This was a mid-table clash if there ever was one. Bournemouth and West Ham were 12th and 9th respectively in the table before kick-off, with both teams safe from relegation fears and unlikely to make the European places.
Eddie Howe’s side came into this game on a wretched run of form, having won only two of their last 10 games in all competitions, while West Ham were somewhat better off, having beaten Arsenal in their last game. Samir Nasri‘s arrival had provided a welcome fillip for the Hammers, as they looked to continue their charge to be the ‘best of the rest’ this season.
Arnautovic sorely missed by Hammers
Marko Arnautovic has been a revelation for West Ham since he was moved to a central striking role by David Moyes. The Austrian’s intelligent movement off the ball has been vital to how the Hammers attack, pulling opposition defenders out of position and creating space for his teammates to attack.
In his absence, Andy Carroll was selected to lead the line. The Englishman is a much more static presence, and he does not possess the speed of thought or foot to make the same runs as Arnautovic. West Ham needed to change their approach if they were to utilise Carroll’s strengths. However, they continued to play as if Arnautovic was in the side. Carroll was completely isolated, and the positions in which he got the ball are illuminating.
The Englishman is at his best when playing with his back to goal and when attacking crosses in the box. However, West Ham did not utilise these strengths. Instead, they tried to play passes down the channels, expecting him to chase them or to have made those runs in the first place.
The fact that Michail Antonio was playing as the centre-forward midway through the first half, with Carroll out wide on the right, is illustrative of the fact that West Ham did not change their approach to suit their players. Rather, they continued playing the same way, hoping that Carroll could somehow make it work
There were a couple of instances when Carroll showed his worth, most notably in the first half when he dropped deep and swung a perfect first-time pass out to Felipe Anderson on the left flank, as the image below shows.
In general though, he is a static player. Expecting him to provide the sort of dynamism seen from Arnautovic was foolhardy. The image below encapsulates this perfectly.
West Ham faltered on Saturday by not altering their approach to suit Andy Carroll. He may have missed a gilt-edged chance from a yard or so out, but in general, his team’s attacking play did him no favours. Manuel Pellegrini must change his side’s approach if Carroll is going to be a regular in the starting XI.
Nasri struggles to make an impact
Samir Nasri made an immediate difference to West Ham in his debut game, against his former club Arsenal no less. The Frenchman was brilliant in the number 10 role, linking midfield and attack through fluid passing and movement.
However, down on the south coast, he could not replicate that form. Nasri was starved of the ball for long periods, managing only 46 touches during his 66 minutes on the pitch. He was often forced to drop deep to get onto the ball due to Bournemouth’s excellent screening, as well as his own team’s inability to play the ball through the lines.
When he did manage to get on the ball in advanced areas, there was a lack of movement around him to allow him to play perceptive passes. Nasri is at his best when surrounded by intelligent and quick movement, which gives him the opportunity to play defence-splitting through balls.
With Carroll in the side, there was an immobile striker in front of him, while Antonio on the right flank is not renowned for the subtlety of his runs. Only Felipe Anderson was on a similar wavelength, but Bournemouth’s defensive structure was solid enough to keep them both at bay.
As noted earlier, West Ham’s deeper midfielders were also liable, in that there was a distinct lack of creativity from either Noble or Rice. Both are neat, tidy passers, but do not have the skill or vision to find players between the lines consistently. The example below will demonstrate this.
While Samir Nasri remains a very good player, he needs the right setup around him to thrive, much like Carroll. Pellegrini failed to provide his creator with the necessary tools, and he ended up having minimal impact on the game.
This was not exactly a free-flowing game, with both sides struggling to create too many chances. West Ham, however, were hobbled by their curious refusal to play to their players’ strengths. There was a lack of intensity and movement off the ball from the Hammers, which shackled Nasri, while Andy Carroll is a misfit in this side and the way they play.
With the Arnautovic saga set to carry on till the end of the transfer window, Pellegrini must decide on the way forward soon, or risk popping the little bit of cheer that has come to the London Stadium this season.
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