West Ham v Arsenal or Sam Allardyce v Arsene Wenger?
They are chalk and cheese as managers, and they have plenty of history ahead of Saturday’s showdown
It has been a couple of years since they last crossed paths, but Arsene Wenger knows what is coming on Saturday.
Any time Arsenal have met a side managed by Sam Allardyce over the last decade, it has usually resulted in a clash of styles on the pitch, and most certainly on the touchline.
Allardyce’s eight-year spell at Bolton Wanderers saw him take the unfashionable Lancashire club from the Championship to the upper reaches of the Premier League and European football, and also saw him build up a fearsome rivalry with Wenger and Arsenal.
Much of the animosity dates back to a game in 2003 when Bolton put a huge dent in Arsenal’s ambitions of retaining the title by holding Wenger’s side to a tempestuous 2-2 draw at the Reebok, coming back from 2-0 down courtesy of a late Martin Keown own goal.
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The opposing managers were involved in heated exchanges on the touchline and afterwards, when Allardyce accused Arsenal of arrogance and Wenger simply pointed to the unpunished tackles that had seen both Freddie Ljungberg and Lauren leave the fray early.
The seed of dislike was sown, and that game was the first of five ‘battles of the Reebok’ in consecutive seasons, none of which Arsenal won as the bogey game was well and truly established.
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Even back in Islington, Arsenal were seldom given an easy ride by Allardyce’s side, who headed north with a point on three successive occasions between 2004 and 2007.
Allardyce left Bolton in 2007 to take over at Newcastle and then Blackburn the following season, both posts from which he was sacked by over-zealous owners.
He seems to have found a new natural habitat at Upton Park, however, where he was appointed in June 2011 and tasked with returning the club to the Premier League, something he achieved instantly, if via a nerve-jangling play-off win over Blackpool, last May.
The Hammers have started life back in the top flight impressively. Monday’s 2-1 win at QPR was their third victory in six games, and they head into Saturday’s derby looking down on the Gunners from seventh place.
The line-up will be familiar to Wenger. Allardyce likes to play in a 4-3-3 system, with two wide men – probably Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te – tasked with winning set pieces and getting crosses into a combative central striker, which should be a fit-again Andy Carroll in place of Carlton Cole.
His Bolton talisman Kevin Nolan, followed him first to Newcastle and now to Upton Park, and will lead the charge in central midfield alongside the former Wigan man Mohamed Diame and home-grown scrapper Mark Noble.
Defence could be more of a problem. Joey O’Brien, another former Bolton player, and Winston Reid were both injured at Loftus Road, where George McCartney and James Tomkins came on to join James Collins and the former Arsenal trainee Guy Demel.
McCartney could stay at left-back, although Reid came to his senses after being knocked cold and should be fit to return.
Another reminder of Allardyce’s Bolton past will be between the sticks – the 37-year-old Jussi Jaaskelainen was persuaded to move south after 15 years at the Reebok to replace Rob Green in the summer, and has since confirmed himself as the No1.