By Chris Harris
Funny old team, West Ham. Last season they did the double over the champions, Manchester United, and followed suit against Arsenal. So how on earth did they get dragged into a relegation battle? Quite simply they failed to maintain those high standards against sides which, on paper at least, were inferior.
The inspirational interventions of Carlos Tevez saved the Hammers from the drop by the skin of their teeth and, after a summer of solid purchases, it's no surprise to see West Ham among the early-season frontrunners. In fact they would have gone second had they not succumbed at Newcastle last Sunday.
West Ham can bounce back this weekend by reeling off their fourth successive win against Arsène Wenger's side. Key striker Dean Ashton is back from injury and back among the goals, while Scott Parker made his first appearance for Curbishley's side in midweek following his summer transfer.
We spoke to Dave Evans of the Newham Recorder for a West Ham perspective ahead of Saturday's London derby. Read on for his verdict on West Ham's start to the season, their new signings, the importance of Ashton and the secret to their victory in last season's corresponding game.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It certainly has been a much better start but I think the expectations among the West Ham fans are perhaps a little higher than they should be. They bought plenty of players but some of them are already injured and when you look at the players who have left the club - Tevez, Benayoun - it evens it out a little bit. They have started well, especially away, but there is a lot of improvement which can be made and I think they proved that on Wednesday night in the Carling Cup against Plymouth.
"I think they have a better squad on balance. They have more pace now and Craig Bellamy makes a big difference in that, especially when they play away from home. They played in a similar way to how Arsenal used to, very much a counter-attacking game with real pace. Bellamy and Matty Etherington have just ripped teams apart. They beat Reading 3-0 but it could have been six, they beat Birmingham 1-0 but it could have been three or four. They look pretty devastating away from home and they are just starting to pick up at home too. They are looking quite good."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"With hindsight Dean Ashton was a huge miss last season. He was so important when he first arrived and that was only from January 2006. When he signed West Ham got a kick-start especially in the FA Cup and they went all the way to the Final. Last season there was so much chopping and changing with the strikers. Alan Pardew, when he was in charge, seemed to change it nearly every week. He'd try one combination and when that didn't work he'd take them off and try two more. There was no continuity in the team but Ashton is so reliable. No one is saying he's 100 per cent yet but he scores goals, he'll pop up and put it in the net. He has three in three games now."
"Scott Parker has only played one game and he's obviously not match fit but he'll be an important player in the centre midfield. Bellamy gives them an extra dimension, a bit of pace, so West Ham can play in a different way. Kieron Dyer was another one who showed the same pace and willingness to support the strikers and it was a real shame that he got injured so badly against Bristol Rovers. He'll be out for another six months as will Julien Faubert, who was like lightning on the wing. It looked like being a really speedy West Ham team but they've lost Faubert, Dyer, Parker has only just come in, Bellamy is injured too. Freddie Ljungberg has come in and done alright, but he's been injured too. When they are all fit it has the makings of a very good squad."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"We asked the manager what his aim was at the start of the season and he said he wanted a solid season after the relegation battle - and that meant top 10. Since then the real owner of the club has taken a more hands-on role which suggests to me that he perhaps he wants a little more than to 10 for the outlay he's put on the squad this season. He's certainly looking for top six and I don't think that's unreasonable but they will have to stay injury-free for the rest of the season because they've lost players already."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"There has always been talk about the left-back position. George McCartney has been playing there and he's done fairly well, he's an experienced player now. They tried to sign Nicky Shorey and it never materialised, I think Reading were asking a little bit too much money. So I suspect West Ham would like to strengthen there and also on the left side of midfield. They've got Etherington playing as well as he's ever done for West Ham but he can be inconsistent, as can Luis Boa Morte."
"There is no reason why Alan Curbishley shouldn't send out his side to attack Arsenal. I think West Ham fans are thinking that they are perhaps a bogey side for Arsenal, it's three wins on the trot now against them. They played very well against the top teams last season, they beat Arsenal twice and Manchester United twice, so I think West Ham raise their game. I think they've got a chance, Arsenal are playing very very well, but I think the secret to last season's result was keeping Cesc Fabregas quiet. I think Nigel Reo-Coker marked him out of the game that day and they got a late winner. If they can do that again to Fabregas there's no reason why they shouldn't get the result."