By Chris Harris
Despite a spate of negative headlines over Alan Curbishley's departure and transfer policy, West Ham were swimming along rather nicely in the Premier League until a few weeks ago.
Successive defeats against Bolton and Hull have bumped the Hammers down the table but they remain in the top half and, with Gianfranco Zola now at the helm, there are plenty of positive noises emanating from East London.
The little man with the big reputation may be a managerial novice but he commands respect and his model professionalism will surely rub off on a Hammers squad high on quality but perhaps short on consistency. Arsenal will put Zola's new regime to the test at Upton Park this Sunday.
We asked Dave Evans of the Newham Recorder for a West Ham perspective ahead of this weekend's London derby. Read on for his views on West Ham's recent dip, the arrival and tactical input of Zola, the absence of Dean Ashton, the new signings and the narrow margins when the Hammers meet the Gunners.
THE STORY SO FAR
"I'm not sure what's gone wrong recently. I think the game at Hull was always going to be a banana skin. Hull had started so well and, of course, they won at Arsenal. Their confidence is so high but West Ham should have won the game really because they missed their chances. They could have been two or three up at half-time but by the time Hull got in front, West Ham didn't look like scoring. In the Bolton game, it was a case of Bolton playing to their strengths, they were very physical. West Ham have this new formation and they didn't seem to be able to unlock the Bolton defence. Then of course there were mistakes by Rob Green which is very unusual. Arsenal fans will remember how good he can be and it was inexplicable that he dropped one at the foot of Kevin Davies. Once Bolton are in front it's hard to peg them back."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Gianfranco is the new man in charge and I don't think his Chelsea connection really bothers the West Ham fans. Everybody realised he was a great player when he played for Chelsea. He has come in and he is a really nice bloke. That's the impression everyone has got, and whether he's too nice to be a top manager in the Premier League, we'll have to wait and see. He has a lot of ideas about how the game should be played, about how fit the players should be. It will take time to change things around but there are little shoots where you see things improving.
"He is a model professional and that will rub off on other players. He told us he used to train seven or eight hours a day. Most of his training is with the ball and if you have that sort of commitment, as Dennis Bergkamp did as well, then you can only improve as a player. If that can rub off on to the West Ham players, they will get better."
"I think Dean Ashton would be England's No 9 if he had stayed fit. We've got Emile Heskey back in the England team which some would say is a step back, and Ashton can do the same role plus score goals. West Ham do miss him. The thing about Zola's new formation is he plays a 4-3-2-1 - a sort of Christmas tree - and that means only one out-and-out centre forward with two other strikers dropping off slightly. We've got Carlton Cole in that position at the moment - he plays it well - whereas Ashton tried it last season and wasn't so impressive. Whether Zola has changed the system because Ashton is not available or whether it is just the system he prefers, remains to be seen. We'll find out when Ashton returns."
"Diego Tristan has come in but I don't think he is quite fit yet. His great days at Deportivo are quite a long time ago now, he was at his peak in 2001 and 2002. But he has impressed Zola and is battling to be fit. He didn't play in the reserves against Arsenal on Tuesday which surprised a few, so he probably won't be in the reckoning for Sunday's game either.
"There weren't many new signings in the summer. Valon Behrami came in from Lazio for £5million, he's the only one who cost any money really. He started at right back, went right midfield and is now playing more centrally. He is slowly working his way into the team. They have signed Herita Ilunga on loan at left back and he has been very impressive. He's a very strong player who gets forward very well. They've signed David Di Michele on loan from Torino and he like Tristan is a player who hasn't really done it for a couple of seasons. He did score a couple against Newcastle but the jury is out."
"In terms of injuries Ashton is the main man, while Danny Gabbidon and Kieron Dyer are long-term absentees still. They have been out for about a year, Dyer even longer. Lee Bowyer is on the outside of the squad, James Collins played in the reserve game on Tuesday so he might have a chance to come back. Generally I think Zola will stick with the team which has played over the last couple of weeks."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"It is always a very tight game against Arsenal. One goal often decides it, or it's a draw. West Ham haven't drawn all season, they have won four and lost four in the Premier League, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was a draw. Arsenal were in Turkey on Tuesday and they have Tottenham next Wednesday, so perhaps West Ham can get a 1-1 or a 0-0 draw."