Date: 28th April 2017 at 6:43pm
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West Ham travel to Stoke City on Saturday (3pm kick-off) looking to reach that 40-point mark with victory at the bet365 Stadium.

Slaven Bilic’s men are unbeaten in their last three Premier League games following a run of five successive defeats, a run which plunged them into a relegation dog-fight and put the manager under severe pressure to get results.

However, a narrow win over Swansea has been followed by draws away at Sunderland and at home to Everton to pull the Hammers seven points clear of the bottom three, which looks set to be enough to secure them another season in the top-flight.

Nonetheless, they’ll look to seal the deal on their Premier League status and indeed keep their hopes of a top-half finish alive away at Stoke on Saturday, who themselves are only eight points clear of safety after five defeats in their last six games.

So, West Ham still have a bit to play for between now and the end of the season, yet that hasn’t stopped speculation building about potential incomings and outgoings at the London Stadium this summer.

And one man who could be on his way out of the club is Michail Antonio, who will not play any further part this season following a hamstring injury he sustained in the win over Swansea a few weeks ago.

The 27-year-old has been excellent for the Hammers this season and currently sits atop of their goal-scoring charts, yet he has reportedly rejected a new contract offer at the East London outfit, and as such may be looking for a move away in the upcoming transfer window.

Yet Bilic and the West Ham hierarchy should do all they can to keep Antonio, as he has been one of the club’s star performers in what has been an ultimately frustrating season at the London Stadium.

The forward, who was called up to Sam Allardyce’s one and only England squad in August 2016, as well as Gareth Southgate’s most recent one but didn’t play on either occasion, has scored nine goals and laid on three assists in 29 Premier League starts this term, making him the club’s top-scorer this season.

In fact, his tally of 12 direct contributions is four more than the next best Manuel Lanzini, and his tally of three assists is the joint-highest of the players still at West Ham alongside Sofiane Feghouli (Dimitri Payet leads the way with six but left in January).

Clearly, Antonio has been integral to the Hammers this term, and when you look at some of the goals he has scored, they have been at crucial times in West Ham’s season.

It was he who netted the winner against Bournemouth back in August to record their first win at the London Stadium, and he also got the vital second in their 2-2 draw with Liverpool in December, a result they desperately needed after being thumped 5-1 by Arsenal the week previous.

It’s not just his contributions that have been hugely significant to the Hammers this season though, but his all round play, be it as a forward, a midfielder, a wing-back, or a full-back, has been particularly impressive.

Antonio offers something slightly different to West Ham’s other main striking options, with he willing to take defenders on with his pace and trickery, but also happy to hold the ball up and bring others into play because of his physical strength and overall tenacity.

And his versatility is a huge bonus to Bilic, as Antonio is accomplished as a winger or a wide midfielder, as well as a wing-back such is his defensive capabilities and overall desire and work-rate.

In fact, the 27-year-old hasn’t really nailed down a specific position this season, with 13 of his 29 appearances coming on the right side of midfield, eight as a forward, and three as either a full-back or a wing-back.

Granted, Antonio has struggled at right-back and probably isn’t the answer to that particular conundrum, yet being able to play a variety of positions, and play them well, is of massive benefit to Bilic, as the Englishman can be called upon and is reliable to perform well in several positions.

Ultimately though, the conclusion to this campaign has highlighted how much West Ham need to improve next season, and that means strengthening a squad which already consists of some talented individuals.

And one of those is Antonio.

At 27, the former Reading and Nottingham Forest attacker is entering his peak years, and has shown throughout this campaign his ability at the top level, and how important he can be for West Ham going forward.

If the Hammers want to improve and move their way up the Premier League table, they need to keep players like Antonio, so they simply cannot afford to lose him this summer.

 
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