Premier League: Arsenal v Norwich - Preview

Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Norwich - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

"Three months ago our dream was to be in the situation we are in at the moment. So it is now down to us to get over the line.

"It looks quite difficult because we have had a few opportunities but we have another one on Saturday which we want to take.

"The team is focused and ready to do the job so it's now down to us to get over this line."

That was Arsène Wenger less than 24 hours before the penultimate game of the 2011/12 season - a campaign whose legacy will be decided in that final 180 minutes.

Beat Norwich at Emirates Stadium this weekend then West Brom away next Sunday and Arsenal will be third, a position which will once again reserve their long-held seat at Europe's top table.

But the squeeze is on. Results over the past week have seen Tottenham and Newcastle move just a point behind. Harry Redknapp's side seem the more likely challengers as they have found a modicum of consistency and Alan Pardew's men finish with two tough games.

However, as that opening quote suggests, Wenger is now just looking for the line. The draws against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium and away to Stoke were decent enough.

But now there are no games in hand and no margin for error.

The season is nearly over and the job is not done.

"Yes [third and fourth place] are still open," said Wenger. "The advantage we have on the other teams is that we have our destiny in our own hands because we are one point ahead.

"The word 'favourite' does not have a great meaning for me but we are in the driving seat. That means we depend only on our results and that is what you want when you are at a top-level club.

"I don't think [the point at Stoke suggested nerves] and Chelsea was a difficult game. We played them at the wrong period.

"In the defeat against Wigan I felt we were unfortunate too, because we conceded two goals with ten men and they were on a high at that time.

"It was just that we played difficult games and we lost a little bit our fluency. But I'm happy with the way we bounced back at Stoke."

There will be only one change from the squad at the Britannia Stadium last weekend. Abou Diaby (calf) will miss the last two games so Ju Young Park comes in. Theo Walcott still has a chance of making the final fixture but will not be involved on Saturday.

It has been noticeable that as Arsenal's season has gone on, their experienced players have come to the fore. The injured Mikel Arteta is now considered a major miss given his form in the latter half of the campaign. Fortunately Wenger has been able to bring in similar wisdom in his stead; two midfielders who have been making a difference in the past month or so.

"We have increased the level of experience a little bit because we have Benayoun and Rosicky in the side," said Wenger. "They have more knowledge and I think that can be really important at this moment of the season."

Meanwhile, at the back, Arsenal have been secure; keeping five clean-sheets in their last eight games. The increasingly-cohesive partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen has played a major part. The duo had barely featured in tandem before Per Mertesacker's injury at Sunderland in February.

"They are gelling very well," said Wenger. "I like the fact that maybe we are not the tallest at the back but we coped with it at Stoke. That shows they are really gelling together and that there is a very good understanding. They are modern central defenders because they are mobile, they can play with the ball and they are quick. Also you have to say, Sagna is an exceptional full-back too and Gibbs is growing stronger and stronger in every game."

Norwich have long-since crossed their own 'line' - the one that secured a second season in the top-flight. However they have lost their last three, not scored in their last two and kept only two clean-sheets all season.

That said, Wenger cannot contemplate complacency on their part.

"I expect them to play at their best," he said. "It would be absolutely non-intelligent from us to expect a team to play a little bit softer. It would not be very professional.

"So let's expect them to be at their best. Norwich and Swansea are two teams who came up but, with 10 games to go, basically they were safe. It is the first time that has happened since I have been in the Premier League. It shows you that they have quality and, in the Championship, the standard is going up too.

"They play good football and you could see that everyone expected these two teams to go down. But, in fact, they have done not only reasonably well but remarkably well."

Arsenal, too, were written-off at the start of the campaign. You could label their recovery to third "remarkable" in itself.

However, having got there the bar cannot be lowered, especially as Tottenham are the most likely team to steal in.

So Wenger's men are at the sharp-end of the season still with a point to prove.

But should they manage to cross the line, at least no-one has the power to pull them back again.


Team news

Arsenal: Walcott (hamstring), Diaby (thigh), Arteta (ankle), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)

Norwich: Drury (groin), Whitbread (hamstring), Ayala (knee), Tierney (groin)

Random Facts

The last time Norwich won at Arsenal was on August 15, 1992, the first day of the newly-formed Premier League.

Of the 50 previous games between the two sides, Norwich have won 20 per cent, Arsenal have won nearly 50 per cent.

Robin van Persie has 28 goals and needs two more to match Thierry Henry's club record for a Premier League season.

Paul Lambert won the Champions League as a player with Borussia Dortmund in 1996/7. During the group stages he scored past Maciej Szczesny, father of Wojciech.

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