Pre-Match Report

Norwich City v Arsenal - Match Preview

Carrow Road

By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger has options.

Arsenal's highly-satisfying start to the season has rested on the strength of the squad. You could argue the manager's current cast has no proper leading man but, instead, a host of supporting actors.

Santi Cazorla is perhaps the closest to star-billing but generally the praise, the responsibility and the opportunity has been spread around the side.

Quality players likes Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wociech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Andrey Arshavin have all not started more than two Premier League games.

If you factor in those close to their comeback from injury, then, arguably the Arsenal manager has one of his deepest and most experienced squads in the past half-dozen campaigns.

Central midfield is the most obvious example. Mikel Arteta and Cazorla have started every game, patrolling the position with a mixture of expert technique allied with Spanish swagger. The likes of Abou Diaby, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey have been the third man so far this season. Jack Wilshere might possibly throw his hat into the ring from the bench on Saturday at Norwich. Plus Emmanuel Frimpong and Tomas Rosicky are still waiting in the wings.

"Since the start of the season the midfield has done very well," said Wenger ahead of the trip to Carrow Road. "We have not had everyone available. But if we can find the balance we have a chance of having the best midfield we have had for some time.

"Last season, the whole season, we did not play with Diaby and Jack. They are two fantastic players but Diaby did not start one game and Jack was out the whole season.

"Of course those two coming back and suddenly you have Ramsey, Jack, Diaby, Cazorla, Arteta. So you have players there now."

And then some.

Wilshere's return remains unconfirmed but we do know Koscielny (back), Walcott (chest), Kieran Gibbs (thigh) and Szczesny (ankle) are out. In addition, Lukasz Fabianski (back) will have surgery and will be missing for another three months.

The absence of the two keepers has given Vito Mannone, probably third choice at the start of the campaign, an extended run. He has grabbed it with both hands.

The Italian admitted the victory at West Ham two weeks ago was as redemptive for him as it was for his team. Mannone's last spell in the Arsenal side had ended with an indifferent performance at Upton Park. Perhaps the 24-year-old's elevation is the ultimate illustration of Wenger's resources. Like Carl Jenkinson at right back, the keeper has done the ultimate job of an understudy - making sure those above him are not missed.

The trip to Norwich is the first game in a fortnight of opportunity for Arsenal. During that spell they play the bottom two sides in the Premier League, Schalke at home in the Champions League and visit Reading the Capital One Cup. Four victories would put Wenger's men in the title-chasing pack, leave them close to European qualification and in the midst of their perennial push in their fourth competition.

It would be the perfect prelude to the season-shaper that follows - Manchester United away on November 3.

Norwich are second from bottom in Premier League, without a win and no team has scored fewer goals. However, having trailed to them in both games last term, Wenger is loathe to suggest they are suffering from a bout of second-season syndrome.

"Too much is made of that," said Wenger. "Last season, for the first time in a long time, all three promoted teams stayed up. So of course one of them will be challenged this season - Norwich, Swansea or QPR.

"It's always different in the second season because now people are used to them being where they are. But Norwich play positive football, and in the games we have seen, they are playing extremely well. They have not had luck in the games with moments where they could have won. We know that we will need the same performance we had at West Ham to have a chance to win the game.

"Not much has changed for them. They have the same positive attitude, the same drive going forward and the same quality of the game on the ground. It's very similar.

"I remember Grant Holt gave us some problems last year, especially at the Emirates. He had a fantastic game. We were second best at the back last year and that is what we have to correct on Saturday."

Of course the one major change for Norwich is manager Chris Hughton, who seemed destined for a career in the backroom before assuming the top job at Newcastle. He was considered highly unlucky to lose his job there and has not looked back since.

"He has done well at Birmingham and now he has a good opportunity at Norwich," said Wenger. "He was manager at Newcastle as well so he has assembled some good experience. When you get into the manager's position suddenly everything is different and he has done extremely well to make the change."

Arsenal's alteration has been less obvious. All that happens these days is that a different player finds the answer each week. Diaby, Cazorla, Gervinho, Podolski, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Mertesacker have all been stand-out stars in games this season. The rest are playing their part.

Perhaps it is helping the spirit. The entire team saluted the fans at West Ham with a real solidarity. Perhaps it will lead to success.

But it is certainly nice to have options.


Team news

Norwich: Lappin (doubt - ankle), Snodgrass (doubt - ankle), Whittaker (ankle), Kane (metatarsal)

Arsenal: Koscielny (back), Walcott (chest), Diaby (thigh), Gibbs (thigh), Rosicky (hamstring), Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (back)


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