Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Norwich City on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Michael Bailey for their views.
Norwich City’s surprise 1-0 victory over Arsenal in October prompted a 10-game unbeaten run that also featured a win over Manchester United but, either side of that excellent spell, the Canaries have triumphed in only one of their other 21 Premier League matches.
The win in the reverse fixture, courtesy of Grant Holt’s goal, was typical of Chris Hughton’s game plan. Norwich managed just 28 per cent of possession, but defended solidly in two banks of four.
"The win in the reverse fixture, courtesy of Grant Holt’s goal, was typical of Chris Hughton’s game plan. Norwich managed just 28 per cent of possession, but defended solidly in two banks of four"
They minimised the space between the lines for Santi Cazorla to work in, but used a surprisingly high defensive line to push Olivier Giroud away from goal.
Although 4-2-3-1 on paper, Norwich are more like 4-4-2 without the ball, then 4-2-4 when they counter-attack.
Playmaker Wes Hoolahan generally stays high up the pitch, although he’ll probably be asked to pick up Mikel Arteta on Saturday, before darting into space to provide an obvious out-ball for Norwich’s attacking transitions.
The identity of the wide players remains unclear. For the majority of the campaign, Norwich have based their play around Robert Snodgrass on the right flank - 42 per cent of their passes are down the right, compared to 31 per cent down the left. Snodgrass is a talented dribbler, although heavily favours his left foot and invariably cuts inside.
Anthony Pilkington usually does something similar from the left - moving onto his right - but he’s an injury doubt having missed the previous three matches with a hamstring strain. Hughton’s solution is to switch Snodgrass to the left, bringing in Elliott Bennett on the right. That means Norwich use two direct wingers, more likely to swing in crosses.
Up front, Holt, an old-fashioned No 9, has been replaced in the starting line-up by loanne Kei Kamara. The Sierra Leoneon’s sole Norwich goal came from a powerful header Holt would be proud of - but Kamara is more of an all-rounder, drifting wide to work the channels, having played as a winger during his time in the MLS.
Only Manchester United (19) have scored more than Norwich’s 15 set-piece goals this season, with defenders Russell Martin (3), Sebastian Bassong (2) and Michael Turner (2) all contributing. Considering Holt remains Norwich’s top league goalscorer with just five, it’s a major source of goals.
MICHAEL BAILEY, NORWICH EVENING NEWS
It’s been a season of extremes for Norwich really. They started off pretty badly but then went on a cracking 10-game unbeaten run in the lead up to Christmas. After that though, it’s been pretty heavy going and they have only won once since the end of that run.
I think a lot of the fans hoped there would be more room between them and the relegation zone than there actually is at this point in the season. There’s definitely an edginess around the place but it’s still in their own hands by a long way. The only goal that Norwich fans really want to see is survival so if they do that, it will still be a successful season I think.
"Chris Hughton has tended to play a 4-4-1-1 formation away from home, with Wes Hoolahan playing off the centre forward"
I don’t think the players have been at the same level in terms of performance of late. I think they haven’t been efficient with chances and set-pieces and that in turn has affected their confidence. That can become a vicious cycle. It was hoped that they would kick on after beating Everton but that hasn’t really happened. They play with a cautious edge, which I don’t think has really done them many favours in games where they need to go for all three points.
Chris Hughton has tended to play a 4-4-1-1 formation away from home, with Wes Hoolahan playing off the centre forward. Whether that striker is Grant Holt or Kei Kamara, who has done well since coming in, is still to be seen really.
Michael Turner had a slow start but has probably been Norwich’s best performer since Christmas. Him and Sebastien Bassong have been very good on the whole at the heart of defence. Robert Snodgrass’ set-piece delivery has been excellent and he’s got quite a good goalscoring record away from Carrow Road. They are the three that have consistently impressed this season.
Norwich don’t score enough goals, so if Arsenal can keep out the chances that Norwich do have and get ahead early on, it might be a difficult afternoon for them. Their record away from home against the big clubs has been pretty awful. They conceded five at Liverpool and four at Chelsea and Manchester United. They play very cautiously, especially away from home. The initial plan will be to keep it at 0-0 and see how long it goes on for.
It feels like so long ago that Norwich beat Arsenal at Carrow Road. It was their first win of the season and ended a difficult start. From then on, they want on their 10-game unbeaten run and they are in a position where they need a similar result again. Playing at the Emirates is of course a tougher task but if Norwich can get a point, that will be a real result for them. If they get it right, they can be stubborn and hard to break down.
I think Arsenal will win 2-1.
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