When Michail Antonio gets going with the ball at his feet he’s pretty hard to stop. His powerful running combined with quick thinking mean he can bulldoze his way through the opposition or jink his way past. The West Ham man had struggled to have an impact at the beginning of the season, however, he’s looking to be back towards his best based on recent performances, especially those coming since the turn of the New Year.
This week has been the epitome of what the Hammers’ number 30 is great at. Having played the full 90 minutes three games in a row, Manuel Pellegrini had opted to leave Antonio on the bench for Wednesday’s home match against Brighton & Hove Albion. He was eventually substituted on for Robert Snodgrass in the 63rd minute with his side 2-0 down, due to goals from Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy.
Mark Noble –who’d come on at the same time as Antonio- had set up Marko Arnautovic to make it 2-1 just five minutes after the pair had been introduced to play. Just two minutes later it was the winger who announced himself. With Jürgen Locadia and Bernardo doubling up on him, he kept them guessing until he was ready to make his move. He then pushed the ball past the Brazilian full back, barged him away and just kept the ball in play, cutting it back to Arnautovic. The Austrian took a touch and poked it into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
With Antonio wreaking havoc down the right hand side, West Ham were able to make other opportunities in the game, putting the Seagulls under sustained and intense pressure. Brighton stood strong though and held on for the draw, but nothing can be taken away from the impact Antonio and Noble had.
Three days later and he was starting at right back in the FA Cup against Birmingham City. He has displayed a disdain for playing at full back in the past, when continuously played there by Slaven Bilic. However, with Ryan Fredericks injured and Pablo Zabaleta ill, Antonio has had to fill in there at times in the last month, putting in stellar performances.
Yesterday’s 2-0 win was another of those great showings, as he assisted West Ham’s second goal of the game for the second match in a row. This time, the Hammers had gone up within two minutes and had been in danger of letting their lead slip. It was in the 91st minute that Antonio helped secure West Ham’s progression to the fourth round. He received the ball from Robert Snodgrass and took a touch out of his feet. He then sent a perfectly weighted cross towards Andy Carroll who rose above the defender to head in his first goal since returning from injury.
Aside from that moment, Antonio’s link up play with 20-year-old Grady Diangana was tantalising. The pair put together some brilliant combinations to great effect, taunting the Birmingham defence for the entirety of the game. Diangana was arguably the standout player for the Hammers, but his performance was certainly helped by the overlapping runs and slip balls that Antonio provided him with.
Antonio will be hoping to keep his impressive run of form in 2019 going when Arsenal visit the London Stadium on Saturday. The Gunners have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four league matches, so Antonio and his team mates will look to exploit any defensive frailties they may meet.
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