Revitalised West Ham all set to give Arsenal a test
West Ham United v Arsenal, Upton Park, Saturday January 15, KO 5.30pm. Live on ESPN
WHILE Arsenal fans are used to life at the top of the table, they should perhaps spare a thought for those at the other end, and certainly for Avram Grant.
The Israeli manager has only spent four days outside the relegation places in the last two years after being rooted to the foot of the table with Portsmouth last season and then for West Ham for all but 96 hours this time around.
That came after the 2-0 victory over Wolves on New Year’s Day, but no sooner had Grant gone public with talk of his lucky scarf and being upwardly mobile, the Hammers were thrashed 5-0 Newcastle and returned to the foot of the table.
That has led to significant speculation over whether or not the former Chelsea manager will stay in his post at Upton Park, but the club’s owners David Sullivan and David Gold, who got rid of Gianfranco Zola in the summer, seem set to stand by their man.
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Given how close the relegation battle is – two points currently separate the bottom seven – that would seem to make sense as Grant has overseen something of a revival since a dismal start to the season.
Without a point until mid-September, the Hammers’ home form has picked up and they finally ended a marathon 16-month winless away run with the 3-1 success at Fulham on Boxing Day.
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Seven points from three games over Christmas saw them escape the drop zone before that heavy defeat at St James’ Park, after which Grant admitted he needed to bring in reinforcements in January. However, a move for Aston Villa’s Steve Sidwell was quashed by the West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, casting further doubt over Grant’s future.
Wayne Bridge looked set to arrive on loan this week, but Grant’s squad does need strengthening – Bridge may go straight into the side on Saturday in a back four alongside former Gunner Matthew Upson, James Tomkins and Julien Faubert.
In midfield the tireless Scott Parker is wanted by Harry Redknapp at Spurs, but the Hammers are keen to hold on to their talisman who will probably have Mark Noble for company on Saturday.
Youngster Freddie Sears, Victor Obinna, Luis Boa Morte, Radoslav Kovac, Jonathan Spector and the Mexican Pablo Barrera are all battling for places, although Grant may be brave and play two up front with both Frederic Piquionne and Carlton Cole finding the net of late.
On Tuesday night it was Piquionne who started in the Carling Cup semi-final first-leg win over Birmingham, but Cole came off the bench to hit the winner in a 2-1 victory that could yet set up a Wembley meeting with Arsenal.
It is now nine meetings since the Hammers tasted victory over Arsenal, but the Gunners never find Upton Park an easy place to go. Arsene Wenger’s side should do enough to win, but it won’t be easy.
Prediction: West Ham 1 Arsenal 2