To say it has been a rocky season as far as West Ham is concerned would be an understatement. The transition to the London Stadium has been difficult while a series of poor transfer dealings in the summer compounded the difficulties of living up to their achievements last campaign.
With five wins in their last seven league matches though, it does appear that West Ham have finally turned the corner. Looking at the list of players in their squad: Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini, Andre Ayew, Andy Carroll, Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio, it didn’t look like a team that would be threatened with relegation in the first place.
Still, that was where they found themselves a few months ago. Although the difficulties of playing at a new home ground did not help, regardless there were major issues at both ends of the pitch that had to be resolved by manager Slaven Bilic.
The poor recruitment in the summer transfer window had meant the Hammers struggled in the final third of the pitch. Both Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri misfired badly, and with both Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho sidelined with injuries for months at a time, it took nineteen games for a West Ham striker to score, and that was Sakho when he returned to action against Manchester United in November.
The lack of a potent threat up front put extra pressure on a defence which wasn’t at all solid. Conceding four goals in two consecutive league matches against Watford and West Bromwich Albion, and then three at home to Southampton, quickly led to a change to a back three. It was believed this could allow a more fluid front three to score goals as well as securing the backline.
The plan worked in some games with wins coming against Sunderland and Crystal Palace, but a heavy defeat against Arsenal in early December led to a switch back to a four man defence. Coincidentally though, it did help that by this time Andy Carroll had finally recovered from a knee injury that had plagued him all campaign.
With the target man now the focal point of the attack, West Ham have begun to show the type of play that they were known for last season. Even without the AWOL Payet, Carroll and the likes of Manuel Lanzini have stepped up to the mark. Carroll’s five goals have contributed to the Hammers accruing 16 points from a possible 21, moving the club into the top 10.
With the arrival of winger Robert Snodgrass, it looks like the Hammers will seek to capitalise on their good form, although they will hope Carroll will now stay fit to ensure they remain potent at the top end of the pitch. The return of £20million signing Andre Ayew from the African Cup of Nations will also help matters, but if they are to maintain their performances for a longer period, it is crucial that Slaven Bilic manages to snap up a forward before the end of the transfer window.
It does seem that the departure of Dimitri Payet to Marseille could free the up the funds to sign a striker, with Brentford’s Scott Hogan the likeliest target. The ideal scenario, now Snodgrass has signed on the dotted line, is that West Ham bring in a forward and perhaps a right back before the window closes. If they do, they could well finish as high as they did last campaign.