It might not be the most popular view but a performance like this suggests that, for West Ham United, David Moyes is the right man at exactly the right time. Three points against a Chelsea side in such convincing form were as invaluable as they were unexpected; most encouraging of all is that the victory was thoroughly deserved, West Ham scoring early through Marko Arnautovic and then taking their lack of possession on the chin, only suffering sporadic moments of genuine alarm and showing a degree of rigour that had seemed beyond this set of players only a few weeks previously.
The fact that Arnautovic, an expensive summer signing who had failed to score since his arrival from Stoke City, made the decisive contribution may be seen as a success for Moyes, too. Arnautovic was consigned to the bench for Tuesday night’s narrow defeat at Manchester City, a showing whose battling nature now seems to have set the template for West Ham’s effort to escape relegation. Recalled to the starting lineup in a bid for more attacking thrust at home he was excellent here, posing a menace from the off and capitalising on a flat-footed start from Chelsea to score a slickly-worked winner.
The sides’ contrasting tempos during the early moments had suggested this would be an opportune time to catch Chelsea out. After a couple of promising incursions West Ham did so and Arnautovic’s goal was, from their point of view, a beauty. There was little immediate danger when Michael Antonio popped a low pass his way on the edge of the box; the subsequent give-and-go with Manuel Lanzini carved Chelsea’s defence apart, though, affording enough space for Arnautovic to work the ball on to his left foot and pick his spot in the far corner.
Chelsea might wonder whether Andreas Christensen had got too tight to Arnautovic, allowing the forward to spin him too easily and then finding himself ill disposed to make a legal challenge. It was an isolated, but significant, example of the sloppiness that characterised their start. At various times in his career Arnautovic could be accused of lacking the “sacred fire” that Antonio Conte believes top players are guided by; here he and his team-mates set a blazing tempo and Chelsea could not get a foothold. When Arthur Masuaku bamboozled Davide Zappacosta with a delicate pirouette there was the distinct impression that West Ham, often so disconsolate, were enjoying themselves.
Arnautovic had Christensen on toast again before the half-hour, wriggling away on the right flank but this time letting the centre-back recover. By then Chelsea had, in fact, cleared their heads and begun to have a go. Eden Hazard’s volley across goal and a blocked Tiémoué Bakayoko drive hinted at improvement; they came closer still when Adrián, retaining his place in goal while Joe Hart looked on from the bench, made sharp stops to his left from N’Golo Kanté and Zappacosta in quick succession.
When Álvaro Morata, who had earlier been spared a yellow card by Anthony Taylor despite throwing himself to the ground in the penalty area, hooked over there was the sense West Ham were being forced into the kind of rearguard action that proved insufficient against City. But by the interval it had not quite worked out that way; the first half’s final action was a spell of possession that emboldened the home support to break out into “Olés” and Moyes’s team deserved the lead for their superior application.
Bakayoko had seen another shot deflected just wide during that spell of Chelsea pressure but was sacrificed for Pedro when the teams re-emerged. The substitute hoicked a speculative volley off target within minutes and then looked on as Aaron Cresswell diverted a Cesc Fàbregas centre away from Zappacosta. Shortly afterwards Fàbregas flung a header on to the unwitting Angelo Ogbonna and the pattern now seemed set along the lines of that second-half siege at the Etihad.
West Ham’s best hope of attacking respite was to set Arnautovic off against Christensen, who was the subject of a penalty appeal when the Austrian’s flick deflected off his hand. It looked a fair shout even if Christensen’s agency was questionable: Arnautovic would have had another clear shooting chance were it not for his intervention.
Adrián’s second yellow card for time-wasting of the week summarised West Ham’s priorities, although the greater frustration for Conte was his team’s inability to turn territory into genuine chances. He made his remaining changes by the 64th minute but the lack of sharpness was endemic; a home defence superbly marshalled by Winston Reid was not for turning around and too many final balls, particularly from wide, felt speculative.
They did not pick a way through until seven minutes from time when Morata, played onside by Masuaku after Kanté’s nudged pass, flashed wide the kind of opportunity he has routinely buried. Hazard and Fàbregas, the latter in added time, both missed the target as Chelsea became increasingly flustered. West Ham held out in a triumph of organisation and perspiration; a victory in their manager’s image and the kind that can change a season.