This is not the first time at the London Stadium that Arthur Masuaku has produced a masterclass, a moment of extreme unpredictability and uncanny improvisation against Chelsea… but that should come as no surprise to anyone.
During David Moyes’ first stint as West Ham boss, a relegation-threatened Hammers played host to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea almost four years ago to the day (9 December 2017), with the club welcoming their London rivals to E20 off the back of eight winless games.
It was the sort of match that needed composure, a mature front, a no-nonsense approach. Basically, all the attributes that go against the free-spirited nature of Masuaku, who of course thumbed his nose at convention and decided to, once again, give fans a heart-in-mouth moment.
Arthur Masuaku made more tackles than any other player against Chelsea (5), also winning seven of his nine duels.
And he finally has a goal in the Premier League. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/eNGgextyQg
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 4, 2021
An Alvaro Morata through ball was read well and intercepted by Masuaku, danger averted, right? Wrong. Of course, this being Masuaku, he opted against clearing his lines, going back to Adrian or passing in-field to Mark Noble, you know, the usual stuff a typical left-back might do after regaining possession.
Instead, Masuaku, being a law unto himself, took the unconventional approach; he spun, found himself quickly engulfed by an onrushing Morata and Davide Zappacosta, before a Cruyff turn saw him pegged back into no man’s land. Panic. Cue a visceral murmur from the terraces and a pitchfork fire sale.
However, just when it looked like Chelsea would regain possession, Masuaku executed an audacious drag back, evaded both players and was marauding down the touchline before anyone in the stadium could fathom what happened. Coolness personified from Masuaku, who seemed to know what he was doing the whole time.
West Ham won 1-0, and Moyes was well on his way to keeping the Hammers up in 2017/18. Fast forward four years and Masuaku is still producing exhibitions of jaw-dropping brilliance against Chelsea, this time coming up with a freak match-winner that consolidated his side’s position in the top four.
And that is Masuaku in a nutshell. His existence in any team is a double-edged sword, sometimes his unpredictably works in your favour, a la Chelsea, sometimes it backfires and the whole team suffers. That Jekyll and Hyde persona was once again illuminated last week in West Ham’s quick turnaround of games.
— Arthur Masuaku (@ArthurMasuaku) December 4, 2021
On Wednesday night the Hammers faced a Brighton side who found themselves down to 10 men 15 minutes from time. Moyes’ men were 1-0 up and looked set to see the game out. But, with the clock ticking down, Tariq Lamptey collected the ball in an unthreatening position on the left, and faced up against Masuaku.
With Ben Johnson covering behind him it was a strong position for West Ham to be in. But, this being Masuaku, Lamptey breezed past him, whipped in a cross and Brighton equalised. The villain on Wednesday. Four days later, he produced the winner against Chelsea in bizarre circumstances. The hero on Saturday.
The capricious mood swings of Masuaku’s performances make him a neutral’s dream. In the words of Gennaro Gattuso: “Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sh*t.” But, certainly always entertaining. And that is why he is often considered a cult hero on the terraces of the London Stadium.
He is not the reincarnation of Roberto Carlos, nor is he particularly well-versed defensively, but his innate dribbling qualities, ball-playing bravado and penchant for the utterly ludicrous chimes with a fanbase accustomed to talismanic exploits, think Carlos Tevez, Paolo Di Canio, Alessandro Diamanti, Marko Arnautovic and Dimitri Payet.
He is a player who has normalised the extraordinary. Now, fans simply shrug their shoulders and go “just Masuaku things” when he produces another script-defying moment. It is no great task finding YouTube cut-ups of Masuaku set to dubstep, with the left-back snapping ankles, twisting and turning.
For some, he is a walking self-destruct button. The month after that 1-0 win over Chelsea, Masuaku faced a six-game suspension for spitting at Wigan’s Nick Powell in the FA Cup, which the DR Congo international later apologised for, stating the incident was “totally unacceptable and out of character”.
From a strictly performance-based perspective, he is more than susceptible to the occasional defensive clanger, think West Brom 4-2 West Ham, where he inexplicably handled the ball in an unpressurised area for the Baggies’ opening penalty, or Wednesday’s draw with Brighton.
But, then you get moments like his FIFA Street-esque skill against Tottenham, in which he flicked the ball up onto himself before poking it past Serge Aurier and Son Heung-min, stunning a Wembley crowd and further immortalising his status as West Ham’s most unpredictable player.
Unfortunately, persistent injuries have restricted the never-a-dull-moment viewings of one of football’s ultimate liquorice allsorts players. But, when he does play, there always seems to be at least one moment when Masuaku produces the inexplicable, either for the benefit, or detriment to West Ham. But, they love him for it.