The date is November 9, 2017, and a news headline reads: ‘West Ham happy for David Moyes to sell Marko Arnautovic four months after he was club record buy’. Now aside from feeling that the headline hardly pops, there would have been few Hammers fans who would have disagreed with the sentiment.
In the seven games he had played under former manager Slaven Bilic, the Austrian had registered no goals, no assists, been sent off and largely failed to have an impact anywhere other than on Jack Stephen’s face. Fast forward a few months and the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Including and up to the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, under Moyes, Arnie has registered six goals and four assists in 12 games.
He was nominated for the December Premier League Player of the Month and has basically been unplayable in large parts, drawing (admittedly with a large pinch of salt) comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo. The transformation has been incredible and David Moyes deserves a hell of a lot of credit. But how has this metamorphosis from unwanted fl op to near hero like status been achieved?
There is of course the obvious gauntlet that Moyes threw down upon his arrival in east London: ‘If you don’t run, you don’t play’. But there is far more to it than simply running. Moyes has found a way to utilise the considerable skill set and overcome the shortcomings of our record signing.
The biggest part of this has been the shift in formation and the subsequent change of position occupied by the number seven. Under Bilic, Arnautovic was asked to fill the void left by Dimitri Payet on the left hand side of a front three. It was, as with Robert Snodgrass, a request destined to fail. Payet was all subtlety and panache, Arnie is about pace and power.
In his seven games under Slaven, he registered 27 per cent of his overall play within just 22 x 11 sq m of the pitch on the left wing, midway in the opposition’s half. He was penned in and unable to impact the game. Moyes has unleashed the beast. Under the Scot, his heat map is much more balanced with ‘hotspots’ on the left side, right side, centre forward position and even central midfield.
As a result he is more involved and consequently doing more running. Under Slav, the £24 million man never managed over 60 sprints a game and covered no more than 11km in a single appearance. With the shackles off, he has amassed beyond 60 sprints on more than six occasions (maxing out at 75 vs WBA) and has covered above 11km more than five times, reaching nearly 13km vs Man City.
This alone would be enough to endear him to our fan base. We have always be willing to forgive a lack of skill, but never a lack of effort. Under Moyes, the shift that Arnie is putting in has been machine like. But, as previously mentioned, this is a change in more than just work ethic. It is what he has done with the ball that has quickly turned him into a fan favourite.
His shooting accuracy has doubled to 55 per cent during games under Moyes and he has hit the target 1.2 times a game on average – five times better than his 0.24 average under Bilic. His completed dribbles (+956 per cent), touches in the box (+93 per cent), chances created (+68 per cent) and duels won (+24 per cent) have also improved dramatically. Then, of course, there are those goals and assists that have helped drag us up the table. But there is more to the love affair than simply stats.
He has wooed us. Following the win vs Chelsea, he claimed our support was invaluable and that our fans were ‘unbeatable’. The way he threw himself into the fans following his winner was his Tevez-like moment. His crossed hammers celebration following his match-winning contribution against former club Stoke didn’t do him any harm either.
There is his burgeoning bromance with Manuel Lanzini, with the two dovetailing superbly. The Austrian’s rise to prominence has given opposition defenders something else to think about when we attack other than the diminutive Argentine no 10. This has consequently helped the Jewel sparkle more than he had under Bilic this season, registering two goals and five assists for Moyes.
The give-and-go interplay between the two has resulted in some of the best attacking play we have seen since the move to Stratford. Then there is his self belief and swagger, something we have missed at West Ham ever since Payet left. There is a sense that he is not only willing to shoulder the responsibility of being our talisman, but relishes in it.
He has the arrogance of a Zlatan or Cantona and is starting to inspire the team in the same way as those two greats of the game. Long may it, and the ascent to cult hero, continue. B