Player Zone: Marko Arnautovic is finally on the verge of becoming the player he always had the potential to be

Remarkably, when Marko Arnautovic eventually looks back upon his playing career in football, he may have David Moyes to thank for preventing him from becoming just another nearly man. 

The Scotsman can’t be credited with ‘discovering’ Arnautovic – the Austrian’s outrageous talent has never been a secret – but Moyes certainly deserves some praise for having unlocked the 29-year-old’s true potential at West Ham.

Before the appointment of Moyes at the London Stadium, Arnautovic had shown flashes of his ability. At Stoke City and Werder Bremen before that and Inter Milan before that, Arnautovic would occasionally produce a moment of magic that hinted towards the untapped reservoirs of brilliance he had stowed away in his locker.

Jose Mourinho, speaking about his time in charge of Arnautovic at the San Siro, once said, “Marko is a great guy, but he has the mentality of a child”, as reported by the Manchester Evening News.

Finally, now, Arnautovic looks to have matured. Whilst he will always be a volatile and brash presence on the pitch, the consistency and commitment that has been on show in his game in recent months is evidence of his development.

A very tangible aspect of Arnautovic’s maturation into a lethal and reliable Premier League forward are the figures he is producing on a regular basis for the Hammers.

The most obvious measure of a striker’s contribution is goals. In that respect, Arnautovic is certainly delivering. The 72-cap international has four league strikes under his belt already this season. In fact, in all competitions for the Irons since his arrival, Arnautovic has notched 15 goals in 41 games. In comparison, he found the back of the net just 16 times in 84 outings for Werder Bremen.

This season so far he has achieved an expected goals per 90 minutes (xG90) rating of 0.6. Last time out, his xG90 was 0.38.

Arnautovic’s improved record in front of goal is certainly due in part to his shift from a wide berth into a central role. However, a switch in positions doesn’t tell the full story. Arnautovic’s recent performance levels only occur as a result of hard work and dedication. For so long, those aspects have arguably been lacking from his game. Now, West Ham are the ones benefitting from seeing Arnautovic go the extra mile.

This begs the question: why now?

Arnautovic is an individual who certainly gives the impression of being someone who thrives off of being the star man. When West Ham signed him in 2017, the £20 million fee they paid was a club record at the time. This price tag, along with Moyes’ later decision to move Arnautovic into a central role, cemented the forward’s status as the main man in Stratford. 

As a talismanic figure, Arnautovic has developed a strong connection with the Hammers faithful and seems to be invigorated by the expectation and pressure now on his shoulders. This opportunity to be a star for an internationally renowned club in a huge stadium looks to be bringing the best out of the ex-Stoke City man.

Another factor in Arnautovic’s renaissance is the calibre of player he now finds himself lining up alongside week in week out. It is probably fair to say that this season’s West Ham squad, on a man for man basis, is the most talented that Arnautovic has been a part of since his Inter Milan days. 

The summer acquisitions of Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko did not just represent fine additions to Manuel Pellegrini’s squad. On top of that, they were also players who were identified as the ideal partners for Arnautovic. This is a team being built around the Austrian.

As part of this top class trio, Arnautovic is thriving, and living up to the billing of being the spearhead of West Ham’s attack.