It wasn’t so much his goal as the passage of play that soon followed it which revealed so much about the changing mindset of Marko Arnautovic.
The ball had gone through on 26 minutes, and evidently it had gone too far. An easy one for Andreas Christensen to mop up and redistribute, or so it looked.
But then, quite unexpectedly, there was Arnautovic, kicking at his heels, swiping away, hassling, being a nuisance, doing things he had apparently stopped doing since his club record £24m move from Stoke to West Ham. He won the ball and from a lost cause came half a chance.
Mark Arnautovic scored the opening goal of the game and produced a great performance
The former Stoke man was questioned by David Moyes but responded brilliantly
And that, just as much as his goal on six minutes, is a symbol of progress, a possible step towards changing impressions of his time at the club.
Fans have been quick to judgement, but David Moyes has been just as critical. You would imagine the harsh words in public were balanced by encouragement behind closed doors, but the points of his message last month were telling and, truthfully, quite brutal.
He wasn’t running enough, he wasn’t justifying that lack of sweat with goals or assists, and he hadn’t looked a team player.
Arnautovic exchanged passes with Manuel Lanzini before firing past Thibaut Courtois
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
That was a pretty damning assessment, issued in the middle of November, shortly after Moyes took over.
If the aim was to get a response, then he got it against Chelsea on Saturday. His goal was excellent, not only because of his finish, which a composed strike to the corner with white shirts all around, but also because of his intricate role in the build up – a neat pass in the first instance and a neat touch in taking the return ball from Manuel Lanzini.
That was obviously the high point of his performance, and indeed his time at the club as it was first goal.
But, again, it was in that subsequent passage after 26 minutes, in chasing down Christensen, that he showed more.
Anyone can wake up in the penalty area, and he wouldn’t have cost £24m if he lacked the talent to pull off a good finish. But the endeavour of chasing lost causes, working for his team-mates, shows that he wants to be more, that he wants to buck perceptions.
West Ham delivered a committed display and were roared on by the London Stadium
He was it for the entirety of his 68 minutes on the pitch – running, challenging, putting a shift in. He failed to go the distance and is yet to do so under Moyes, so obviously his conditioning remains an issue.
But by the same token, he is gradually looking fitter and sharper. More progress and more hope.
Maybe the perceptions were unfair all along. Or maybe they weren’t, and this performance will be an outlier when set against more modest offerings.
But whatever it was, his goal was the highpoint of this immensely impressive result. And indeed West Ham’s season.
Four Chelsea players close in on Arnautovic as the Austrian shows his dribbling ability