In their flirtation with relegation in recent years, West Ham have had one character who has played a significant role in the struggle for Premier League survival. Cast your mind back to 2007 and it was Carlos Tevez whose gallant effort and goals rescued them from the drop.
Four years earlier, it was the charismatic, often controversial Paolo Di Canio who almost did the same. Ignored for much of the campaign after a row with Glenn Roeder, the former manager, he returned for the finale, although, goals against Chelsea and Birmingham in the last two games were too late to save them from the drop. This season, another Italian could be central to their fortunes and provide much-needed inspiration. In Alessandro Diamanti, there are glimpses of Di Canio or Gianfranco Zola, his West Ham manager. He has shown cunning - drifting deep or sneaking in behind defences - and vision - with clever, often audacious, passes.
Zola hailed him as a special talent when he arrived from Livorno in the summer as an unknown. He said: "He does remind me of me. Sometimes he does unpredictable things. He also does some unpredictable mistakes as I used to. Alessandro is more effective coming from behind, playing ball in for others; to use his skills. His best quality is setting the ball for the others. He's doing well and growing."
The main area where there is room for improvement is goal-scoring. Diamanti would have had eight had Manuel Almunia, the Arsenal keeper, not saved his penalty on Saturday. The 2-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium was West Ham's fourth in succession and has left them three points from the drop zone. While it might be a relegation battle, Diamanti's creative spark could make the difference against stubborn opponents such as Wolves, tonight, and then Stoke on Saturday. According to Zola, the games at Upton Park "will tell us a lot for the rest of the season".
They could also determine whether the under-pressure manager will still be in charge until then. "I am confident we can get two good results. We know they will both be difficult matches, but they are teams on our level," said Zola. "I know my players are determined to do well and show their ability. Make no mistake, I am not pleased to see us in this position, but in these moments we have to keep our composure and not get too emotional."
The importance of the Wolves game was reflected by his team selection against Arsenal with Carlton Cole, the England striker, on the bench and Scott Parker and Julien Faubert also absent. They should return tonight and Mick McCarthy understands Zola's thought process. He did the same in December at Manchester United, albeit on a much larger scale, and Wolves were given a suspended fine by the Premier League for fielding a weakened side. But it paid off as they beat relegation rivals Burnley in the next game.
McCarthy said: "I had to take a bit of heat, but it doesn't matter. He [Zola] looked at Arsenal and thought 'that's a tough one, our best chance of getting points is against Wolves'. He would be mad if he thought he couldn't maximise his opportunity of beating us. "I watched the team play against Arsenal and they had a good side out. It didn't bother me one iota." @Email:email@example.com