By Chris Harris
Uefa Cup? Certainly. Champions League? Quite possibly. Optimism was rife among West Ham supporters last summer after Alan Pardew's side had taken to the Premiership like ducks to water and stretched Liverpool to the limit in the FA Cup Final.
How wrong they were. On the pitch West Ham's players failed to live up to their new billing. Off the pitch the club was distracted by talk of takeovers and the transfer deadline day arrival of two Argentinian World Cup stars, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The result? Pardew's departure and a tumble down the table to their current predicament, five points shy of safety with seven games left.
Alan Curbishley is the new man in charge. He started in style with a win over Manchester United but reality bit hard as the Hammers embarked on a run of 11 Premiership games without a win. A chink of light remains after two straight victories but West Ham, the last away team to win at Highbury, will probably need to be the first visitors to win at Emirates Stadium to stay on course for survival.
We asked Dave Evans of the Newham Recorder for a West Ham insight ahead of Saturday's game. Read on for his views on the Hammers' campaign to forget, the hero status of Tevez, the impact of Curbishley's January signings and reasons to be cheerful about next season.
THE STORY SO FAR
"I think what has happened is 'second-season-itis'. They were so impressive last year, they got to the FA Cup Final and a lot of it went to the players' heads. The new manager has said that too. They had to work even harder this season to maintain what they did last year and they just didn't do that at the start of the campaign. Things happened off the pitch too which affected the squad - the early Uefa Cup exit was a real blow, the arrival of the two Argentinians disturbed team spirit. Once you start on that slippery slope it's hard to recover. Having said that I'm still surprised West Ham have sunk so low because they have such a good squad. It's galling for the fans when you see them outclass Middlesbrough - who are safe - because West Ham are a much better team. They have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United but they haven't performed when it matters."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"It can only be one man and that's Carlos Tevez. He's been a cult hero right from the word go at West Ham, even though it took him an awfully long time to score his first goal. At times he was the only player who looked like he really cared, he was giving everything to the team, covering every blade of grass in every game. Now he's got three goals in his last three matches. Actually, there was a poll on an unofficial West Ham website asking whether the fans should boycott the Hammer of the Year award. Over 1,000 backed a boycott in a petition. We had something similar on our website and 70 per cent agreed with a boycott. No one has been on the same level as Tevez though, even though he was often played out of position when he first arrived. He was beating players and cutting inside from the wing, effectively he was doing his good work in the wrong places."
"It's been difficult to judge some of the January signings because a few of them came in and got injured straight away. We've only seen Matthew Upson for half-an-hour so I'm not sure what to make of him. He's got a good record though. Lucas Neill has certainly impressed, he's a class act and looks like a captain in waiting, assuming he stays and Nigel Reo-Coker leaves in the summer. Calum Davenport started off well but has lost his place in the team now. He looks a decent player for the future even though he'll have the likes of James Collins, Upson and Anton Ferdinand (if he stays) ahead of him. Nigel Quashie has been OK, although he has been relegated with quite a few clubs now."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"I spoke to the West Ham chairman a couple of weeks ago and he says they will get rid of players only because they have too many in the squad. However, they will try to keep the players the manager wants to keep and that includes the likes of Dean Ashton - who has been sorely missed - plus Neill, Upson and Danny Gabbidon. These are the kind of players they can build the team around. It's too late for this season but there is no denying West Ham have a strong squad."
"The likelihood is that Curbishley will stick with the team which beat Middlesbrough last weekend. Yossi Benayoun might come back in for Lee Bowyer, and Marlon Harewood might figure if Bobby Zamora can't shake off his foot injury, but I expect West Ham to play 4-4-2 and go for it. After all, they have to win to have any chance of staying up. They've got to play Manchester United and Chelsea as well as Arsenal and they need results quickly."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"West Ham have a good recent record against Arsenal but the fact they got a bit of a thrashing at Anfield last week will not do West Ham any favours. Arsenal will be looking to bounce back very quickly from that and they should have a couple of players back too. Frankly I fear for West Ham in this game but, who knows, they were the last away team to win at Highbury and they might be the first visitors to win at Emirates Stadium. I'm sure that will be part of the teamtalk on Saturday."
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