West Ham's Decline Isn't Michail Antonio's Fault
It’s difficult to find the right balance when writing about West Ham, especially when straddling the divide between journalism and fandom because – given the club’s history – they’re still doing okay.
Just eight years ago, the Hammers’ starting line-up included the likes of Pablo Amero (on loan from Napoli), Mo Diame (who signed for Hull City after demanding a move to a bigger club…), and Matt Jarvis (who was a record-signing at the time).
West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal in the fixture I’m refereeing to; Sam Allardyce’s bench included ‘Relegation’ Roger Johnson, Ricardo Vaz Te, and Carlton Cole. After Christmas in 2014/15, the team won just three games (twice against clubs that were later relegated).
They finished 12th in the top-flight – somehow qualifying for the Europa League via UEFA’s Fair Play Award.
A season ticket holder at the time, I can vividly remember what the mood was like at Upton Park. It was miserable. Mainly because the team was rubbish and the manager had a terrible relationship with the fans.
I mention this because it places my analysis (and feelings) in context.
As a fan, I found the club’s decision to sit out the January transfer window disappointing.
As a journalist, I felt West Ham’s inertia was a significant act of self-sabotage.
Of course, my perspectives are linked.
I’m disappointed because I believe West Ham were in a position to strengthen their squad and I feel not doing so was an act of self-sabotage because the team’s start to the season was a) an aberration and b) premised on the quality of a single player.
For clarity’s sake, I’m talking about Declan Rice ^
My not so bold prediction/forecast/analysis is that we’ll see West Ham regress to the mean by the end of the season. They’ll finish in the seventh-ninth window. Which – considering the club’s history – is more than okay. But it could’ve been so much better.
Anyway, let’s talk about a topic that’s driving West Ham fans up the wall – Michail Antonio’s form.
Thanks for reading West Ham+19! If you’re enjoying this article, please consider subscribing. It’s free…
The Curious Case of Michail Antonio:
Antonio started the season tremendously. The 31-year-old was at his very best, chasing down lost causes, playing instinctively in the final third, and using his physical presence to bring Pablo Fornals (among others) into play.
Since then, his offensive production has fallen off a cliff. Antonio hasn’t scored for six Premier League games, with his last assist coming four matches ago against Leeds. The eye test tells the same story: he looks tired and low on confidence.
And, frankly, who could blame him?
Antonio will soon smash through his previous ‘minutes played’ record in the Premier League, as demonstrated below with data from fbref.com.
Dear readers, I have two questions for you:
Is it sustainable for Antonio to be playing so much football?
Is it desirable to have Antonio playing so much football?
My answer to both questions is ‘no’, for two reasons:
Antonio is playing more minutes than ever before, which is unusual for a player of his age.
He’s still relatively new to playing as a centre forward, he needs support/competition/rest.
Also of note: Antonio ranks ninth in the Premier League for minutes played this season. He’s behind three teammates, Rice (third), Lukasz Fabianski (fourth), and Jarrod Bowen (eighth).
Before we move on, I have a final number drop for you:
This data, also via fbref.com, covers Antonio’s time in the Premier League with West Ham (again, it doesn’t include cups or international games).
For this exercise “points” are used as shorthand for “goals + assists.” The chart above is quick maths: I’ve divided Antonio’s minutes per season by his ‘points’ to work out his minutes/points ratio.
Note: the lower the line on the graph, the more offense Antonio is producing.
So far this season, Antonio has averaged one ‘point’ per 157 minutes of Premier League football. He was more effective in 2019-20 and 2020-21, registering points every 136 and 132 minutes, respectively.
Here are my takeaways:
Antonio started the season excellently because he fits Moyes’ system to a tee and entered the campaign at peak physical condition. However, he’s been asked to play too many minutes by club and country – which has seen his offensive production drop off.
His workload is too high.
There’s also an element of regressing to the mean. Antonio was scoring above his usual rate to start the year, meaning he was bound to convert fewer of his shots as the season went on.
His start to the season was too good (statistically speaking).
Ultimately, the Hammers have made a critical error: they should’ve signed a second forward to reduce the load on Antonio. If they had, the drop in his production would’ve been less serve and/or covered up by another forward’s ‘points’.
Quickfire + 19:
I pledged to write about the Premier League’s other clubs when I launched West Ham +19. With that in mind, I’m signing off today’s newsletter with one (ish) sentence on each team. If you’ve got time, let me know your thoughts on the segment via Twitter or the comments section below:
Manchester City – blimey, they’re good. This version of Manchester City is the best we’ve seen, I’m mesmerised by the quality of their movement in central midfield. (yeh, I know they lost to Spurs last weekend)
Liverpool – Luis Diaz is a superb signing: he’s quick, intelligent, and has an edge that will make him a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.
Chelsea – although Romelu Lukaku is having a rough season, he isn’t the cause of Chelsea’s issues in the final third. I’ll write more about this soon.
Manchester United – the Red Devils are going to find it very difficult to recruit their next manager, given the discourse surrounding the club.
Arsenal – Martin Odegaard is legit, he’s thriving in his new role.
Wolves – hiring Bruno Lage was a transformational moment for Wolves, he’s done brilliantly to implement a new style of play. When they become more efficient in the final third, it’ll be scary.
For a more detailed take on Wolves, check out my analysis of Ruben Neves for Breaking the Lines.
Tottenham – Even after their win over City, I’m still not convinced by Antonio Conte’s project at Spurs. It’ll end in tears.
Brighton – I think they’re a bit vanilla.
Southampton – Kyle Walker-Peters is a top-five full-back in the Premier League. Debate.
Leicester – nothing’s changed for the Foxes since I wrote about their decline for BTL. It’s looking rough.
Aston Villa – they’ve looked blunt since their 3-3 draw with Leeds, though I think Steven Gerrard will find the answer.
Crystal Palace – if they don’t get four points from Watford and Burnley, I’ll start to worry.
Brentford – they’re also struggling… excited to see what Christian Eriksen brings to the table.
Leeds United – they’ll survive (because of Raphinha), but they shouldn’t get much credit for doing so.
Everton – welp, the Toffees are a mess behind the scenes. Their next four league games are against City, Spurs, Wolves, and Newcastle. I’m worried for them.
Newcastle – they’re staying up, Newcastle’s midfield-three were exceptional versus West Ham (and they’ll get better once Bruno is put in the XI).
Watford – I’ll be very upset if Roy Hodgson’s career ends with a relegation.
Burnley – vaccine status concerns aside, Wout Weghorst is a very good signing and will probably keep Burnley up.
Norwich – Dean Smith was a clever appointment by Norwich, they’ll at least be in the conversation come the end of the season.