Bilic: Getting more from Arnautovic, selection headaches and impressive youngsters
Manager Slaven Bilic was naturally in positive mood when he spoke to the press following Tuesday’s 3-0 Carabao Cup third-round win over Bolton Wanderers at London Stadium.
The Croatian reflected on a third clean sheet in the space of eight days, the performances of Marko Arnautovic and teenagers Declan Rice, Sead Haksabanovic, Domingos Quina and Nathan Holland.
Bilic also revealed Tuesday’s performance has given him a selection headache ahead of Saturday’s Premier League derby with Tottenham Hotspur.
Here is what he had to say…
‘We did the job’
West Ham United have made a pig’s ear of handling lower-league opposition in cup competitions on numerous occasions down the years, but Tuesday was not one of them.
The Hammers were quick out of the blocks and ahead within four minutes, created at least a dozen chances in the first half and doubled their lead before the break.
The second half may not have been quite so impressive, but Bilic was happy overall with the way his players built on the recent performances against Huddersfield Town and West Bromwich Albion.
“It’s good to be through, of course. We did the job. It was a really good performance in the first half. OK, we can talk about the opposition, but that was a really good 45 minutes and the opposition was from the Championship, so it wasn’t like bad quality.
“We moved the ball well, we were playing between the lines, we were playing behind them and we played with two touches in our half of the pitch. The only thing we weren’t happy about was that we didn’t score as many goals as we should have in the first half.
“The second half was not that good. We slowed it down, which I don’t like, to be fair. I wouldn’t have minded if we had scored a third one, but at 2-0, it’s always a dodgy one, a very dangerous one.
“We slowed the game, but they didn’t threaten us apart from a couple of set pieces. The good point is that we ended the game with a wonder goal from Arthur, so it was a good night for us.
“We are through in the cup with another clean sheet, which is very important. I told the guys we should build on this and it’s been a good eight days for us – three clean sheets, four points in the Premier League and going to the next round of the cup.
“Every little positive thing helps you get back to where you want to be, so this was definitely a positive.”
‘I want more from Arnie’
Marko Arnautovic marked his London Stadium debut with two assists and a virtuoso performance that showcased many of the Austria international’s undoubted qualities.
But, while Arnautovic clearly caught the eye, Bilic is demanding more from the 28-year-old, who did waste one glorious chance when he attempted an audacious lob that floated over Mark Howard’s crossbar.
“I want him to do more,” his manager confirmed. “He has got that quality, he has got that extra, he is that kind of a player and he knows that I like him, but sometimes he gets happy with the few things that he does and I want him to continue like this and push the borders, because he is unstoppable when he receives those kind of balls.
“He received it maybe 15 times and five or six times he did a great job, with two assists, but sometimes he is happy just to pass it back or do a little trick. I know what he is capable of. He should never be happy, in a positive way, if you know what I mean. Did he do the job on Tuesday? Of course, and that’s why we got him.”
“I think he was determined to do well after he was sent-off last month and this was a good beginning of the comeback for him, but there is no point or reason to stop, to go ‘OK, I’ve done the job’.”
Bilic made ten changes for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie, with only Cheikhou Kouyate keeping his place from Saturday’s goalless draw at The Hawthorns.
The manager revealed he had challenged those coming into the side to make their case to start in the Premier League, and was happy with the way his players responded.
“That’s what I said to the players before the game; ‘Look, you deserve a chance, we want to go through, and everyone of you who thinks he deserves to be playing ahead of the guy who is playing, impress me and my staff! The only way you are going to impress us is in the game or in the training, so give us a headache with your performance’.
“It was really good, so the key thing is that we are through in the cup, hopefully we’re going to get a good draw and this is going to take us into the Spurs game with more confidence and for me and my staff, we are also more positive after this performance from some of the players, we have more to choose from. It’s very good and we’re going to need it on Saturday, definitely.”
One player who is pushing for more Premier League game-time is Diafra Sakho, who made it two goals in two Carabao Cup appearances with an accurate first-time finish.
Bilic believes the Senegalese’s off-field issues are now behind him.
“Sakho, as I said last week, his attitude and mood is spot-on, really spot-on. He looks really motivated in training and that’s why he was playing for us from the start or coming on.
“I have no complaints whatsoever and I am not trying to hide things. His determination is really good and he looks really good, injury-free and willing to train and play good for West Ham United.”
The boys done good
West Ham fans love seeing young players given their chance in the first team and, on Tuesday night, they were able to enjoy watching four teenagers do their thing in Claret and Blue.
Declan Rice and Sead Haksabanovic started and both impressed their manager, with the Montengro international making his senior debut, while Domingos Quina and Nathan Holland also caught the eye as second-half substitutes.
“Declan Rice is only young on paper, but he has a brain and concentration as if he was 30 years old,” said the manager. “He’s thinking about the game, he’s thinking about his positioning and everything. He is totally in the game, which is putting him in a position that he has everything to become a really, really good player.
“Declan can play in both positions. He is naturally a centre-back, but he has enough skill and stamina in his legs to play as a holding midfielder, and the brains to play both. Where he is going to play in his career, I really don’t know. If I had to choose I would say centre-back, but I don’t see anything he doesn’t have not to be a top holding midfielder, as he can pass the ball and has good stamina, so both!
“Haksabanovic was good. He didn’t surprise me, but it is really difficult for a young player to play his first game, but he looked very mature. The lads around him helped him to get into the game and he did very good, so I’m very pleased with him, as I am with Dom Quina and Nathan Holland.
“Those four players have a bright future if they play like that."