Norwich City Preview: Arteta Is The Conductor
Arsenal travel to Carrow Road for today’s Premier League fixture knowing that a win would put pressure on the top four for the first time this season. With Chelsea and Liverpool playing each other tomorrow and Tottenham not playing Villa until Monday, a top five place beckons if they are able to induce the Norwich defence into a coma and win by a margin of four or more goals.
History is on Arsenal’s side. You have to go back to December 1984 for their last defeat at Carrow Road, an unbeaten run of eleven games. Arsenal’s last visit to Norfolk was the last occasion that Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp scored in the same match away from home. Jose Antonio Reyes scored the other in a 4-1 win.
Not that Arsène is being lulled into a false sense of security. Speaking of The Devil, Arsène resisted the temptation to delve into The Smiths back catalogue. Instead he preached of the Road to Redemption, vowing never to return to Hell. From his perch on the First Circle, he saw the Fourth Circle onwards and whilst he doesn’t like the occupants company, he comes back every week to manage Arsenal and suffer their company,
We came from Hell and if we have learned something it is to put 100 per cent effort in every single game. Maybe to have gone there helps us keep the urgency.
Maybe. A criticism that was often levelled in previous seasons after a defeat is that the team felt they only had to turn up to win. Today is that sort of game. Norwich have played to their strengths, showing a lack of fear whomever their opponents are. That is an admirable quality and will help them in their quest for survival. The tenacity they displayed in retrieving the deficit against Blackburn summed up the collective desire they have. That they found themselves two goals adrift identifies the weaknesses, something Arsenal will look to exploit and capitalise on.
It is international week and would not be the same if we were not talking of injuries. That the walking wounded this time were non-combatants sums up the sort of injury luck Arsenal sometimes suffer. Carl Jenkinson is out with a stress fracture of his back which sounds remarkably similar to the injury Denilson suffered. When he will return is anyone’s guess and you suspect, subject to how well his replacements cope. Many, myself included, expected Laurent Koscielny to drop into that position once Thomas Vermaelen returned from injury. Wenger instead persisted with Johan Djourou but will that continue? I suspect so.
Wenger has to stick with his first choice pairing at the back and that seems to be Vermaelen and Mertesacker at the moment. They need to build an understanding but more importantly, the whole back four does and that comes at someone’s expense which is harsh on the Frenchman and knowing that he has fought himself into international recognition, something that will hurt. Yet he will know from his time at Arsenal how fluid the situation can be with injuries and suspensions, which will no doubt spur him on.
The midfield is revolving around Mikel Arteta, his experience crucial in settling the side. The partnership with Song and Ramsey is blossoming with the Spaniard a driving force behind it,
Arsenal made it clear they wanted me because they needed an experienced, creative midfielder. Someone who could fit in quickly in the Premiership…With some of those players leaving and others coming in there will always be a discussion about who is better but at the same time I thought I will have the chance to help the team and improve it.
Obviously two of the best players have gone and it is different. We cannot try to be the same as them, that would be a big mistake. Fabregas was here for eight years. He is a legend, one of the best midfielders I have played against. Trying to compare yourself with them is never going to work. It is impossible from day one. So just try to play your own game, improve the team and try to fill those holes.
It seems that the message of not being the same as two who have left has yet to sink in with comparisons between the two Spaniards rife. To be honest, only time will stop that. The bonus for Wenger has been that Arteta has allowed Song to flourish, perhaps being a more senior member of the squad suits the Cameroonean. Stepping out of the shadows of Nasri and Fabregas in that respect have allowed him to impose himself on the game more which is suiting him.
Big performances will be needed from both in the centre of pitch as well as from Ramsey who is starting to realise his potential. Jack Wilshere’s return will, hopefully, give Wenger the best sort of footballing headaches. As the manager has said though, the target before Christmas is to close the gap on Manchester City. A win today will help to achieve that by not letting the gap widen. This is line-up I expect Wenger to go with,
Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Ramsey, Song, Arteta, Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
Crucially Wenger will have a strong bench to choose from which is a good motivator for the starting XI. Consistency of performance will be necessary to sustain the good run, starting with a win today.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.