Marko Arnautovic was named in the starting line-up for West Ham’s Premier League clash with Arsenal just days after his brother claimed the Austria international wanted to leave the London Stadium.
While a January move to the Chinese Super League could still materialise, Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini kept faith in the forward as the hosts beat Unai Emery’s side 1-0.
Here, Football Paradise takes a close look at Arnautovic’s performance.
Arnautovic’s name was cheered when the team was announced ahead of kick-off and there seemed little animosity towards the former Stoke player. His first few contributions were also heartily applauded by the home support, even if they were simple flick-ons or easy passes to a team-mate. There were chants of “Marko Arnautovic” from the West Ham fans during the second half and he was given a standing ovation from all corners of the stadium when he was replaced by Andy Carroll with 20 minutes remaining – and he responded by waving to the supporters as he departed.
Always a thorn in the side of any defence, Arnautovic was switched on from the get-go and saw a shot bravely blocked just before the half-hour mark. He played a key part in West Ham’s best chance of the first half, beating the offside trap before controlling the ball and slipping in Samir Nasri, with the former Arsenal midfielder teeing up Felipe Anderson, who arrowed a shot just wide. He had no real clear-cut chances to add to his eight goals this season but, if he was to leave, his prowess in front of goal would be a huge loss for West Ham.
As he so often does, Arnautovic ran his socks off for his side as he operated as a loan striker against three central defenders in the first half and then against a back four when Arsenal changed shape before the hour. He put in a shift before coming off as Carroll was introduced on an afternoon where, on the field at least, he was on the periphery of things.
Given his quality and importance to the cause, Arnautovic was always likely to start against Arsenal even with such a question mark hanging over his immediate future. The reaction of the West Ham fans – a large majority of which turned on Dimitri Payet when he was in a similar situation two years ago – also shows he would still be a firm favourite here if his move did not come off. Whether supporters should read too much into his waves as he left the pitch in the 71st minute remains to be seen but there was no ill-will around the stadium on Saturday.