As much as it pains me to give Sam Allardyce any credit – I’m giving myself a migraine just typing these words – I am going to swallow my pride and write about West Ham United’s brilliant start to the season.
Big Sam is not my cup of tea, much like he isn’t really many Hammers’ fans’ cup of tea. But strip away the arrogance, the obnoxiousness, the delusion (that England job is just round the corner, honest, Sam), the base-level football and his crawly brown-nosing of Sir Alex Ferguson and Allardyce knows what he is doing when it comes to getting results and so far this season he is getting them impressively.
I looked at West Ham’s squad before the season started and predicted they would struggle big-time: Jussi Jaaskelainen is finished in my eyes, the defence looks weak and their strikeforce looked unreliable. Those things are still true to varying degrees (the goalkeeper is shot to pieces as far as I’m concerned) but it hasn’t mattered as Sam has done as Sam does and found a way of getting results with the players at his disposal.
For all the talk of the Gunners’ new-found defensive solidity and the influence of assistant manager Steve Bould, Arsenal are now without a clean sheet in six matches.
An impressive 2-1 away win over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Monday has put West Ham on 11 points, leaving them in seventh position in the Premier League and already looking as if they will not be embroiled in a relegation scrap.
A dream set of fixtures has helped gather that momentum – Aston Villa, Fulham and Sunderland at home are great fixtures to ease your way back into the big time and seven points is a very good return.
But that win over QPR and a draw at Norwich suggest the Hammers will be no pushovers on the road (the 3-0 loss to Swansea shows what happens if the Irons aren’t at the races) and even if their six fixtures so far have come against sides who could well end up in the bottom half, then at least West Ham have done the business and got the points in the bag.
The visit of Arsenal to Upton Park will be considered West Ham’s first real test of the season, certainly against a team challenging for European places, and you’d have got long odds on the Gunners travelling to east London below their hosts in the first week of October.
But that is the scenario, with Arsenal lying in eighth on nine points, two short of West Ham’s total. The Hammers are still outsiders, even on their own patch, priced up by bwin at 14/5, with the draw at 5/2 and the north Londoners at 91/100, and with Arsenal too short I want to be on the side of West Ham on this one.
I have decided that I am not convinced about Arsenal. You can’t keep selling your best players and expect to improve and I am really not sure that Oliver Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho are going to get enough goals. For all the talk of the Gunners’ new-found defensive solidity and the influence of assistant manager Steve Bould, Arsenal are now without a clean sheet in six matches.
I noted at the time that three consecutive clean sheets at the start of the season happened to coincide with fixtures against three very shot-shy teams in the form of Sunderland, Stoke and Liverpool, and the fact Arsenal have conceded at home to Southampton and League One Coventry in the Capital One Cup makes me think I was right to not get carried away with the plaudits they have received.
And I think West Ham can give the Gunners a bloody nose. The two goals Arsenal conceded against Chelsea in their defeat last weekend will have been giving Allardyce a wet dream and the Hammers can use their set-piece strength as a potent weapon on Saturday.
The Irons have let in only five goals – only Arsenal, Chelsea and Sunderland have conceded fewer – and in what looks set to be a tight match, I think 91/100 is too short for an away win and I’d rather be on the 17/20 that West Ham get a result.
Arsenal, after all, have only won two of their six league matches and have to convince me that they are anything other than a team aiming for fourth spot, one that will be on the end of some dodgy results throughout the season.
Recommended bet: West Ham to avoid defeat @ 17/20
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