Mickey needs rest and competition to help him reach the same level

It’s been a frustrating couple of months for Antonio as his influence on the pitch has diminished

Michail Antonio (WHU) at the EPL match West Ham United v Burnley, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th January, 2021. English Premier League matches are still being played behind closed doors because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and government social distancing/lockdown restrictions.

How do you solve a problem like Michail Antonio? A player who can absolutely bully centre backs, leads the line well, can hold it up, and can run the channels.

Our all-time Premier League top scorer also creates for others, pops up in the right place at the right time to find a goal, and is a character that seems vital to the team spirit at the club.

But he is also a player who, when he isn’t on it, drops a two out of ten performance which completely derails our whole game. 

And it is these types of performances we have been seeing a worryingly high number of in recent weeks. 

The newly minted number nine started the season in sensational form. In the first 10 games, he scored seven goals and registered four assists. A goal contribution of over one a game.

However, in the 16 since, he has managed just two goals and a further four assists – roughly a goal contribution of one in three. 

He is being outmuscled by centre backs and failing to hold the ball up and get us on the front foot. 

He looks like a shell of the man whose stats were amongst the best across Europe’s top leagues in the early part of the season. 

So how do we get him back to his best? The answer seems startlingly simple – sign another striker. 

Ease the burden on a player who traditionally struggles to complete a full season anyway. 

He has played 25 games so far this term across all competitions for West Ham. In the last two seasons in their entirety, he managed only 26 and 27 respectively. 

If you factor in his games for Jamaica, he has surpassed that number already. And as we enter the ‘winter break’, Antonio will shoulder his nation’s hopes of World Cup qualification, playing a further three games, taking his number of appearances to 31 by early February. 

He has only played more than that in a season six times over his whole 14 year career, and only once in the last five years. 

The front man is exhausted and the situation is only going to worsen without an alternative.

But while the solution seems simple, the reality is anything but.

Firstly there are few players who can do what an in-form Antonio can do. We have seen what happens when we put a square peg in the Antonio shaped hole.

Haller’s tenure as our striker and his subsequent resurgence at Ajax is a timely reminder that playing style and the right strategic fit is crucial for a forward to thrive.

There simply aren’t many strikers who offer what the man from Wandsworth does, and even fewer who fit the bill within our budget, especially in January. 

It’s all well and good for us fans saying ‘just spend what the selling club wants’, but we have limited funds and striker isn’t the only position in which we lack depth. 

You could argue that the new striker doesn’t need to match Michail’s attributes, that a new forward, with a different playing style, gives us an alternative approach and means we can play a different way. 

But that is a risk, our game plan centres so much on his very specific skill set. Do we really want to rock the boat that Moyes is attempting to navigate into Europe for a second season? We have a system that, for the most part, works. What if plan B isn’t as effective? 

We may say: ‘Just get someone in – anyone is better than nothing’ but Yarmolenko exists as proof that that just isn’t true.

But maybe there are other solutions within the club that should have been utilised before we hit this wall.

Sonny Perkins is an option, but despite an impressive season for the u23s, the 17-year-old has only recently converted from midfield to centre forward.

Is it fair to ask him to continue his learning curve whilst also making the step up to the Premier League proper and shoulder the responsibility of getting the goals we need to take a European spot? 

Ideally he could have been bloodied more with substitute appearances here and there, but a Europa League game and a sub appearance against Leeds aside, Moyes hasn’t felt comfortable enough in games to do so.

With Benrahma returning from the AFCON, and with Vlasic finding some semblance of form, maybe the answer is to play Bowen centrally. 

He deputised for Antonio when he was suspended and could do so for a few games just to help his team mate rest his legs – but you then lose the England hopeful’s threat from wide and risk burning him out instead.

Regardless of the method Moyes prescribes, if we are to maintain any momentum in our march for Europe, fixing Antonio is a problem we need to solve – and quickly.

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