It’s an understatement to say that the past two days have been a little disappointing for the high-flying Hammers of West Ham United. Just 48 hours stood between defeats from Chelsea and Arsenal. It has been an interesting period of football for West Ham to test their depth in squad with two difficult fixtures back-to-back, and whilst it is extremely disappointing to come away from those two days without any points, I do think Sam Allardyce did the best he could with the team selections, and here’s why.
Firstly, only one other team had to play two top six teams in two days – current league leaders Chelsea. Having two tough games in two days is a fixture clash designed to stress even the toughest of teams. Two games in two days even brought Manchester City to their knees against Burnley (I know, I bet we were exhausted after beating West Brom, too.)
It was always going to be difficult, and although we were ultimately unsuccessful, I don’t think Sam had much choice other than to break the team apart and rotate the squad. The end result of the team selections and swaps meant that only three players actually featured for a full 90 minutes in both games – Adrian San Miguel, Winston Reid, and Aaron Cresswell – everyone else had to settle for their time as and when they got given it.
For the Chelsea game, the biggest frustration was seeing Alex Song and Diafra Sakho left on the bench, but Sam felt compelled to rest them after both have only recently returned from injury. Allardyce stated that
“We’ve got two games in 48 hours, so people have got to change and rotate their team because you have 22 players that you need to use during any particular period. You can’t just use them when you’ve got an injury or suspension, that’s not the done thing today.
“Alex has just got back from a problem with his knee and Sakho a problem with his back, so two games in that short space of time would have been very difficult. I’m sure they’d have played very well today, but come picking them on Sunday, it might have been very difficult when we considered how they felt.”
It makes sense when considering that Song and Sakho might not be 100% match fit to have saved them more for a game in which we stood a stronger attacking chance (i.e. Per Mertesacker often looks frightened of footballs) where as Chelsea was a game in which we needed to prioritise defending (which, admittedly, didn’t work, but the idea wasn’t a bad one.) Sakho’s injury means he did play around 57 minutes less than Carroll and Valencia, who each played approximately three halves of football over the two games.
For Arsenal, Carl Jenkinson’s loan agreement forced Sam to make a change at the back and bring in Joey O’Brien and then Guy Demel, the latter of whom who looked like a shadow of the player we saw last year. Demel used to be excellent at bringing the ball up the pitch and cutting it into the box, but couldn’t seem to beat his defenders at any turn today.
It made a positive change, however, to see some strong differences to the midfield, with Song and Morgan Amalfitano replacing Kevin Nolan and another player still returning from injury, Mark Noble. Amalfitano made a huge difference to the Chelsea game after coming on, and earned a starting spot against Arsenal. Dropping Kevin Nolan allowed West Ham to return to strong attacking football. West Ham were all over Arsenal at the start of the game, and when Kevin Nolan did inevitably come on, he did so as an impact sub, and was unlucky not to score on two occasions – including a very well struck shot from far further out than he’s even dreamed of shooting from before.
It was a tough two days, and I had expected to pull a point from one of the games, but it wasn’t to be. Given the above, I think Sam did his best, and although the Arsenal result is a tough pill to swallow (it was a goal, damnit), these are not going to be the two days that determine our season. I’d have laughed long and hard at you last season if you’d said we’d be 6th coming out of Christmas (and that we’d be disappointed about it.) We did the best with what we had, and we’ve got so much more to come.