Two teams whose new coaches have now had sufficient time to make their impact felt meet in a London derby when West Ham host Arsenal at the London Stadium on Saturday (12:30 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Manuel Pellegrini and Unai Emery inherited very different situations when they took over at their respective clubs last summer. Pellegrini became West Ham’s third coach in less than a year, while Emery took on the task of following Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at Arsenal.
Both have done solid jobs. From a lesser starting place, Pellegrini has West Ham comfortably in mid-table and with eyes on a potential European spot. Emery has, at a top line level, marginally improved Arsenal, albeit with underlying statistics that suggest they are still about par with last season. They are, though, in the race for a top-four finish.
Pellegrini got off to a difficult start in the Hammers dugout. His side lost their first four matches of the season, with understandable away defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal joined to more concerning home losses to Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers. They have been much improved since, winning eight, drawing four and losing five of their next 17.
The result is that West Ham are 10th in the table and part of the group of seven teams placed between seventh and 13th who are separated by just five points. None of them have so far displayed the necessary consistency to break free of the pack and it is a battle that is likely to persist into the final weeks of the campaign.
In a short amount of time, and undoubtedly helped by solid summer investment, Pellegrini, a former Premier League title winner during his time in charge of Manchester City, has vastly improved upon West Ham’s performances of the previous year. Last season was a campaign in which the Hammers rose to a comfortable enough finish after strongly flirting with relegation. They are a bit better in attack and appreciably improved in defence.
The mild rumblings of discontent that followed early setbacks have now dissipated, and despite coming into this weekend’s match on the back of just one win in their last four in the league, West Ham generally look to be on the right track. It just goes to show that if you give a competent and experienced coach a bit of time to sorts things out, he usually will.
Emery also began his tenure at Arsenal on the wrong foot by losing his side’s opening pair of fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea. He responded with a run of seven consecutive victories and an extended unbeaten stretch that lasted all the way into mid-December.
There was, though, a feeling that Arsenal were generally enjoying more than their fair share of fortune during that run. Their subsequent sequence of two wins, two defeats and one draw, including a 1-5 mauling at the hands of Liverpool, has somewhat confirmed that impression. They are still fifth, just three points off Chelsea in fourth, but are losing some of their earlier momentum. They have only won five of their 12 in the league.
Emery’s side look a better attacking outfit than they were last season, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang currently the league’s joint top scorer with 14 goals, but an already average defence has loosened up a little further. In the early part of the season, Arsenal were the masters of coming on strong in the second half. That is now less the case, exposing more of their issues.
Arsenal’s home record is one of the best in the division, but they have found life harder on the road. They have only the seventh best away record in the Premier League and a near equal goal difference. With an average of over two goals per match conceded, and coming up against a team who have scored more than twice in five of their last eight home matches, there is certainly a degree to which they could be vulnerable to dropping points on Saturday.
West Ham’s home record this season has been nothing to write home about. Manchester United are the only top-half side they’ve beaten at the London Stadium to date. But in the likes of Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic, they have players more than capable of upsetting the Arsenal defence and scoring the goals that might see them to victory.
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