Saturday, 19 November 2011

Norwich v Arsenal – Preview

Another international break over, and the Gunners return to action with a trip to Carrow Road. Arsenal have got the lunchtime kick-off today, and hopefully they can start the Premier League's weekend fixtures with a bang. With Chelsea playing Liverpool tomorrow and Spurs facing Villa on Monday (albeit at the Lane) it is entirely possible that any one of the teams immediately above us could drop points – let's hope we can capitalise.

At the same time, however, we shouldn't underestimate Norwich. It's entirely possible that they'll prove to be the bright yellow stumbling block in our headlong charge back into the top four. They are arguably the best of the three teams that achieved promotion last season, which is currently reflected in the fact that they lie ninth in the table – just ahead of both Swansea and QPR. Paul Lambert has built a good team and either one of the tough, predatory strikers Steve Morison or Grant Holt could cause the Arsenal defence problems. The Gunners will also need to stifle the endeavour and creativity of key midfield players Wes Hoolahan, Leon Barnett and especially Anthony Pilkington, who has been a revelation for the Canaries this season.

Still, we have the quality to negate these threats as well as causing some of our own, and the fact that Norwich have yet to keep a clean sheet this season, combined with RvP's stellar form, suggests that there should be goals today.

Unfortunately we will be without both Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson – the left-back's stomach strain, which he picked up a couple of weeks ago, turned out to have been caused by a hernia, which has now been operated on. In all likelihood he'll therefore be laid up for four or five weeks as he recuperates. Meanwhile, our nineteen-year-old right-back has picked up a very middle-aged injury indeed – yep, he's 'done his back in'. In all seriousness though, the reports of a stress fracture sound a bit ominous – although in a pre-match press conference Wenger assured us that the specialists have picked this up early and that therefore all he'll need is some rest. The much-heralded new medical centre at London Colney is already filling up with customers then.

On the plus side, Abou Diaby, who apparently used to play in our midfield, is once again fit and healthy after an inordinate lay-off. The Frenchman has now 'resumed full training', although given that he has been out for around five months he'll need plenty of time to recover his fitness - so we probably won't see him on the pitch for a while yet. Jack Wilshere's also been spotted hovering around the Colney outpatients' area sans crutches, which is good news, and he might be back by January. And finally, Marouane Chamakh, who missed the West Brom game with a minor knee injury, is now once again fit to, er, take his place on the bench.

One of either Johan Djourou or Laurent Koscielny – who apparently did his work experience started his career as a right-back – will deputise for Jenkinson today. The Swiss defender did a decent job there when called upon recently, but Koscielny has also been playing well, and therefore this situation might give Wenger the opportunity to play Koscielny-Mertesacker-Vermaelen-Santos for the first time.

Elsewhere the team will probably be unchanged from that which strolled to victory against the Baggies way back on 5 November. That game was a comfortable win in which Arsenal showed both composure and fluidity – hopefully they'll be able to pick up where they left off. The international break was an unwelcome disruption in that sense, but the players involved in matches for their respective countries at least came through unscathed, while I'm sure Mikel Arteta spoke for other members of the squad – particularly the new faces – when he said that the break was a good chance to pause and reflect on a rollercoaster start to the season.

Away from home today's match will be a tougher task than the West Brom game. But the Gunners broke their unenviable away record in emphatic style against Chelsea, and Carrow Road has hardly been a fortress this season. We should therefore be more than capable of taking three points back to North London, thereby keeping the pressure on the likes of Spurs and Liverpool.

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