Antonio's return will be more than welcome

David Moyes is a manager not known for idle talk or gossip – and certainly not prone to freely giving away any plans he might have regarding teams selection.

So when asked about the possible return from injury of Michail Antonio, and if there was any chance we might see Mickey in some shape or form on Sunday for the visit of Arsenal, he was predictably vague in his response. “He’s looking okay,” said Moyes when questioned in his Friday presser. “But he has been out for the best part of three months, so he’s still off it as far as being match fit…!”

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Moyes will be understandably cautious about bringing the big man back too soon – and clearly reluctant to take any chances with a player who is yet another of West Ham’s marmite men when it comes to opinions. A player who divides the fan base – either loved or loathed in almost equal measure. If you're looking for the odds on his chances of returning, some of the best betting sites have been reviewed by Punters Page.

On his day Antonio can be ‘unplayable’ – a term used by Alan Shearer earlier in the season, a pundit who’s been there done that and got the t-shirt. Big, strong, quick and aggressive – a defender’s nightmare. But there are also days when he looks awkward, can be exasperating in his decision-making and frustrating in his actions - at times even looking disinterested in the job in hand.

All coupled with the ability to miss just as many chances as he converts. But the undeniable fact is we have badly missed Michail’s presence since he was injured on international duty for Jamaica back at the beginning of November.

Jarrod Bowen and Muhammad Kudus have battled hard as our two most obvious attacking threats in Antonio’s absence – Bowen being used by Moyes as an out-and-out striker down the middle most recently – rather than his preferred position on the right hand side.

But he doesn’t carry the same physical presence as Antonio - and it’s showed. There was a hope amongst some of the fanbase that Divin Mubama could step up to the plate and deputise in Antonio’s absence. But that’s proved to have been a step too soon and too far for the youngster.

For virtually the entire time Moyes has been in charge in his second stint as manager, he’s relied on Antonio as being integral in his game plan. A target man – a focal point for our attack – a get out of jail card when we’ve been under pressure at the back and looked to break swiftly from defence to attack.

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Antonio’s critics, bizarrely in my opinion, seemed to celebrate when he dropped out of the team. At 33 they believed his time was up, his effectiveness was done, he was a spent force. Past his sell by date. That may well have been a foolish and premature assumption judging by what we have seen to be lacking in his absence.

We have clearly missed Michail, particularly in the last month, and his return, when it does come, will be welcomed by the manager and the team mates who benefit from his presence. His return will not only provide us once again with a genuine striker to lead the line, but it will also present opposition defences with something serious to think about and occupy them.

That in turn will afford far greater freedom for Bowen in particular, allowing him to return to his preferred and most effect role on the right. It will also create the space for our other goal threat in Kudus to attack from deep – running at players and creating chances - which he does the best.

Michail Antonio has been a tremendous servant for our football club over the last nine years – his £7m transfer fee repaid several times over. He’s literally run and bulldozed his way through brick walls in the cause at times.

We’ve endured the January transfer window while Antonio has been out – but David Moyes has been unable to bring in the striker he was hoping for. The reasons for that are a whole separate story of course.

But it’s meant a fit Michail Antonio will more than likely be asked again to take on the responsibility he’s carried on his broad shoulders for so long. I for one have no problem with that. I’m equally convinced the manager will be of the same mind, too!

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