Zabaleta: Arnautovic transfer saga created ‘bad atmosphere’ at West Ham

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It’s been a thoroughly weird season at West Ham United, but the good news — for Hammers fans and haters alike — is it’s not yet two-thirds complete, so there’s still plenty of time remaining for lots more weirdness.

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You’ll probably remember the abysmal start to the season and Manuel Pellegrini‘s tenure at the London Stadium — four straight losses in August and September — which resulted in just two wins from their first 10 games. Then came a run of just two defeats from the ensuing 10 games. Then, everything fell apart again right around the time the calendar turned over to 2019.

To put it another way, everything seemed to fell apart again right around the time star forward Marko Arnautovic was linked with a move to an unnamed Chinese Super League side. Arnautovic was, to be fair, completely outspoken and forthright in his desire to cash in on his talents and name recognition as he approaches his 30th birthday, but the club took a hardline stance and refused to sell him in January.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild Premier League Tuesday? (video) ]

Unsurprisingly, the saga, which lasted nearly three weeks, took its toll on the rest of the squad and has played a part in the latest skid: just one win from their last five games, including three losses. Pablo Zabaleta, who’s been the unquestioned leader and wise head needed during tough times, makes no bones about that fact — quotes from the Guardian:

“Honestly, I think so many situations off the field have been creating a little bit of a bad atmosphere. I’m not just saying that is the only thing, but I remember in December, when we had a good run of games, it was like you could see West Ham playing as a team. Everyone working so hard for each other. But in January, it’s been tough on and off the field.”

“February is around the corner, I can’t wait for Feb. 1, and everyone is back on it again. We need commitment from everyone if we want to have a good season and make West Ham a better club and a better team. I understand January is a difficult month for clubs, because you can have big interest in your best players. But Arnie was out of the squad for two games, and he’s been the main player for us.”

Fortunately for all parties involved, Arnautovic was convinced — by a shiny, new contract — to remain at the club through the end of the season. Then, in typical 2018-19 West Ham fashion, he suffered a foot injury in his first game back and could miss significant time.