Hobbling out to the team bus on crutches with his right foot in a protective boot after a limp defeat to Wolves was hardly the return to action Marko Arnautovic, or West Ham, had hoped for.
The striker, anonymous from start to finish for a team who failed to register a shot on target, was helped down the tunnel by coaching staff with 15 minutes left to play with what his manager, Manuel Pellegrini, described as “not an easy injury”. Arnautovic will undergo a scan on Wednesday to determine the extent of the trouble.
When Arnautovic was forced off, Wolves had been already cruising courtesy of a Romain Saïss header, before a two times by the brilliant Raúl Jiménez put the gloss on an excellent performance that lifts Nuno Espírito Santo’s side to seventh.
For West Ham, this was one more meek display four days after crashing out of the FA Cup to League One’s bottom club, AFC Wimbledon. Gareth Southgate was in attendance, presumably to cast his eye over the Wolves captain, Conor Coady, and Declan Rice, the midfielder undecided over his international future, but West Ham had nothing to shout about with a third consecutive defeat.
After two weeks in hiding, Arnautovic, who supposedly had his heart set on playing in Guangzhou until performing a dramatic U-turn and signing a contract extension last weekend, found himself in the harsh surrounds of the Black Country. Arnautovic – ineffective up front alongside Michail Antonio – was one of five West Ham changes with Rice and Felipe Anderson restored to the starting lineup. Arthur Masuaku, Angelo Ogbonna and Issa Diop, who were given the runaround by League One’s lowest scorers on Saturday, all retained their places but were pulled from pillar to post, as Wolves wiped the floor with West Ham.
“No shots on target and we conceded three goals, so it was impossible to play worse,” Pellegrini said. “It was the moment to try to find a reaction. We couldn’t do it and we have to review all we are doing, because something we are doing is bad.”
Asked about the seriousness of Arnautovic’s injury, sustained following a second-half challenge by Rúben Neves, he added: “I think it will not be an easy injury. I hope he hasn’t any problems but we must review him with an examination. I’m disappointed about that and disappointed because we have just 15 fit players. We don’t have any creative midfielders in this moment with Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Wilshere and Nasri out, so it’s difficult playing so many games with the same 15 players.”
Wolves’s wafer-thin squad – they have used just 18 in the Premier Leaguethis season, the lowest in the division – continue to deliver, however. It always felt like just a matter of time before they found the net, the only surprise being that rather than a slick opener, their first goal came from a routine corner by João Moutinho. His delivery picked out Saïss, who brushed aside his marker Robert Snodgrass before powering home a bullet header. Jonny – who is set to join Wolves permanently from Atlético Madrid for £18m before Thursday’s transfer deadline – was equally influential on his return to the team.
Pellegrini predictably summoned Andy Carroll in response to going a goal behind but things quickly went from bad to worse. Arnautovic headed down the tunnel, seconds before a busy Lukasz Fabianski collided with Matt Doherty, who caught the West Ham goalkeeper attempting to turn home Jiménez’s cross. Fabianski continued but Wolves, who thoroughly outclassed a listless West Ham, deservedly added to their tally, with Jiménez striking home another Moutinho corner before his deft chip over Fabianski sealed victory four minutes from time.
As West Ham restarted, the home faithful made it clear to the Wolves hierarchy they would also like Jiménez, on loan from Benfica, to stick around. “These decisions will be made when they have to be made,” Nuno said. “Raul is doing a fantastic job, which goes beyond the goals he scores. The way he plays, his combinations, the way he works, he doesn’t stop he is always giving us our first reaction to losing the ball. But he has to keep on going.”