West Ham United come into their potentially season-defining clash against Southampton at the London Stadium on Saturday on the back of three successive Premier League defeats by a three-goal margin, and manager David Moyes needs to make some bold decisions during the run-in.
The east London outfit have eight matches left to preserve their top flight status, with consecutive losses against Liverpool, Swansea City and Burnley leaving them in 17th position – just two points above the relegation zone and their 18th-placed south coast opponents this weekend.
While the clash against Saints is probably more of a ‘must-not-lose’ rather than a ‘must-win’ game for the Irons, they will also be wary that they still have to face Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal by the end of April, before they come up against Leicester City and Everton in their final two fixtures of the campaign.
That certainly isn’t the most straightforward of conclusions to the season and it is getting to the stage where Moyes, whom the London Stadium faithful are quickly losing patience with, may need to change things up in order to get a response from his team, and to make sure they are stronger at both ends of the pitch.
While the Scottish boss has few options available to him at the back with Winston Reid definitely out and James Collins a big doubt against Mark Hughes’ men, he has more players to choose from in attacking positions.
Against Southampton for example, Moyes will be choosing from Joao Mario, Michail Antonio, Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez, Jordan Hugill and possibly Manuel Lanzini – if he is fit – and he is facing some tough decisions.
A 3-4-2-1 system has been the favoured formation in recent weeks with Antonio starting as a left wing-back last time having scored from the substitutes’ bench against Liverpool and Swansea previously, but the 28-year-old would be far more of a threat playing further forward and either through the centre or on the right.
If Lanzini does miss out against Saints then Joao Mario should take up an attacking midfield spot, while Arthur Masuaku can come in at left wing-back after returning from his six-match ban with Aaron Cresswell continuing as a left-sided centre-back in a three-man defence.
Arnautovic has deservedly been starting as the first-choice centre-forward in recent weeks because of his threat in front of goal, and considering he netted three times in two friendly matches for Austria during the international break, he is a shoo-in for a spot in the XI right now.
Moyes, who currently has the worst win percentage of any permanent West Ham manager in history, needs to get more support for the former Stoke City attacker though and he should consider deploying a 3-4-1-2 system from now until the end of the season to do exactly that.
When fit, Lanzini would be the perfect player to sit in behind the front two because of his creative ability, and the east London outfit should be more of a threat in the final third as a result.
But rather than go with natural striker Hernandez alongside Arnautovic, the Scottish boss should take something of a calculated risk by playing Antonio with the Austrian instead.
The 28-year-old played as a lone centre-forward in the matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United in the build up to the festive period, and he showed how much of a big threat he can be there.
With his pace, direct running, strength and ability in the air, he has all of the attributes to cause problems for defenders and he could prove to be the perfect foil for Arnautovic and potentially give the Austrian more room to weave his magic.
While playing two up top and leaving Hernandez on the bench may seem like a strange decision for many, West Ham find themselves in a precarious position right now and if Arnautovic and Antonio can be the most dangerous pairing to help the team get goals and points, then Moyes must make a bold and brave decision to give them a run in the side together.