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What do West Ham need to sustain top four challenge?

Andy Carroll can be “unstoppable”. Sam Allardyce’s words. Thanks to a brace from the 25-year-old centre forward in the 3-1 victory over Swansea, West Ham United sit in the Premier League’s top four and are 16/1 shots with Coral to sustain that challenge and finish there.

Having been criticised by fans last term for not playing attractive football, Allardyce has obviously taken on board what was said, and the Hammers have taken the last four months by storm. All of a sudden, their frontline looks frightening, and they have pace and strength throughout the team.

As well as Carroll, the east London outfit have the immensely impressive Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, who excelled at the World Cup with Ecuador, talented Argentinian Mauro Zarate, and longer term servants Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te.

The loan capture of Alex Song was inspired. He has been nothing short of magnificent, and anyone who is good enough to play for Barcelona, whether on a peripheral basis, or not deserves respect. His partnership with fellow new recruit Cheikhou Kouyate provides a formidable barrier in midfield, adding much-needed steel, which has always been a feature of Big Sam sides.

Stewart Downing has been like a new signing, as Allardyce converted him to a more central operative, while captain Kevin Nolan has been doing what he does best; the scruffy stuff, industrious and always battling.

Without a doubt though, key to the way West Ham have been playing are new full back signings Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson, the latter albeit on loan from Arsenal. To sign the former was an inspired decision, and he has stepped up effortlessly from Championship side Ipswich Town, even getting on the scoresheet. The 24-year-old left back should be a definite consideration for Roy Hodgson’s England squad.

However, with the Africa Cup of Nations imminent, Allardyce could lose three of his main players; all of them new signings that have made an impact: Sakho, Kouyate and Song.

Over the Christmas period, West Ham play Sunderland, Leicester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion. On current form, they would be expected to pick up at least nine, possibly 10 points.

It poses the question, does Allardyce need to take action in January? He may have a number of options. Big Sam has a strong case to take to club owners David Gold and David Sullivan to ask for more cash to be spent strategically, or he could wait until summer and look for available loan players.

Prices for players are often inflated in January. Personnel from a less competitive league, though with potential may be worth looking at, such as 25-year-old Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon, who plays for Zenit St Petersburg could come in under the radar, and is of a similar mould to Sakho.

Former Arsenal, Chelsea, Portsmouth and Real Madrid defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra, who is a free agent, could at 29 help to plug the gap left by Song and Kouyate, if he fancies a move back to the Premier League. Anderlecht’s Steven Defour may also be an option, though Allardyce needs assess what he will need over the coming months if the Hammers are to sustain a top four challenge, though they are 4/1 to finish in the top six.