Why Marko Arnautovic deserves equal praise to Wilfried Zaha
When footballers, managers and fans alike sat down to vote for their Premier League Team of the Season, both Marko Arnautovic and Wilfried Zaha were not considered.
It was only when alternative Teams of the Year were chosen did Zaha get a mention. Arnautovic, meanwhile, remained completely overlooked.
After the Austrian swapped Stoke City for West Ham United in a club record £20 million deal last summer, more than one sceptical eyebrow was raised.
Most critics argued that not only was Arnautovic unworthy of the high price tag but West Ham's decision to pay the fee highlighted the craziness involved in the summer transfer window.
Those same critics argued that Arnautovic had managed a meagre six Premier League goals and five assists the previous season. He was regarded as Mr Inconsistent. His slumping shoulders and negative attitude were more prominent than stellar performances on the pitch.
A slow start to life in East London only helped reinforce the idea that the Hammers had overpaid drastically for Arnautovic's services.
After a 3-0 defeat to Brighton, he was described as being ‘woeful’ and thinking ‘he is better than he is’ by both Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville. There were West Ham fans willing to openly disagree with such sentiments, though.
Fast forward to the end of the season, not only have the doubts subsided but there is a genuine case for Arnautovic to receive additional praise.
Arnautovic finished this season with 11 goals, the joint-most he’s hit in the Premier League. It's a tally he's only beaten on one other occasion while playing at FC Twente.
His goal record is the best a West Ham player has managed in a single campaign since Bobby Zamora 11 seasons ago.
Comparing Arnautovic to Zaha, something fans of both West Ham and Crystal Palace have done in their droves lately, only helps emphasise how good the former is.
This season, Arnautovic managed more goals and assists than Zaha. He bettered him when it comes to both shots and minutes per goal, too.
As well as surpassing the Palace star in the man of the match awards, the West Ham attacker has lower total dispossessions and unsuccessful touches per game.
The two players are equally as important to their respective teams. Arnautovic was crucial to West Ham retaining Premier League status, while Zaha played a similar role to ensure Palace’s survival.
Without Arnautovic’s goals and assists this season, the Hammers would have been eight points worse off. That tally puts them on 34 points, just one above relegated Swansea and Stoke.
Zaha, in comparison, was responsible for Palace picking up seven more points with him on the pitch. Detracting his goals and assists, the Eagles would have still finished four points clear of the relegation places.
Perhaps it is Arnautovic’s attitude or past misdemeanours that make it difficult for people to warm to him. His direct influence on West Ham's campaign can't be ignored, though.
If he hadn’t missed the season's first three months, things would have turned out very differently for the Hammers. Arnautovic's move to the London Stadium is far from the failure that many predicted.
The praise Zaha has been receiving should be directed to Arnautovic in equal measure.