Can Marko Arnautovic be West Ham's game-changer under David Moyes?
West Ham United came in for huge criticism for their summer recruitment as they were buying names rather than players to fit their squad needs. There were squad building problems, but they did bring in a lot of quality and their victory over Chelsea showed that they can cause problems for even the best teams in the Premier League. Marko Arnautovic was one of the big-name signings as he arrived for a fee of £24 million from Stoke City. The Austrian had a good record in the English top-flight, but there is scope to achieve more and his performance on Saturday underlined the impact that he can have.
David Moyes has gone through a difficult few years in his managerial career and his appointment was an underwhelming one. However, he is known for being able to organise a side and it looks like he is going back to basics with West Ham. In their last two matches, they have faced Manchester City and Chelsea, but only conceded two goals. Considering they are both Champions League teams and the Hammers were in the relegation zone, their new manager deserves credit for their turnaround. It may not be the ‘West Ham way’, but it will be effective, and they need that with a relegation fight on the agenda.
For the team to remain a threat in attack, they need to have players with flair and an ability to produce match-winning moments. Marko Arnautovic can be frustrating, but he is certainly a player that can make a difference and he did that against Chelsea. The Austrian international was used in one of the roles behind the striker and it gave him the freedom to move across the forward line at will. Despite his unpredictability, he is an intelligent player and that showed on Saturday.
His goal was well-taken as he moved into the space vacated by Andreas Christensen and got in behind the Chelsea defence, before slotting coolly past Thibaut Courtois. If a team struggling at the bottom of the division is to beat a top-six team, they have to take their chances and Arnautovic ensured that West Ham only needed one. He was a constant threat as he attempted three shots, despite only having 23 touches of the ball.
Defensively, he worked hard to maintain the team’s shape, completing one tackle and two clearances. There has been concern about his lack of discipline in the past, but he was willing to do his bit for the team. He did pick up a booking, but that was a result of going to celebrate with the supporters and he can be forgiven due to the importance of the goal. It was an encouraging performance from the attacker. He has a long way to go before he repays the faith shown in him with the transfer fee, but this could be the turning point of his West Ham career.
Should he be a regular in the team?
It is far too soon to get carried away with one performance. This was the first time that Arnautovic contributed a goal or an assist in a West Ham shirt. Considering the transfer fee paid, that isn’t good enough and he will be the first to admit that. On the other hand, the Hammers have had a disastrous start to the season and the atmosphere around the club has made it difficult for all of the new signings. Javier Hernandez is another example of a big-name player failing to make an impact.
Arnautovic can be a very good Premier League player and he showed signs of consistency during his Stoke City career. During the 2015/16 season, he contributed 11 goals and six assists, with a goal involvement of 165.9 minutes. As a player in a mid-table team, this is a good record and showed the potential that he has. However, he stayed at the club for one season too many and an average season followed that up.
He needed a move away from Stoke in order to breathe fresh life into his career. Arnautovic has always been a frustrating figure with lots of potential and the faith shown in him by West Ham suggested they believed he could fulfil it at the London Stadium. It has been a slow start, but if Moyes can make the team solid and give him freedom to express himself, he can still have a great first campaign. There are few better occasions than a match-winning goal against the Champions. He needs to build on this and silence the critics that have labelled him a waste of money.
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