Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Norwich - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium
Emirates Stadium

“It is a massive week for us,” said Arsène Wenger.

“It is our chance,” he went on, “and we want to take it. Tottenham will be hard competition until the end, Chelsea as well, and the only way we can deal with that is to look at ourselves and win our games.

“They don’t play so we have a chance to build an advantage. But for four or five weeks ago we have known we have to win our games whether they play or not.

“We are hugely determined and, of course, there’s a target for our two games now. But let's start by being completely pragmatic, just focus on the first one and continue to play the way we have played recently.”

As the manager said, let’s keep it simple and straightforward - Arsenal will finish a weekend in third place for the first time since mid-September if they beat Norwich at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

They entertain Everton on Tuesday and visit Fulham on Saturday before Tottenham, currently in third, play again. Chelsea’s only game in that period is, ironically enough, a visit to Craven Cottage on Wednesday.

Wenger’s men have been playing catch-up for most of the season and, even though they are joint top of the form table, 15 points from a possible 18 has not seen them move up the table.

But its corrosive effect could be revealed in the next eight days.

The immediate aim is the top four and a cursory glance back through the Premier League tables show that the last four fifth-place teams have achieved 65, 62, 68 and 63 points respectively. So surely 70 would be enough for an Arsenal side who have amassed 54 so far and have a potential 21 remaining.

“We don't calculate like that,” retorted Wenger. “We just focus on our next game and try to win it. We have to consider that Spurs can win their games too and the only way to deal with it is [for] us to win ours. We have a clear target and I can only feel satisfaction if we get to that target.”

Clearly, it is far too tight to deal in the speculative. So let’s talk about the concrete.

"In that final run-in, it is important that we are together and all focused on what we want to achieve."

The superb victory at West Brom last weekend came at a cost. The man who engineered the win and scored both goals, Tomas Rosicky, is struggling with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile the man whose dismissal caused a dramatic swing in the game, Per Mertesacker, is suspended.

One presumes captain Thomas Vermaelen will step up from the bench. Meanwhile, as good as Rosicky was at The Hawthorns, the return of both Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott more than makes amends should the Czech midfielder fail his fitness test.

Norwich grabbed a rollercoaster 3-3 draw in final Premier League fixture at Emirates Stadium last season and beat Arsenal 1-0 at Carrow Road back in October.

Chris Hughton’s side have not been involved in the relegation picture since then but they are not entirely safe and have registered only one win in their last 15 Premier League games.

“I don’t expect a difference from the team we faced last season’s draw because Norwich are fighting not to go down,” said Wenger.

“That means you expect a full commitment, complete focus on defending well and catching us on the break. That’s what they did when we played them at their home this season.

“It’s quite amazing because, when they beat us over there, they had a ten-game unbeaten run where they took 22 points. But, outside that period, they struggled. So we have to make sure we put them under pressure because they will certainly defend very well and try to catch us again.”

Whether they stay up or not, Norwich have reportedly laid out major money on Dutch striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon. He arrives next season.

Grant Holt caused the Arsenal defenders serious problems in the 3-3 last season but the emergence of Kei Kamara has kept the Englishman on the bench. The powerful striker from Sierra Leone spent seven years in MLS before joining Norwich in January.

“It's absolutely fantastic what he is achieving,” said Wenger. “It's down to quality of scouting that these clubs do and you have to give them credit for that. To keep Grant Holt out of the team, he must have something special. We have of course to keep him quiet on Saturday.”

Speaking of decibels, last week at West Brom, it was the noise from the away support that was noticeable. Not the volume so much but the target of the songs. They sang their manager’s name long, loud and proud.

It has been a difficult and, at times, doubting season. One presumes that, should Arsenal make the top four, Wenger will declare this a campaign where his side achieved something but, at the same time, not nearly enough. He did last year.

But while a happy-enough ending should not deter the desire for improvement, finishing with flourish at least brings the Club and the fans together as they both start to look towards next season.


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So, while the manager was gratified to hear those heart-felt songs, he knows their benefits extend further than himself.

“More than the fans being back on my side, it's important they are back on the side of the team,” said Wenger.

“It's very difficult to be successful in football. When the players and the fans are united, you have a better chance to do it. And that pleases me the most [about last Saturday].

“In that final run-in, it is important that we are together and all focused on what we want to achieve.”

As the manager said it is a “massive week”; truly one that could make-or-break the chances of retaining Champions League football.

Whatever your views on the preceding eight months, for any football fan, April and May must be about unity.

And, when you are in Arsenal’s situation, it can be the difference between getting over the line and failing short.

Team News:

Arsenal: Rosicky (doubt - hamstring), Diaby (knee), Mertesacker (suspended)

Norwich: Bunn (doubt - groin), Ruddy (hip), Surman (knee), R Bennett (knock)

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