Marko Arnautovic is a West Ham player no more.
The much-travelled Austrian forward, who’s entering the twilight years of his career, understandably sees the long-term picture and feels there’s one more big contract available to him which explains why he’s opted for China’s wealthy Super League.
Shanghai SIPG’s latest recruit is not the first to swap one of Europe’s richest competitions for the Far East, where he can earn more to support his immediate family and their heirs.
But his exit – which the powers that be in east London had anticipated since a January move away broke down – leaves a considerable sized hole in Manuel Pellegrini’s squad.
Given their aggressive recruitment drive since the Chilean tactician arrived you can expect the Hammers to bring in a successor. As follows are four potential targets and how Pellegrini could set his attack up in the 2019/20 season.
One name consistently been linked with the London Stadium is Celta Vigo marksman Maxi Gómez who, despite not turning 23 until next month, has already bagged 31 goals across 71 outings in La Liga.
His present deal at the Galician outfit expires in June 2022, meaning he won’t be cheap. However, it’s fair to say he fits the profile West Ham seek in a replacement.
You can already visualise him leading the line in 4-2-3-1 system which has been Pellegrini’s go-to formation. Since being appointed he’s fielded it no fewer than 15 times.
Gómez here would hypothetically be flanked by Felipe Anderson and new signing Pablo Fornals with Manuel Lanzini playing in the hole behind. The familiar duo of Declan Rice and Mark Noble would continue to operate as their double pivot in midfield.
A strength of Arnautovic was his ability to allow those around him into the game. Having such a totem, who can also score, is pivotal to Pellegrini’s game plan. West Ham last season were the Premier League’s 10th most prolific side. Clearly there is room for improvement.
Someone who has proved himself in one of Europe’s most demanding leagues, and is potentially keen to experience England’s top division, is Sebastian Haller.
In the past the striker has been linked with Everton, who are a side the Hammers are expected to compete with next term.
For large swathes of his Eintracht Frankfurt career he’s led the line on his own. What made life easy for him was placing creative and technically astute players in his vicinity.
He wouldn’t have to worry about West Ham being found acking in that department. Inside a 4-1-4-1 system, which Pellegrini to date has played on 14 occasions, Anderson and Fornals would be on either side of him whilst someone like Robert Snodgrass could float nearby.
It’s not outlandish to describe West Ham as being ambitious. With the calibre of players they’ve signed expectations of enjoying a strong campaign are mounting.
Pellegrini is no stranger to coaching superstars. Of course, there’s no one currently at his disposal at the level of Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Aguero but if those above him are going to, then why not shoot for the moon? The current Torino skipper and proven marksman Andrea Belotti would be a shrewd acquisition.
So far, the Calcinate-born striker has registered 69 goals across 177 matches in Serie A, a league where goalscoring is revered given how much clubs place emphasis on defence. Belotti’s performances have naturally made him one of Europe’s most wanted and West Ham can point to Anderson as someone who seamlessly transitioned from life in Italy to London.
In a two-man striker formation, which Pellegrini has used 11 times, he could theoretically line up alongside Michail Antonio with Anderson and Fornals again on the wings and the oft-selected Rice-Noble axis in the centre of the park.
Sometimes you don’t always get your preferred targets. It could be due to a multitude of reasons: the player in question is happy at their present club or not keen on their potential destination.
This is why serious clubs have a fallback option or two. West Ham, under sporting director Mario Husillos, no doubt are doing their homework. Someone that can do a job and is seemingly not wanted by current employers is Andre Silva. After joining AC Milan from FC Porto in 2017, he was heralded but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire before turning his career around in Spain with Sevilla.
That spell began with him becoming the first player this century to register a La Liga hat-trick on debut. Given his flexibility, he is capable of playing in the number nine role and deep-lying forward, a 4-3-3 – which Pellegrini has deployed less frequently (on three occasions) but is not averse to returning to – could be the way forward.
A front-three consisting of him sandwiched between the skilful Anderson and Fornals is a scintillating prospect. Understandably, a workmanlike midfield would be needed to strike a balance and avoid the Hammers being overrun.