Arsenal had a tough time against Norwich last season. Things will probably be different now that Lambert has left and Hughton is in charge but that doesn’t mean they’ll be easier. Let’s not forget the Norwich incumbent actually beat Arsenal at the Emirates with Newcastle a couple of seasons ago.
It will be a surprise if Hughton doesn’t try to emulate the blueprint of that success, which means a deep, well-organized, and hard working defence and reliance on long balls and set-pieces in attack. It’s not going to be any different from the kind of tactics employed by many teams against Arsenal over the years. So this is going to be more about individual duels and mistakes. Norwich have strikers who can dominate such duels, which can prove decisive in the box. The Gunners will need to do better than they did against Chelsea, for instance.
The other problem that Arsene has to solve is that his side hasn’t been particularly convincing in opening up deep-lying defences. Even against West Ham, Arsenal were getting into the final third with ease in the first half but were finding it tough to create clear cut chances. The two second half goals came when the hosts were pushing forward. This is a matter of combinations and precision in the final third. It’ll develop over time as players get used to each other and gain confidence. Giroud can be the vital cog if he can link play consistently when playing with his back to goal.
Of course, the intensity of struggle is also dependent on the tactics and quality of the opposition. If the Norwich manager has noted Arsenal’s relative weaknesses, the Gunners will come up against a committed defence. But their level of confidence might not be high as the hosts have shipped 4 or more goals in 3 of their 7 winless League games including 5 at home to Liverpool. Arsene will want to see his side get off the blocks quickly and establish an early lead. That can completely open the game up, which will work in the Gunners’ favour.
At the back Arsenal have to be careful with their own deep line. This season the Gunners have shown a tendency to drop back and invite pressure. Even Southampton, in that 6-1 drubbing, managed to pin Arsenal back to for a noticeable period of time. Norwich will pose a genuine goal threat if they can sustain possession in the attacking third. Mannone still has a lot to prove and this game will provide some opportunities to do just that. Even the back four will have some questions to answer. They’ll have to attack the ball aggressively and purposefully. Santos, in particular, will have to raise his defensive game.
I don’t expect many changes to the side that started the game against West Ham. Gibbs is injured so Santos will start. The others should retain their places.
Mannone – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.
Gervinho hasn’t been as effective on the right and there is a case for bringing Oxlade-Chamberlain in. Giroud had a good game against West Ham and scored a vital equalizer against Spain so his confidence should be high and continuity will help. Keep an eye on the bench, Wilshere and/or Sagna might be there.
Last season, Arsenal really pushed on from this point forward. After hitting rock bottom following a defeat against Tottenham in the first week of October, the Gunners accumulated 54 points in the next 25 games, which was 2 more than eventual champions City did in the same period. This time Arsenal have 5 extra points after the opening 7 games but that in itself is not enough and they just can’t afford any more slip-ups. Wenger knows his side have to hit top form as the moment of truth is here,
In October the moment of truth starts for the team. The league establishes itself a little bit and the Champions League goes to decisive moments. Therefore of course, it’s important to be decisive and convincing.