Lethal Ar­nau­tovic ends up sulk­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Fa Cup - By Char­lie Ec­cle­share at London Sta­dium

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

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