The competition to stay in the top ten is strong, and we’ve gone from keeping Arsenal’s fourth place spot warm to worrying about dipping into the bottom half of the table. It’s a very dissatisfactory turn of events and poses the very real threat of West Ham not finishing in the top half of the table – a scenario which would be a massive blow for the fans and the club.
Given West Ham’s start to the season, it would certainly be disappointing to have lost so much ground so quickly. The Hammers cruised to an early high in the Premier League, and managed to retain their hold on a Champions League spot for the majority of the first half of the season. A run of extremely tricky games against top opposition (and Crystal Palace) looks to have put paid to any early Champions League dreams, and has had West Ham slip down to tenth place in the league, with Swansea and Stoke both leapfrogging above them.
The fans and club would of course be absolutely gutted to have had our dreams fly so high – and then, as always, fade and die. The wave of goodwill and enjoyment so many of us rode during the first half of the season gave us a cruel injection of hope that perhaps just this once we could see it through. The biggest blow, however, would be to our future and to where we go from here.
Finishing out of the top ten would be troubling to West Ham’s commitment to improving. This year, we can’t say we didn’t try to get better and to move forward. The amount of work, money, and effort the board and the manager have dedicated to the cause was colossal compared to effort made in previous hierarchies at the club. This was arguably our strongest transfer window in years. Diafra Sakho, Cheikhou Kouyate, Enner Valencia, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell have been outstanding additions to the team and the best collective of players we could have even imagined signing – so if this wasn’t good enough, then how do we do better than this next year? And how do we keep players like Aaron Cresswell at the club, when they already have the sharks of a top four team sniffing around them?
It would be really disheartening to the supporters and the club for our most emphatic season of recent memory to not deliver a result.
However, the question remains – will it even happen? Will West Ham finish the season out of the top half of the table? In this topsy-turvy season, I admit that anything could happen – but I’d be surprised if we did. West Ham are almost finished with their hellish run of fixtures (just have to play an Arsenal who were excellent against Manchester United, so that’s fine, really), and of our last ten fixtures, seven of the teams we are playing are below us in the league. Within those ten games we also play the bottom five teams in the league – teams who will be undoubtedly fighting for their lives, but teams that have struggled this season and teams that West Ham United are capable of beating.
We’re not going to qualify for Europe this year, but we have to ensure we finish out the season by pushing for European football. We’re not ready to get it just yet; we need more time and a slightly stronger bench (which hopefully less injuries could allow for) in order to be able to compete abroad, but our intention has to be to do better than last year and be far closer to European football than a position in the bottom half of the table would allow for.
It’d be a blow to finish outside of the top ten in a season which began with such strong promise – but fortunately we still have thirty points to fight for over our next three games, and if there’s anything I learned from this season it’s that anything can indeed happen.