Arsene Wenger has pretty good reason to dislike West Ham. The last away team to beat Arsenal at Highbury? Er, West Ham. First visitors to win at the Emirates? That’ll be West Ham. And where did he suffer one of his most personally embarrassing moments, in a comical touchline square-up with the opposing manager Alan Pardew? Upton Park, against West Ham, in 2007.
Under those circumstances, there is little reason for him to do the Irons a favour. But if anyone should bump into the Arsenal boss – please give him a big hug and say a sincere thank you from West Ham, because we owe him one for Guy Demel. When it comes to player assessment, Wenger is someone who, by and large, gets it spot on. If he lets someone go, there’s usually a good reason and they’re not worth having – as such undistinguished
Arsenal cast-offs as Marouane Chamakh, Jeremie Aliadiere and David Bentley have all proved to West Ham fans in recent times. But in right back Demel, he let one slip through the net – and it is West Ham who have benefited hugely, this season in particular.
Sam Allardyce’s Rain Manesque quoting of statistics in his defence may have enraged fans during West Ham’s darker days this season, but now comments such as four consecutive victories in February, and more clean sheets (13) than any other team in the Premier League are music to the ears. And one thing all those blank scoresheets have in common is that Demel was playing. When he joined in summer 2011 from Hamburg, it was hardly a headline-grabbing event, but maybe in retrospect the Ivory Coast international’s arrival deserved more coverage.
Not showy, but a huge physical presence, equipped with surprising pace and also capable of firing in a mean cross, Demel has literally been the cornerstone on which West Ham’s defence has been built this season, and despite the all-too-obvious cup failings in January, it is that strength at the back which has been the foundation of the team’s improvement and the season’s turnaround.
Of course he has his dips, his dreadful attempted backpass to set Chelsea on their way to a 3-0 win in November springs to mind instantly, but maybe it is his reliability and dependability that make people take him for granted and overlook him. But that would be unjust. For his contribution this season, West Ham fans owe Guy Demel, and Wenger, a major debt of thanks.