Grant clings to wreckage as O'Neill rumours grow

West Ham United 0 Arsenal 3
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The Independent Football

Unlike his team, Avram Grant held on on Saturday, but for how much longer? His employers' refusal to quell pre-match speculation that Grant was to be fired at its conclusion and replaced by Martin O'Neill further fuelled the suspicion that Grant survived the weekend only because negotiations with his successor are continuing.

Cornered in the car park Karren Brady, the club's vice-chairman, said: "Nothing's happened, I don't know where these rumours have come from but nothing has happened." Co-chairman David Gold, similarly trapped, said: "As of this moment he is our manager." These were not exactly ringing endorsements of a man they and David Sullivan appointed only in May.

Grant was oblique and irritated when quizzed post-match. His pique stemmed as much from a belief that the speculation about his position is personal as at the board's behaviour. As at Chelsea and Portsmouth he has had to deal with constant rumours suggesting he will be replaced. He is right, it is personal, but it is not about his personality, it is because after three Premier League jobs the jury remains out on Grant the manager. Is he a fraud who keeps getting jobs because of who he knows? Or he is an experienced, knowledgable coach who is appointed because of what he knows but then finds himself in difficult situations?

At Chelsea he replaced Jose Mourinho and proved a safe pair of hands steering a team which was experiencing a slight wobble to within a missed penalty-kick of the Champions League – closer than Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Luiz Felipe Scolari or Carlo Ancelotti got. Ah, say his critics, the team ran itself after Mourinho left.

At Portsmouth he took a club bedeviled by financial mismanagement and which was shedding players to the FA Cup final. Ah, but he also took a still decent squad down into the Championship – they would have been relegated even without the nine-point deduction for entering administration.

And so to West Ham. Here the evidence seems more clear-cut. There have been injuries, but a team which has Rob Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole as its spine, and a clutch of promising youngsters, ought to have won more than four League games in 23. There are 21 internationals in West Ham's squad.

That was not evident on Saturday as they produced a supine performance against Arsenal four days after Championship strugglers Ipswich had shown what could be done. Bereft of Parker, West Ham rolled over. With new signing Wayne Bridge making a shocking debut, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott were allowed to carve West Ham apart.

The assumption is that West Ham's co-owners decided after the 5-0 defeat on Tyneside that Grant's time was up, but another influence is the looming decision on who takes over the Olympic Stadium, the consortium involving West Ham or that put together by Tottenham. The prospect of moving into a new 60,000-seat arena helped attract Sullivan, Gold and Brady, and is enticing to the likes of O'Neill. However, should Tottenham win, West Ham will be condemned to being the smaller club in its own neighbourhood. The verdict may turn on perceptions of West Ham's financial viability, which will be hugely damaged if relegation looks probable. Thus the interest in a new manager.

O'Neill will certainly bring organisation and spirit, but hardly seems a long-term solution. Even if the Northern Irishman manages to achieve a working relationship with the tricky triumvirate which runs West Ham his penchant for direct football will not, once this season's safety has been secured, be popular with West Ham's demanding support. Martin Jol, who is regarded as the fallback, prefers more enterprising football.

For the moment, though, playing style is a side issue. After finishing in the top 10 three seasons out of four during 2005-09 West Ham have now won 12 of their last 60 Premier League matches. Confidence has been shredded. The squad, literally in some cases, is flabby. Turning this around is a major task needing decisive, experienced, respected management.

Substitutes :

West Ham United Boa Morte (Noble, 20), Barrera (Sears, 64), Nouble (Bridge, 89). Unused Boffin (gk), Reid, Gabbidon, McCarthy.

Arsenal Denilson (Fabregas , 81), Gibbs (Walcott, 88), Arshavin (Nasri, 88). Unused Shea (gk), Vela, Chamakh, Bendtner.

Booked: West Ham Faubert

Man of the match Van Persie

Referee A Marriner (West Midlands)

Att 32,682



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