West Ham seem to have finally turned a corner after a disastrous start to the season. What is the main reason for this turnaround?
Emily Pulham: Pedro Obiang. That and the Middlesbrough game. That draw stopped us from sliding and panicking and allowed us to start building on a more solid foundation.
Kiran Moodley: I think it’s been a combination of factors. Playing Crystal Palace, a team we’ve had a good run against away, along with winless Sunderland certainly helped. Now that we’re in November, the players have had longer to gel after such a large influx of transfers. We still have to be cautious, bar the Chelsea and City games early on, we haven’t played the big teams in the league. The corner is not yet turned.
Danny Rust: Players returning from injuries is one reason. For instance, West Ham certainly missed Aaron Cresswell. But it seems as though the change in formation has worked wonders. We’d been leaking goals in the opening months of the season, but since changing to a 3-4-3 formation with wing-backs, we have looked much better both defensively and going forward.
Stuart Plant: I agree with Emily, Pedro Obiang. Solely Pedro Obiang! To be honest I think it’s a culmination of picking the right XI and the right tactics. The 3-5-2/3-4-3 style formation seems to suit us very well right now so that’s also a main element to it. Ultimately, it’s most likely down to the confidence from the 1-1 draw against Boro which is growing with every passing game.
Slaven Bilic has adopted a 3-4-3 formation in recent weeks. Do you think this system is a long-term solution for the club?
EP: It’s certainly worked out well lately, hasn’t it?! It’s a formation that definitely works for us and hopefully will as a long-term strategy, but one thing that should be noted is that this formation works at it’s best when Aaron Cresswell is playing. I’m not completely convinced by it without him.
KM: 3-4-3 seems to be the formation of the season so far after the old, reliable 4-5-1 of last year. As I said, it’s too early to tell whether this will work or even be a long-term solution but the early signs are promising. I think 3-4-3 works for our attacking prowess and the ample players we have in those departments but I’m not sure how it will work with the defence until we really get a good team together at the back.
DR: It can be a longterm solution because the majority of our players are suited to that system. Cresswell is superb going forward, and so playing as a wingback will get the best out of him. Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang, meanwhile, both like to sit in front of the defence and so that gives the wingbacks the opportunity to push forward without needing to worry about leaving space for the opposition. The skill of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini, along with the pace of Michail Antonio will work in the system, too.
SP: Possibly. It’s worked so well as we have a decent load of centre backs, plus our full backs are by and large very attack-minded, quick, and direct. It aids our attackers and our lack of direct pace in the middle of the park having our very attacking wing-back options bombing on too. Will it be used long term though? Guess we’ll have to see how well it works if picked with a fully fit XI!
Pedro Obiang has made a real difference to the midfield in recent weeks. Can you ever remember a ‘squad player’ taking his chance in the team so well?
EP:I have so much time for Pedro Obiang right now. It was clear to him he wasn’t part of Slaven’s plans this season, but instead of leaving or sulking he worked his socks off and has rightly earned a starting position in our team. He has been an integral part of our improved fortunes and deserves a huge amount of credit for it.
KM: I guess Obiang’s rise is similar to that of Antonio’s last year, when he utilised a spate of injuries in autumn to make his mark. Obiang has been an almost instant success, whereas Antonio took a few matches to find his stride. Obiang shows that sometimes you don’t need to buy – what you need is silently sitting on your bench.
DR: It could be argued that Darren Randolph has been a more-thanable understudy to Adrian. Some, including myself, would argue that at certain stages of last season and early this season, Randolph may have been deserving of taking over as Slaven Bilic’s number one. He was superb in the cup competitions last season and was excellent once again against Chelsea. Edimilson Fernandes has also been superb since stepping in during Cresswell and Sam Byram’s absence at wingback.
SP: The only one off the top of my head who had such a change of fortunes was Johnny ‘USA’ Spector. From zero to Lionel Messi-esque destruction of Manchester United. Pure magic. Notable shout out for Julien Faubert who had a torrid time with us, stuck it out after we got relegated and came good in the Championship. Was chuffed for him.
The victory over Chelsea was West Ham’s first really great performance at the Olympic Stadium. Is it starting to feel like home for you yet?
EP: Yes, it really is. We needed a high-energy night game to get stuck into and we did. The atmosphere was incredible, the noise was top-rate. What a night.
KM: The early teething problems seem to be slowly improving, but having spoken to many Arsenal friends, it does take a while for fans to get used to a new stadium. But even Gunners fans still miss Highbury and say it’s not the same.
DR:The performance and result was superb against Chelsea and, for the most part, the atmosphere at London Stadium was excellent. However, the atmosphere and feel of the stadium still doesn’t match up to that at the Boleyn Ground, in my opinion. It will take some time for London Stadium to feel like home. Better results and performances on a regular basis will go a long way to making the new stadium feel like home.
SP: I think for many it did already. For those who didn’t quite feel ‘homely’ enough – that League Cup win should provide some serious swaying power in favour of the Olympic Stadium. It was, and still is, always going to take time for the vast majority to really bed into the new stadium. Get used to the surroundings, the journey to and from, the atmosphere, security, etc. There are always teething issues at first.
West Ham’s reward for the victory was a League Cup quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford. How far can the club go in the competition this year?
EP: As far as we want to go! There is no reason we can’t win it.
KM: I would hope we give it a good shot as we have as much a chance as any, especially when other of the big clubs will not put as high a priority on it. I hope we’ve calmed down from the talk of Champions League football last year to realise that we need to think of a long-term path to being a big club. The League Cup could be a good start.
DR: I think we can go all the way. Against Chelsea, we looked confident and defended well. Although Chelsea had a few chances, we could and perhaps should have scored more goals. If we perform like we did against Chelsea, we are more than capable of seeing off Manchester United and the other teams that remain in the League Cup.
SP: If we get past a Jose-led Manchester United at Old Trafford, I don’t think there’s many sterner tasks left.