was Hernandez’s fifth Premier League goal of the season, all of which have been scored from inside the penalty area.

With Andy Carroll expected to be sidelined for a month through injury, West Ham’s striking resources would be depleted further if Hernandez is allowed to leave. While he may not offer much outside the box, as he illustrated against Bournemouth that he is the ideal man to call on when a goal is needed.

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