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Talking Tactics

Arnautovic leading West Ham revival from the front

Adrian Clarke 3 Oct 2018
Marko Arnautovic

Adrian Clarke explains how the former wide man has become one of the Premier League‘s most effective strikers

Adrian Clarke looks at tactical battles set to take place in Matchweek 8.

Brighton & Hove Albion v West Ham

Marko Arnautovic’s transformation from wide man to centre-forward is just about complete.

Still less than a year on from the first time West Ham United deployed him in a lone front role, the Austrian looks every inch the Premier League striker.

He makes well-timed runs, resists the temptation to wander towards the flanks and has simplified his game to ensure he holds the ball up for team-mates.

Having scored four goals already this term – three from open play – the Hammers star will be the man Brighton & Hove Albion most fear on Friday night.

Quality runs

It is clear Arnautovic is hungry to succeed as a principle centre-forward.

He makes sharp runs in behind or down the side of defenders and has shown the desire to close down opponents with intensity.

The stats reflect as much: Arnautovic is West Ham’s leading sprint-maker.

The 29-year-old makes 19.3 sprints per 90 minutes, just ahead of Robert Snodgrass, with 19.0, and new signing Andriy Yarmolenko, with 17.5.

Arnautovic’s strikes against Everton and Manchester United arrived on the back of bursts of pace that took him beyond his markers.

Having learned how to use his natural power to his advantage, he has become a nightmare to play against.

Pinning back defences

Arnautovic has all the attributes that frighten defenders. He has the skill to drop short and turn, is a threat in the air, has the strength to hold off physical attention and boasts the speed to exploit a high line.

This mix creates uncertainty among those assigned to mark him.

This perhaps explains why the Austrian has been able to pin defenders back into their own penalty area to such outstanding effect in 2018/19.

So worried are they by his pace that they drop deeper, but in those scenarios the signing from Stoke City can hang on to the ball effectively.

In a West Ham side who were struggling for the first four weeks of the season, it is remarkable how many touches Arnautovic has managed inside the penalty area.

Touches in opponents' box 2018/19
Player Touches
Raheem Sterling 64
Sergio Aguero 60
Mohamed Salah 59
Harry Kane 48
David Silva 43
Marko Arnautovic 41
Roberto Firmino 41
Callum Wilson 41
Eden Hazard 41
Developing new rapports

Manuel Pellegrini’s summer additions have also had a positive effect on Arnautovic’s game.

Flanked by Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko, two players who are always looking to link up with him inside the final third, he has received good service.

Anderson has found Arnautovic with 25 successful passes, 10 ahead of the next closest team-mate Yarmolenko, with Mark Noble two behind on 13.

The Brazilian has also created three chances for his centre-forward, the highest of any player in the squad.

Top strike-rates in PL 2018/19*
Player Goals Mins/goal
Eden Hazard 6 81.2
Sergio Aguero 5 103.2
Pedro 3 111.0
Marko Arnautovic 4 113.3
Jamie Vardy 3 113.7

*minimum three goals

Brighton manager Chris Hughton will be aware that Arnautovic is one of the Premier League’s top strikers at the moment.

His minutes-per-goal ratio is comparable with the division’s best and that, coupled with his unpredictable movement, makes him a serious threat under the lights at the Amex Stadium.

With the Hammers playing with more confidence, Arnautovic must be closely watched.

Also in this series

Part 2: How Hojbjerg has raised his game with Southampton
Part 3: Perez key to restoring Newcastle's fortunes
Part 4: Imperious Sterling can deliver rare Anfield joy

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