Sam Allardyce’s association with pragmatism may have become more tenuous of late, but his team selection for the Boxing Day visit to Chelsea confirmed the pair are still staunch allies.
Yet, while stifling the Premier League leaders was West Ham’s stated pre-game objective, could their manager also have been resting key men with Arsenal’s visit to the Boleyn Ground in mind?
The Irons are 21/10 for three points at the Gunners’ expense, with the visitors fairly strong 6/5 favourites and the draw 12/15.
Prior to kick-off Allardyce had intimated that his side’s recent attacking football would have to be shelved, telling reporters “we have to stop Chelsea – it’s as simple as that”.
Key players Diafra Sakho and Alex Song started the match at Stamford Bridge on the bench, with Mark Noble (making his first appearance back from injury) and Enner Valencia replacing them.
It may have seemed an odd move at the time, but when it’s considered the Irons boss’ may have been preserving two of his more influential stars for a more winnable game on Sunday, his tinkermanship begins to make a lot more sense.
Arsenal may have won six of their last eight outings, losing just once in the process, yet in the Premier League they have failed to win three of their last four away games, a 1-0 success at struggling West Brom the exception.
Their away fragility is underlined by the fact that they’ve conceded twice or more in four of their last six road outings.
With the Gunners coming into the fixture off a deeply unconvincing Emirates win over a QPR side yet to avoid defeat beyond their own backyard all season, Allardyce’s nostrils are flared with the scent of blood.
Having beaten six of the last seven visitors to the Boleyn, including Liverpool and Manchester City his men have every right to be confident.