Only hard-core West Ham fans expected their team to be above Arsenal five games into the Premier League season.
The Hammers have beaten the Gunners only once in 18 meetings in the last 10 years, but Alan Pardew's sixth-place team is one spot and one point above Arsene Wenger's side in the standings. The gap will stretch to four points if the Hammers beat the Gunners at Upton Park today.
Three victories in a row, including Tuesday's 4-2 League Cup win at League One Sheffield Wednesday, have boosted West Ham's confidence. Now Pardew's team faces an Arsenal side still struggling to cope without the departed Patrick Vieira and with Thierry Henry out injured.
By contrast, Pardew, whose team was promoted through the League Championship playoffs last season, has plenty of options.
After scoring twice against Sheffield Wednesday, striker Bobby Zamora hopes to start against the Gunners and force Pardew to leave out either veteran striker Teddy Sheringham or Marlon Harewood.
"The manager has said the team that has been playing is the team that will probably face Arsenal," said Zamora, whose goal in the playoffs ensured West Ham's promotion. "It is tough being in and out of the team. But I made the role my own last season of coming off the bench and scoring one or two important goals."
loads of ammunition
Zamora, who moved to West Ham after spells with Brighton and Tottenham, said that, even without Vieira, who now plays in Italy for Juventus, and the injured Henry, who is out for several weeks with a groin injury, Arsenal has plenty of talent.
"They are a great team and it is going to be tough," he said. "But we are on a run of good form and haven't been scared of anybody. We will show them respect, but if there are challenges to be won, we will go in wholehearted.
"We have played a lot of good teams this year and beaten a few of them. If we lose to Arsenal, we will be gutted, but are we going to be down the bottom as a result? No."
Having lost its two away games at Chelsea and Middlesbrough, Arsenal is already nine points behind defending champion Chelsea, which has started with six shutout victories and a maximum 18 points.
Because Chelsea already has a six-point advantage, critics are saying the title race is over almost as soon as it began. But Chelsea still has to play both Manchester United and Liverpool twice and visit Arsenal.
Jose Mourinho's team hopes to make it seven wins in a row by beating Aston Villa today, which was outplayed 4-0 by West Ham 10 days ago and was held 0-0 at home by Tottenham.
David O'Leary's team then had an amazing League Cup result at League Two Wycombe, winning 8-3 after trailing 3-1 at halftime.
Second-place Charlton, which lost its perfect start by losing 2-0 at home to Chelsea last Saturday, hopes to rebound by winning at struggling West Bromwich Albion. Addicks fans will recall the last time they faced the Baggies, however, when Bryan Robson's West Brom won 4-1 at The Valley on the way to an amazing relegation escape.
Third-place Manchester United, unbeaten in five games, hopes to improve on two ties in a row by beating Blackburn Rovers at home.
Saturday's other games are Birmingham versus Liverpool; Bolton versus Portsmouth; Everton versus Wigan; Newcastle versus Manchester City. Tomorrow, Middlesbrough hosts Sunderland and, on Monday, Tottenham welcomes Fulham.