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Samir Nasri made few friends at Arsenal but can help West Ham
Samir Nasri is expected to make his first Premier League appearance for West Ham against Arsenal on Saturday
Last Updated: 11/01/19 10:39pm
Samir Nasri is no stranger to controversy but he could prove a shrewd signing for West Ham. It would be fitting for him to show it against his former club Arsenal, live on Sky Sports on Saturday.
"I'm lucky to have a second chance," Nasri said after sealing his move to West Ham. He was made to work for it, spending weeks proving his fitness on the training pitch before an offer arrived, but he is now determined to put the ignominy of his doping ban behind him and repay the club's faith. If all goes to plan, Nasri's gratitude could soon be reciprocated.
He had not played in over a year when his short-term deal was confirmed last week, but the early evidence suggests he has lost none of the guile that once made him one of the Premier League's outstanding midfielders. On his debut in Saturday's FA Cup win over Birmingham, he completed 44 of his 46 passes, creating four chances and earning glowing reviews.
Nasri admitted he surprised himself by how easily he came through it, saying he was "relieved" to finally return to action after so long on the sidelines, and there was praise from manager Manuel Pellegrini, too. "I was very happy with Samir," he said. "He is a player who gives you time with the ball, has good technique and likes the ball around him."
Pellegrini, of course, knows Nasri's qualities better than most.
In Manchester City's title-winning 2013/14 campaign, Pellegrini's first at the Etihad Stadium, the Frenchman was outstanding, playing in all but four of their Premier League games, scoring crucial goals and creating more chances than any other player in the division except Eden Hazard. The 20-goal Yaya Toure was City's star but Nasri was not far behind him.
He struggled to hit those heights again at City, a lack of consistency costing him his place in the side before a loan spell at Sevilla and an eventual transfer to Turkish side Antalyaspor, but Saturday's meeting with Arsenal - a game in which he is expected to make his first Premier League appearance for West Ham - evokes more memories of how good he can be.
Nasri is not fondly remembered by Arsenal supporters, his acrimonious departure to City in 2011 ensuring he will always be guaranteed a hostile reception, but it was there that his talent first flourished. In three seasons at the Emirates Stadium following his arrival from boyhood club Marseille in 2008, Nasri made 125 appearances and scored 27 goals.
Fifteen of them came in the 2010/11 season, when Nasri's eye-catching performances in Arsenal's midfield earned him a place in the PFA Team of the Year alongside Vincent Kompany, Ashley Cole, Gareth Bale and Carlos Tevez. The manner of his exit clouded the achievement but Nasri was a worthy inclusion.
Nasri is 31 now and it is fair to say the last few years of his career have not gone as he might have hoped, but it is not difficult to see how he could help West Ham. Pellegrini's side have won five of their last eight Premier League games, climbing to 10th in the Premier League table, but their midfield is crying out for a player of Nasri's qualities.
There is a glaring lack of creativity and goal threat among their existing central midfielders, with Mark Noble, Declan Rice, Pedro Obiang and the injured Jack Wilshere contributing no goals and just five assists in 52 Premier League appearances between them this season.
Nasri can change that and West Ham will also be confident that he can help their attacking players. Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Robert Snodgrass have already shone this season, so how dangerous could they be with a creator like Nasri pulling the strings behind them?
Pellegrini has no doubt that Nasri's talent remains - "I think that football is like when you ride a bicycle when you are a small boy, you never forget," he said last week - and the Chilean might also consider that with age comes maturity. Nasri may be approaching the autumn of his career, but after a period of reflection he seems serious about his opportunity at West Ham.
"I'm 31 years old now and I'm more mature," he said last week. "If it was five years ago maybe I would have some problem with it or talk too much about it. But when you've been out for a year and you think it's over, you think completely differently after that. Not everyone in life has a second chance and I do. I know I will give 100 per cent."
West Ham and Pellegrini now stand to feel the benefits.