Manuel Pellegrini has suggested that he will reintegrate Marko Arnautovic into his starting XI, according to the BBC’s live blog on Thursday (12:38pm).
The striker sustained an injury against Wolves but much of the goodwill he had built up with the club’s fanbase dissipated after his flirtations with a move to China lastmonth.
The Austria international enjoyed a sterling start to the season, scoring seven goals in 17 Premier League outings.
He was the subject of a bid from the Chinese Super League in January and appeared to wave goodbye to the club’s fans as he was substituted during the 1-0 win over Arsenal.
However, no move materialised and, after signing a contract extension, he was subsequently injured on his comeback against Wolves.
He missed the 1-1 draw with Liverpool but Pellegrini says that he is nearing a return to full fitness.
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The Hammers boss told reporters, per BBC (12:38): “Marko Arnautovic and Aaron Cresswell worked the complete week but Samir Nasri needs more time to work on his calf injury.
“Marko worked the complete week. It is good news, of course. He is a player who makes a difference and is important for our team. He needs to recover his best form after not playing and his last injury, and I hope he will be an important player for the remainder of the season.”
Manuel Pellegrini appears ready to trust Arnautovic again.
The Austrian has historically struggled with temper issues and looked set to force his way out of the Hammers.
His new contract was nothing more than a publicity exercise – Football FanCast understands that he remains likely to leave in the summer, as his contract contains a clause allowing him to exit the club if a £45million bid is tabled.
But Pellegrini appears to have opened the door to giving Arnautovic a run in the first-team between now and the end of the season.
The Hammers are hopeful of qualifying for Europe this season – they are just six points behind seventh-placed Wolves – and the former Man City manager clearly believes the maverick striker is too integral to his plans to drop him.
It is a bold strategy, and we must now wait to see if it pays off.