Norwich have had a topsy-turvy ride this season. Before they met the Gunners at Carrow Road earlier this season in October, the Canaries were winless after seven Premier League games. A shock win against Arsenal sparked a run of form that saw them go unbeaten for 10 games that included the scalp of Manchester United at home. By the middle of December Chris Hughton’s side were enjoying unexpected heights hitting 8th place.
Since then it’s all been downhill with just 1 win in 15 games, but we get an idea of the unpredictable nature of the League when we see that the Canaries have taken a point off Spurs in that period and their solitary win has come against Everton!
Norwich have only 1 away win all season and have kept only 2 clean sheets. Hughton’s side have only picked up 10 points on the road scoring 12 goals while conceding 32. Even then, they’ve influenced the race for the Champions League spots by taking a point from their visit to White Hart Lane and Goodison Park.
Interestingly, of their 16 away games thus far, Norwich have scored 1 and conceded 18 in their 4 worst defeats (0-5, 0-5, 0-4, 1-4). The other 12 have been closely fought and were decided by a margin of 1 goal or less.
What we can say for sure is that the difference between teams at this level remains very marginal and it’d be naive to rely on the opponent’s poor form or perceived lack of quality.
Chris Hughton’s approach is simple enough, and not unlike many other relatively smaller teams that Arsenal face. They’ll sit deep and narrow in two largely flat banks of four. An extra midfielder could drop into this to increase the protection if the Gunners are able to build from the back at a high tempo. Their strength is in the compactness of this shape and it’s structural integrity.
Arsenal will find it hard to get space between the lines and in the penalty box. Manufacturing that space and then utilizing it before it’s shut down is going to be the main challenge of this game. Once again efficiency will be the key to a successful attack. Wenger’s team can do it if they can hit the kind of fluency they’ve shown in the recent past. However, a lot can depend on the timing of the first goal. Defensive teams generally gain confidence from a period of stubborn resistance in the opening exchanges.
Winning the individual duels in tight spaces will prove helpful. Norwich’s full-backs could be a weak link if they are isolated in one-v-one situations. Similarly, central defenders could be forced into mistakes if pulled out of their comfort zone. These defenders and those in front of them make each other better as one player systematically provides cover to the other. Arsenal have to break that defensive rhythm and structure.
At the other end it’s mostly going to be about set-pieces and counter-attacks. Grant Holt is a physically imposing player who has been a thorn in Arsenal’s side in the past. He has the ability to receive the ball in front of the central defenders and is often a good outlet for Norwich. The likes of Hoolahan and Snodgrass can quickly join him in breaking forward.
Vermaelen and Koscielny haven’t played together as often this season so it’ll be worth keeping and eye on their understanding and decision making. They have to be on the same page tactically or Norwich will have some opportunities to score.
West Brom troubled the Gunners from set-pieces even if they didn’t score from one (not considering the penalty as a free-kick for this point). Wenger and Bould will not want to test their luck again but I’m not sure they can do much at this stage of the season. It might again be a case where spirit and effort have to plug the holes that exist in Arsenal’s defensive system.
Injuries and suspensions might force a couple of changes. Mertesacker will miss this game and Vermaelen is the obvious replacement. Wenger mentioned that Rosicky might be a doubt for this game while Wilshere might be ready. Walcott too might have an outside chance.
Ideally, I would like to see as few changes as possible but a couple of modifications might not be a bad idea considering the fact that Everton are visiting the Emirates on Tuesday.
We might see,
Fabianski – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal – Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta – Gervinho, Giroud, Cazorla.
Wenger could go with Podolski and/or Oxlade-Chamberlain for this game. Squad depth has to be used at some point.
Arsenal have won 4 games in a row in the League only once this season. A win against the Canaries would double that. Can they sustain the momentum or will the law of averages catch up?Follow @goonerdesi
PS: I’m going to be busy with house hunting again this weekend. The post-match report will not be published on Saturday. The earliest I’ll be able to do is midnight on Sunday US Central time.