Last night’s first half performance against Arsenal showed that, without Kevin Nolan in the team, we can still play some good football with Sam Allardyce at the helm. The midfield trio of Mark Noble, Antonio Nocerino and Mo Diame provided the catalyst for a brave 40 minute effort in which we created chances and looked dangerous going forward.

The common conception is that when you have Andy Carroll in the team, you HAVE to play long ball. This is a conception I disagree with. Liverpool didn’t part with £35 million to play hoof ball in front of the kop end every other Saturday. They felt that with his physical presence, aerial ability and link up play, he could provide an extra dimension for the side whilst keeping to their high tempo and possession based philosophies.  Whilst Andy didn’t have the best of games at the Emirates, I believe in the short amount of time he has played this season, he has proven that he can play football on the deck.

In my opinion, Big Sam has emphasised on a long ball game due to Kevin Nolan’s unique ability to make something of second balls. Whilst this can be useful towards the end of 90 minutes when you’re chasing the game, setting out with this strategy is harmful for the result and the performance – particularly away from home. Due to Nolan’s lack of stamina and pace, big spaces appear between the number 4 and the two defensive midfielders. This allows the opposition’s central midfielders to get on the ball and start attacking moves. Against a team like Fulham (no disrespect), this doesn’t cause us too many problems as players like Steve Sidwell are not going to hurt you in those positions. However, when you play teams with midfield general’s such as Yohan Cabaye (before he got on the Eurostar), Steven Gerrard or Yaya Toure…you have big problems.

Analysing last night’s first half, you can see that our midfield three got behind the ball (as you’d expect) but were able to keep possession and launch counter attacks when they got on the ball. You could see small triangles appearing and that has simply not happened under big Sam. This allowed us to get the ball to Jarvis and Downing in deeper positions where they are much more dangerous – giving the ball to them with their back to the goal and on the halfway line is pointless. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a vintage performance by any stretch, but I was pleased to see our lads actually playing the ball on the floor and trying to create opportunities for once (even if it was only for 40 minutes).

Andy Carroll is no Lionel Messi and he will not wander into the false nine position and play tika-taka football. But, most opposing teams will not mark Andy Carroll one-on-one. Therefore, if the big man can occupy both centre halves, it creates space in the ‘number ten’ position for the likes of Diame, Nocerino or even Morrison once he’s recalled. This, in my opinion, makes us a far more dangerous proposition and will give us more of a chance of playing good football whilst earning points.

Kevin Nolan is a great skipper and has had a wonderful career, I do not dispute that. However, you have to look at ways to move forward as a team and find new ways of playing.
I’d love to see someone like Michael Laudrup in the West Ham hot seat but, whatever you think of him, big Sam has done a decent job and can make us into an established Premier League club before the stadium move.