Moving Forwards, Without Many of Them

Moving Forwards, Without Many of Them

All Quiet on the West Ham Front

The transfer window is coming to an early and exciting end with massive rumors of players on the move raising eyebrows left, right, and center. You read one headline, and faster than you can say ‘Hugill to Madrid’ another ten have crowded the Twitter feed. Even with all of this activity, all has remained quiet on one particular front: West Ham’s forwards. Obviously, the Hammers have broken the club transfer record to bring in the Frenchman Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt, who could prove to be the signing of the summer, and yet the squad remains notably light in this position. Since the initial writing of this piece, it has become a lot more likely we’ll fill the role, but nevertheless, with under 48 hours left in the window, let’s explore whether Hammers fans should be concerned over the depth at striker.

Let’s start with an inventory. We have the new signing, Sebastian Haller, the fox in the box, Chicharito, and arguably the youngster Xande Silva composing our ranks in the center forward department, with Michail Antonio creeping off at the side, capable and versatile, yet not a striker out and out. Of these three committed strikers, two could start, and one, Silva, has yet to make his Premier League debut, only featuring once for the senior side in a cup tie. On top of that, the young Portuguese talent has recently sustained an injury. In contrast, last season our strikers were made up of Arnautovic, Chicharito, Carroll, Lucas Perez, and Silva – two extra bodies, albeit one perennially broken. 

This is issue number one: quantity comes with a certain level of security. We all know West Ham has a bad habit of players getting injured, so in a squad like ours, two extra players at the same position represents a pretty considerable amount of depth, never mind competition for minutes. With only three strikers in total, only two of which are currently healthy, I would be hard pressed not to consider us vulnerable up top. Personally, another body on that depth chart would help me sleep a little better at night. In that vein, the added depth last season made it possible for us to be comfortable on numbers, even with Andy Carroll’s predictable absence. 

“Quantity comes with a certain level of security…”

The obvious counterpoint, however, is that West Ham have a wealth of talent in the midfield that can take responsibility and pressure, both physical and otherwise, off of our forwards. This is the Premier League in 2019 after all, most teams play with one player up top, how important can a deep strike force really be? Won’t our midfield be scoring loads of goals anyways? This is actually a fairly compelling argument. In terms of pressure on performance, will we rely on a striker for our goal scoring? Here are some stats:

  • Last season, West Ham scored 67 goals in all competitions. 

  • Twenty-six of those goals came from strikers, making those four goal scorers responsible for just about 2/5 of our production. 

  • That’s roughly 38.8% of goals coming from exactly 16% of our full senior squad. 

  • Strikers were also exactly 25% of the players that scored goals at any point during the season. 

  • A total of 33 goals were scored by a collection of eight midfielders last season, comprising effectively half of our goals.

These statistics can be understood in one of two ways: strikers scored a lot of our goals, as should be expected, and we need to rely on that higher rate of goals per player; or, what depth has been lost in forwards has been added in the midfield, who are already scoring the plurality of goals - the goals will come whether from forward or mid. 

Those in the first camp will likely point out that last season’s top scorer and third highest scorer were both strikers. Those in the latter group will likely point out that Haller is known to set up other players with a similar efficacy to his own goal scoring, pointing to a potential increase in the midfield’s share of the spoils. Both of these sides have strong cases. We have lost that top goal scorer, and though we’ve replaced him with a phenomenal prospect, our total volume of strikers has decreased.

Ultimately, though anti-climactic, I think this all builds to the conclusion that strikers are very important for goal scoring; it’s right there in the name, it does what it says on the tin. Sure the midfield will score lots of goals, and may likely score a larger proportion of the team’s goals than last year, but if strikers weren’t important, we wouldn’t have them in the first place. This is all to say, while it may not be a hot take that an injury-prone club should avoid losing numbers at a position like striker, it is an important point of concern. I for one think Haller could lead the team in both goals and assists, making him a crucial linchpin for our goal scoring, even when he isn’t the one putting ball to net. If that’s the case, it’s a lot of weight on Seb to stay fit. I do think the squad has plenty of weapons, and I do think this is the most dangerous our attack has looked in years, but success on the pitch isn’t just a product of your best eleven, the safety net of the sideline is crucial too.

What do you think?

  • Will West Ham sign another striker before the window closes?

  • Will depth at striker be a concern this season?

  • Will our top scorer come from the midfield?

Let us know your opinions in the comments below or on social media, and don’t forget to share this article, and stay tuned to the American West Ham Podcast!

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