Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Norwich v Arsenal - Preview

Carrow Road

By Richard Clarke

"Usually, once the devil has you in his hands, he does not let you go again," smiled a composed Arsène Wenger at his press conference ahead of the trip to Norwich on Saturday.

"What I mean is that you are concerned that the confidence level drops and it takes time to come out of it," he went on. "Once we were 17th in the League and you cannot say for a club like Arsenal that is a comfortable position.

"There is still a warning in our head. But we have shown remarkable mental strength and consistency since then. Maybe now we have gone through it all but we need to keep the urgency.

"We came from hell and if we have learned anything it is to put 100 per cent effort into every single game."

It sums up the present direction of Wenger's side - ascendant and aspirant. These days, the manager is deflecting talk of a title tilt ("we are not close enough yet"). The doubt has disappeared.

In fact, speaking ahead of the trip to Carrow Road, Wenger even suggested that Arsenal's current run of good form could be more robust because, not despite, it started late. His side have been on a roll and, after the interruption for internationals, the manager's aim is to build momentum once again.

Qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League could be secured in midweek but, before that, a doughty Norwich side will threaten to derail a run of four straight Premier League wins. Fourth place is a victory (and hefty swing in goal difference) away. However Wenger's target is more modest.

"I will sign now for a 1-0 with two hands," he said.

"Norwich are a very good side and I consider this a difficult Premier League away game. They are a side who play quick and dynamic football so if you are not completely focused and up for it, you have no chance against them. We have been warned that we need to be at our best.

"It is vital for us to be strong away from home because we have dropped enough points. For us, we are in a situation where every game is becoming extremely important and becoming a big test. It is very important to repeat the performance we had at Chelsea."

Except without the three goals Arsenal conceded in that madcap 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge of course. Wenger is well aware his side have let in more goals than anyone outside the bottom three. However, it is important to note that 12 of the 21 were shipped at Manchester United and Blackburn -
similarly surreal games.

Since then, Arsenal have been both generally solid and consistently winning.

The trio conceded at Chelsea represents 50 per cent of their 'goals against' in the last seven games. As the summer signings have settled, the Arsenal defence has become much more cohesive.

The loss of Carl Jenkinson for "a minimum of three to four weeks" due to a stress fracture of the back means more change. The 19-year-old was already covering Bacary Sagna (ankle) at right back. Fortunately Wenger is replete with adaptable defenders.

"I am in a bit of an innovation position now," he admitted. "I have not made a real decision about this weekend yet but Djourou is an option and Koscielny is an option."

Whatever the choice, Saturday's side will be Wenger's strongest, despite that crucial Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund at Emirates on Wednesday night. Robin van Persie, who has eight goals in his last four League games, will certainly start.

"Our target is to come back and fight at the top of the Premier League," he said. "That is more important than anything else. In the League it is vital for us to come back from where we were."

Norwich are ninth and rightly proud of it. Over the summer, Paul Lambert supplemented his Championship side with the best talent from outside the top-flight. He has fashioned a side akin to himself - determined and brimming with attitude. They are beating the sides around and below them in the table while those above them are getting a run for their money too.

"What they do is come out quickly and together when they win the ball with the likes of Morison, Bennett and Pilkington, who I remember played against us in the FA Cup last year," said Wenger.

"They play on the break. So for us it will be about accepting the responsibility to go forward. But Norwich start well in the first 20 minutes, it will be a stormy start. So it is very important to be focused
straight away."

Arsenal's revival has benefitted their points tally but not their League placing. They have been seventh since beating Stoke on October 23 - still some way from the top-four spot which remains the immediate target.

However Tottenham, fifth, and Chelsea, fourth, are close while Liverpool, sixth, should be all too aware of Arsenal's presence right now.

Victory on Saturday would be the 200th away win of Wenger's reign in north London. A minor milestone for the Frenchaman and another indication that his current Arsenal side - version 5.0, 6.0 or 7.0 depending on your viewpoint - are beginning to become bug-free.

Team news: Arsenal - Gibbs (hernia), Sagna (ankle), Ryo (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Jenkinson (stress fracture)

Norwich - Vaughan (knee), Ward (knee), Whitbread (hamstring).

Referee: P Dowd

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