As if the Von Trapp family had burst into song, so did Marko Arnautovic return from injury to put on another committed and dazzling display at home to Watford last week. He certainly showed what we had been missing for a few weeks and even inspired our front-runners to attack with more purpose.
Now in the middle of a two-week training camp with the rest of the boys due to an embarrassing FA Cup exit to Wigan, we’re hoping he doesn’t pick up another knock before the next crucial game away at Anfield against Liverpool. He may be the only fortitude in our attacking game that may cause irritation to the Liverpool defences and lull them into errors which could be capitalised by Arnautovic or even the resurgent Hernandez…who has bagged three goals in his last four appearances.
So what is it about Moyes that has made this mercurial talent knuckle down and start to perform consistently and really rather well? Perhaps it was the line in the sand drawn by Moyes as soon as he took over the mantle. He suffered foolish petulance lightly and made everyone aware that if they wanted their ‘Do-Re-Mi’ they then needed to get to work, put in a shift on the training field and crucially in the games too.
We all knew that Arnautovic possessed the natural talent to be a game changer and even a match winner, but many would look at his inconsistency at Stoke City and more to his tainted reputation and wonder whether he would be the right fit for a struggling West Ham team that needed to reverse their fortunes.
His introduction last summer was heralded as the record signing that would be the key to our future success. Along with Hernandez, Zabaleta and Hart, there should have been a dramatic change in our competitiveness, but it soon became evident that would not be the case. Why? Well, we all knew why! We still lacked that key player in midfield who could link the defence with attack and still many of our players were lacking confidence and performing below par. Not exactly the glorious recipe for a rebound season was it?
Under Slaven Bilic, Arnautovic struggled with form and with fitness, but crucially he was one of the players that were identified as having dubious character and commitment in training. Possibly this was more of a reflection of Bilic’s soft approach to discipline or perhaps indeed it was a reflection of the overall morale within the squad and that they’d given up the chase. Regardless…it was distasteful, unnecessary and unprofessional.
The Austrian has blossomed under the guidance and tutelage of Moyes, being ably assisted by drill sergeant Pearce and Leftenants Irvine, McKinlay and Woods. He steadily gained confidence and recovered some match fitness but crucially he was the solitary player who made a dramatic change under the new management. His conviction and determination to chase down half chances was there for all to see, however it has been his growing nuisance factor that has generated opportunities for other players, chances and goals for himself.
Many would look in wonder upon this rejuvenated player with his meanderings through opposition defences and wanderings from the flanks into the penalty area, but he has also tracked back on numerous occasions to assist in defence and clear the lines. He is becoming our every player for every occasion, the boy from the Danube is doing very well indeed.
However, there is an element of doubt, whether he can sustain this capability and attitude. Can Moyes keep a tight hold on the reins, to keep him in check and let him loose on game day? I get the feeling there is quite the uncle & nephew relationship burgeoning behind the scenes between these two. A lot of discipline without aggravation that only an uncle can deliver but also a smothering of joviality to keep everyone sane.
Arnautovic has proven that without his guile and industry, West Ham are a lesser team. Just as when Noble does not lead the midfield, then performances dip with poor results to follow. At times his body language would lend false impressions but lurking within each pause for breath and every indifferent stroll there lies a dormant Kong primed to burst into action and without forewarning of purpose.
One began to wonder whether the attacking talisman who has found grace on unfamiliar ground, would ever be able to deliver on promises and expectation…but he has and we’re all starting to sing his mighty tune. However, one aspect of his game that has not reached full maturity is his ability to link in with strike partners. Thus far it has mainly been a one-man show…his endeavour to showcase the Anschluss of his abilities but there have been gradual improvements along the way.
As if to prove a point, his performance against Huddersfield Town epitomised an unselfish drive to perform for the team and provide opportunities for his fellow players…especially Lanzini who was the recipient of the greatest benefit.
When Bournemouth came to town, although he had a spirited performance, his privately held injury manifested in a slight lack of cohesion with other teammates. However on his return against Watford, there were signs that Hernandez could now be the greater benefit of his industry and link up play. There were moments of pure inspiration that lifted the spirits of a nervous team and a hopeful crowd. He surged forward with greater virility and gave us the potency that concentrated our play in the opponents half for long periods in the first half and gave us rest bite in the second when Watford held the greater possession.
The criticism volleyed at Hernandez prior to his recent form was mainly due to a lack of urgency on his part and his inability to latch onto hopeful balls that were pumped up to him. Arnautovic may be the perfect foil to deliver opportunities in the box and to pull the team higher up the pitch…this alone will enable Hernandez…even Mario to gain worthwhile ground and the potential to net a few more goals that may save our blushes and lead us to Neverland against the greater and the good of the league.
This Austrian commander of industry can be the Captain Georg von Trapp who leads our team away from the dark days headed our way. He can be the man at the top who can ‘Climb Evry Mountain’ and dare I say it even win the hearts of many a spirited convent girl. The mountains are calling and the hills are alive with ‘The Sound Of Music’