Defending: The indefensible

On Monday night West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal despite holding a half-time lead, as the Hammers conceded three times in just 10 minutes.

Such was the nature of both the goals and the home side's response to taking the lead they bear some closer analysis. Although the intent is to highlight inadequacies in game management and shape rather than performances, obvious individual errors will be addressed.

As pointed out in our match report the Hammers were a goal up against a side without a win in nine games. Under such circumstances the orthodoxy would be to tuck in, compress space and not allow the visitors possession or space. As our first pic shows, this could not have been further from the reality.




The Gunners had teased West Ham by playing the ball out from keeper to full backs and the home side enthusiastically leapt into the trap by attempting to press the yellow defence - something they don't regularly commit to and have little experience of. Attempting any sort of press with a deep defensive line is football suicide. Consequently the Hammers midfield shape is awful with Mark Noble (who really should know better) jumping forward before handing over marking to Pablo Fornals - a job the youngster barely engages with.




Declan Rice has also been caught too far forward and trails his runner (the goalscorer Gabriel Martinelli). Robert Snodgrass is making every effort to cover his flank as the ball is played past him - but on the nearside, in what will become a recurring theme, Felipe Anderson is ambling towards his own goal with little purpose.




Rice never catches Martinelli who is in five yards of space and finishes crisply as three defenders concern themselves with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang instead.

At this point it is worth talking about the role of wingers in manager Manuel Pellegrini's system. They seem integral to his game - but it is unclear what, if any, function they provide. West Ham don't cross the ball, the wide-men never tuck-in to help midfield and offer little support for their full-backs. Neither do they get ahead of a lone striker or run at opponents, making their role almost invisible. Anderson for example, has scored just one goal this year.




For the second goal Arsenal again played out from the back. Snodgrass is stranded up front while Rice and Noble remain compact in the middle. Nonetheless, there isn't a claret and blue shirt within 10 yards of either an opponent or the ball.




One simple angled ball and the Hammers midfield is dissected. Angelo Ogbonna has inexplicably dropped off a back four that are otherwise in good shape. At the bottom of the picture ?72millon signing Nicolas Pepe is moving into an attacking position without any attention from either Anderson or left-back Arthur Masuaku.




Just look at the space between Anderson and Masuaku as the ball is played into Aubameyang. All the left-back's focus is on the striker before the latter turns and plays a simple ball out to the right.




Masuaku finally appreciates the danger, panics and rushes towards Pepe. Possibly unaware the player is left-footed, he shows him onto that side and the player finishes with a sumptuous curler unimpeded by any effort to block the shot or properly close him down. By now such is Anderson's lack of commitment to defending he is barely in the shot.




For the third and final goal West Ham again attempt a reluctant press. Anderson chases for about 10 yards before giving up and stopping before reluctantly breaking into an amble. Again Arsenal play through an almost non-existent midfield with ease.




At this point is worth noting Ogbonna has again broken the line - possibly as a result of having no midfield cover in front of him. Masuaku is chasing back from an advanced position there was no point being in. The space between Ogbonna and fellow centre-back Fabian Balbuena is huge - and ultimately leads to the goal.




Aubemeyang is able to collect a diagonal ball and back heel it to an unencumbered Pepe who has advanced from the bottom of the picture.




The Ivorian has all the time in the world to cross to his team-mate who, bisecting the home centre-backs volleys home.

It is rumoured boss Pellegrini never watches opponents, preferring instead to "impose" his system on allcomers. Two words sum up this ethos; lazy and arrogant. The shape of his midfield is awful - no team can give the amount of space to opponents West Ham do and not expect to come off worse.

The left flank is permanently a goal waiting to happen. Quite what happens in training is a mystery - players don't appear to have much idea of what their individual roles are and little trust in colleagues to carry them out.

With the Chilean's job under threat and regardless of whether you believe the current Board to be capable of appointing a competent successor (this blog believes otherwise) this shambles cannot be allowed to go on.


*This article was first published on westhamweloveyou.com. You can follow the blog on Twitter at @OhWestHamWeLov1.

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