West Ham performed to perfection with their backs up against the wall, hosting Southampton at the London Stadium. With the club owners barricaded in the directors box, the fans tense with uneasy anticipation, and the eyes of the (Premier League) football world upon the London Stadium, the players showed up.
Off to a quick start West Ham burst forward with exuberant pressure and kept the pace up for the entire first half, a half that would see all three goals scored. Southampton could not afford to put forward the pathetic effort they did in this match, as they had an opportunity to leafprog the hammers with a win and could have taken advantage of the toxic atmosphere surrounding the club currently.
Arnautovic who has been West Ham’s main man for offence this season was yet again the focal point of the front line. Arnautovic not only nets the goals but her creates so much pressure on the defence that even when he doesn’t score or assist he factors into West Ham’s success. He also directed the cross in from Joao Mario for his first goal, a rebound off of a laser header.
Joao Mario who had yet to impress this season for West Ham, had his best game in the Premier League today. He scored a rooftop laser and assisted Arnautovic’s first goal. He was effective today because of the pressure he brought in the open field on Southampton’s defenders and midfielders. He goal was brilliant and assist matched it – Mario had an amazing game and provided a glimpse of options beyond Lanzini in attacking midfield.
A saddening aspect of the game was Michail Antonio coming up lame early in the game game, giving way to Edmilison Fernandes in the 9th minute. Antonio left the pitch after an apparent thigh injury, with his face hidden under his jersey hiding tears. He wanted to factor into the turn around for West Ham, an attitude all West Ham fans should be happy to see. Captain Mark Noble ran up while he was walking off the pitch and pulled his jersey off his face, nothing to be embarrassed about here for the injured attacker.
His replacement, the Swiss international Fernandes, was absolutely brilliant in his first club action in four months. Coming off of an ankle injury, Fernandes was slotted in aside Mario and behind Arnautovic in a free roaming attacking mid role. This may be his natural position as his speed and ability to use the width of the pitch made him a constant threat. Edi also held onto the ball well, it sounds simple but its a facet of the game West Ham have been in need of for awhile now.
If you eliminate Arnautovic, the man with the first half brace, from contention for man of the match you could easily give it to either Declan Rice or Angelo Ogbonna. Both were stellar today in a very involved back three. Constantly used in the possession game for West Ham, Rice and Ogbonna were amazing outlets and kept play in the Southampton end for the majority of the afternoon.
Cresswell was also reliable in the back three. It isn’t his natural position but he doesn’t seem to care. Rather than rely on size like many centrebacks, Cresswell jockeyed for position and won aerial battles with his body positioning rather than height. He was great as well, but Ogbonna and Rice were next level.
Rice was coming off two matches for Ireland where he made his first team international debut. He was Man of the Match in game one, and impressed in the second game as well. Ogbonna was also with his home nation, Italy, over the International break but did not feature.
Responsible for the second goal for Arnautovic, Arthur Masuaku returned from a six match ban for spitting towards a Wigan player. Masuaku was immediately a threatening presence in West Ham’s offence and reminded us all what we were missing without him in the side. Always looking for a chance to embarrass a defender along the touchline, King Arthur did not disappoint in his return. He flung a seemingly innocuous ball into the box that somehow found the perfect space between keeper and defender – on Arnautovic’s foot- where it could be volleyed safely home. Just one example of his abilities to create goal scoring chances. He is an offensive spark plug and gave it all for the team today.
As you can probably tell by the steady compliments I’m feeding to the West Ham players that it was a solid team performance from the Hammers. Safe to say they understood that their backs were up against the wall and they performed; baby was put in a corner and fought her way out.
The points were crucial but the swagger that comes with a triumphant 3-0 win where the opponents were held to two (pitiful) shots on net. It was a well rounded game and provided a glimpse into what this team can do. The hill is still tall in front of West Ham but it isn’t as insurmountable as it would have been with anything than less than three points from this match.