All through this week I have been trying to find reasons (and excuses) for West Ham's lack of form in the Barclays Premier League.
But today I believe that I may have found the reason as to why the Hammers have failed to receive rewards for their slick one-touch football.
Filtering through the English Premiership news and results, two missing players stood out, and Gianfranco Zola has not been able to compensate for their absence. These players are James Collins and Jack Collison. As soon as Collins was sold to Villa and Collison suffered that calf injury, West Ham went on a terrible winless streak.
Since the arrival of Collins, Aston Villa's defence have immediately strengthened as he formed a new central partnership with Richard Dunne. Villa have only let in three goals since the transfer window deadline.
In contrast, without James Collins, West Ham's defence have let in nine goals! West Ham have failed to cope aerially since his departure as four of the nine goals conceded were due to failure to win headers around the box.
Collison's calf injury has kept him out of West Ham's Premier League matches since September, and the team have truly missed his all-round midfield game. Given the current defensive frailties and inexperience, his absence has been conspicuous.
Even more sorely missed are his late bursts into the opposition's penalty box. Without him, Carlton Cole has not found a suitable outlet for his excellent hold-up play. Luis Jimenez and Alessandro Diamanti seem content to play in the "hole" and do not get into the penalty box area as frequently as the young Welsh dragon.
Jack Collison's dynamic runs and box-to-box midfield plays are what West Ham need to overcome the alarming slump that they are currently in. Under fire boss Zola will be a much relieved man once Collison is fit again.
Hence, Zola and Steve Clarke will have to firstly, address the defensive hole left by the departure of James Collins, and secondly, get Jack Collison back out on the pitch.
The good news is that Collison seems to have recovered from his calf strain. He played in a closed-door friendly today (Friday, Oct. 9, 2009) against Valenciennes and scored! Let's hope that Collison gets back to full fitness quickly and is able to start against Stoke City. His drive and enthusiasm will really help the team immensely.
With Collison back, perhaps the Hammers' season can then get back on track.
The author writes on The Flat Back Four, a football blog about the English Premier League.