Has West Ham United's bubble burst?
Image Via: Geograph/Ian Capper. Used under Creative Commons.
West Ham United are an odd club to work out. Their early season form was simply outstanding, just ask a vastly more expensive Manchester United side who they took to the cleaners at the London Stadium. However, recently, things have been headed in a downward trajectory.
The Hammers have shipped nine goals over their last three games, losing all three. Their most damning loss, without question, was the 4-2 defeat in the FA Cup against AFC Wimbledon. They were outclassed throughout, and although they rotated somewhat heavily, their fans would still have expected a comfortable victory.
So why the sudden struggles? This is an expensive squad assembled by a Premier League winning manager in the form of Manuel Pellegrini. West Ham, simply put, should be doing far better. They're currently sitting in twelfth place in the table right now, but you'd imagine the board would at least expect a top-half finish given the heavy investment. Players like Felipe Anderson have been unplayable from time-to-time, but even his bubble has burst.
I think it's worth noting that Marko Arnautovic has to own up to some of the blame. His transfer request and abandonment of the team would have divided the dressing room, there is no question about it. Football players have huge egos, it's what makes them so good, the Austrian's actions would have hurt them, but I don't think you can blame the player for wanting to take it to that next level. Now, fresh off his new big-money contract, it's down to Arnautovic to prove that he deserves a place in the team. He has an opportunity to kickstart their season and win everyone back over, fans and teammates included.
You cannot pin it all on Arnautovic, though. Defensive solidity has completely escaped them. It's all well and good when you've got huge firepower at the other end, but even the best-of-the-best will have off-days. As they say, defence wins championships.
I'm sympathetic in a sense. Ever since 27-year-old Fabian Balbuena picked up an injury, the problems have mounted. While injuries are part and parcel of the game, you expect others to step up and prove their worth. Declan Rice aside, nobody has really taken control. Angelo Ogbonna looks a shadow of the player he was at Juventus and right now, he's the main concern.
As always, though, everything stems from the manager. Pellegrini, to my knowledge, is getting off rather scot-free. It's him who schemes the tactics, it's him who's supposed to motivate this talented squad. They're underperforming, and as is always the case, it's easier to let go of a manager rather than completely overhauling the squad. I doubt that'll happen mid-season, but West Ham simply must get out of this slump.
Fixtures aren't looking too kind, either. Next up they host a free-scoring Liverpool, after that, they head to Crystal Palace who have been playing rather well lately. They also visit Manchester City before the end of the month, leaving Pellegrini very little time to get his players back on track.
Will they turn it around? I think so. Talent always pulls through, but this poor spell is a problem for West Ham, and they better get themselves playing like we know they can sooner rather than later...