13 March 2015

They're calling in sick left and right, these Irons...

Savor the irony, if only for one match. In a season in which we've again been racked by injury, it seems as if the hammer can't fall fast enough on the Hammers' season, what with players succumbing to injury left and right. If this continues, Sam "I am the walrus" Allardyce may have to take to the pitch himself. Lads are coming up with all manner of excuses, ranging from the legitimate, such as Andy Carroll's season-ending knee surgery, to the ludicrous, such as Enner Valencia's tea-cup toe-laceration. One way or another, various Hammers seem to be conjuring up excuses of varying degrees of legitimacy. It seems as if the stuffing has been taken out of this squad just as the run-in ramps up. As we size up our chances at finishing third (or second?), we should hammer West Ham, driving them ever-deeper down the table.

Fresh news out of Boleyn Ground has it that centre-back James Tomkins has suffered a dislocated shoulder in training and will miss Saturday's clash. He'll be scanned Friday, but if he's ruled out, he'll join Andy Carroll, Carlton Cole, Valencia, and (maybe) Winston Reid in the infirmary. It's worth mentioning that Carl Jenkinson will also be unavailable as the loanee cannot face his parent club. On paper, it all seems to add up to an XI that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. The absences of Carroll, Cole, and Valencia would deprive West Ham of some of its most-aggressive attackers; the absences of Tomkins, Jenkinson, and Reid would deny West Ham of some of its most-stubborn defenders. At either end, then, Allardyce has quite a few selection-headaches, none of them good, ahead of Saturday's clash.

Against this depleted side, then, we at our end of things had better come away with all three points. Coming on the heels of the orgiastic win over Man U in the FA Cup and ahead of a daunting second-leg clash against AS Monaco, it might be easy to overlook West Ham, stuck in the middle, as it were. After a bright start to the campaign, West Ham have been humbled of late, fading to tenth place in the Prem. Gone are the accolades for Allardyce as the club hunker down and fend off rivals such as Swansea, Stoke, and Newcastle in a fight to stay in the upper half of the Prem. No longer are they competing with the likes of Southampton, Tottenham, or Liverpool for Europa League honours.

It's all a bit of a banana-peel, then, isn't it? Squeezed in between the glory of defeating Man U in the FA Cup and the challenge of winning at the Stade Louis II in the Champions League, we face the more-modest task of seeing off a rival that hasn't won in its last six outings, that is bereft of a half-dozen of its most-vital players, that hasn't beaten us in almost ten years. Then again, it's worth noting that we hadn't won at Old Trafford in almost ten years but did so on Monday. Parallelism is wonderful in grammar, but I would prefer to avoid it on Saturday. 

We should know what to expect. West Ham will likely come in with a 4-3-1-2, all but daring us to score a goal while hoping to hit us on a counter. The absences of Carroll, Cole, and Valencia might at first seem like suggestions that West Ham will have nothing going forward, but that attitude underestimates Diafro Sakho, who has found time in his schedule to score against Liverpool, Man U, Man City, and Tottenham, among others. If we can negate the threat he poses, we should find ourselves again on the winning end of things. If nothing else entices, we do have a chance to climb to within a point of second place, with Man City's visit to Turf Moor coming hot on the heels of our clash with West Ham.

Could we come out of the weekend just a point off of Man City's pace? For as much as we risk looking past Saturday to a midweek Champions League clash, so too does City. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take care of our own business on Saturday.

PREDICTION: Arsenal 2-0 West Ham

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