Lethal Arnautovic ends up sulking
He may have played for only 20 minutes but this West Ham win was dominated by the always eye-catching Marko Arnautovic. Having taken less than two minutes to give West Ham the lead, Arnautovic was soon involved in a heated discussion with his manager, Manuel Pellegrini, after being surprisingly substituted.
Arnautovic had picked up a knock to his back but he clearly wanted to continue and spent the rest of the first half sitting on the bench brooding like a schoolboy in detention. After the match, Pellegrini played down Arnautovic’s frustration and said he was taken off as “a precaution”, adding: “He doesn’t have a problem, just some pain in his back and nothing more.”
In the end, West Ham just about got by without their talisman to wrap up an FA Cup third-round victory over Birmingham. Samir Nasri – playing his first football in more than a year after a doping ban – was the standout performer while, continuing the theme of revitalisation, Andy Carroll nodded home his first goal since April to secure the win in second-half stoppage time.
Fielding a heavily weakened team, West Ham could easily have drawn or even lost against a Birmingham side who went against the grain and fielded a pretty much full-strength line-up.
Perhaps manager Garry Monk wanted to lift the mood at the club, just a day after it emerged that Birmingham, who are only a couple of places outside the Championship play-offs, could be docked up to 12 points for breaking spending rules. The 5,000-strong travelling support were certainly intent on enjoying their day out, with the tie given extra intrigue by Birmingham’s former owners David Sullivan and David Gold now running West Ham.
But Birmingham were soon behind. Goalkeeper Lee Camp could not hold Angelo Ogbonna’s weak header and there was Arnautovic to nod home from a few yards out for his third goal in two games.
West Ham were dominant in the early stages, with Nasri quickly back in the groove. “I was very happy with him,” Pellegrini said afterwards. “Now he will be considered for other games. He has demonstrated he is back.”
Nasri continued to impress until he was replaced to warm applause after an hour, but West Ham’s early fluency evaporated when Arnautovic was withdrawn in the 20th minute. Thankfully for West Ham fans the injury was nothing serious and the striker will be available to face Arsenal on Saturday. “He was angry for one minute,” Pellegrini said. “He wanted to carry on. He felt some pain in his back at the beginning of the game. I thought it was better for him to come off. It was not good to take that risk.”
Replacing Arnautovic was Carroll, who lasted only 45 minutes against Brighton on Wednesday before being withdrawn. He was far from his sharpest here, too, but in stoppage time he finally got his goal after missing two presentable chances moments earlier.
Birmingham had also wasted a clutch of opportunities – Lukas Jutkiewicz could have claimed a hat-trick and Maikel Kieftenbeld twice went close – and at last Carroll made them pay, rising highest to meet Michail Antonio’s cross.
Carroll’s huge sigh of relief after his header went in summed up the mood at the London Stadium.
Flashpoint: Marko Arnautovic of West Ham argues with his manager Manuel Pellegrini