After responding admirably to the disappointing defeat to Chelsea with wins over Olympiakos and West Ham, the Gunners' surge up the Premier League table will take another turn as they visit Carrow Road to play a dismal Norwich side that has become the league’s whooping boys in recent times.
Norwich is currently languishing in 19th place and with a meager three points from their first seven games, it’s the club’s worst ever start to a Premier League campaign.
Funnily enough, the club’s poor run of form dates back to the tail end of last season, as the Canaries have only managed to win one of their last 12 League outings (W1 D4 L7). To add to the club’s woeful stats, Norwich has scored with just percent (one goal for every 15 attempts) of their attempts on goal, the worst conversion rate in the Premier League so far this season.
Arsenal on the other hand, has been unbeaten in their last seven away matches in the league dating back to the tail end of last season, and have only lost one of their last 12 on the road (W7 D4 L1).
If you’ve noticed, Arsenal and Norwich switched places in the games won and lost department but the draws have remained intact. I certainly wouldn’t mind Arsenal having a league form of W8 D4 L1 while Norwich will have W1 D4 L8 after 13 games. I’m sure you get my drift.
Arsenal and Norwich have their fair share of history as well, as the Gunners have not lost to Norwich since 1984 but they have failed to win seven of their last 12 visits to Carrow Road. There have been a total of 25 goals between both sides in the last five Premier League meetings between them and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs made his full Premier League debut when he was on loan at Norwich in 2008.
The Gunners had a large contingent that represented their nations during the international break and Theo Walcott was the only casualty suffered, but there’s still quite a number of absentees nursing injuries on the sidelines. Kieran Gibbs (thigh), Tomas Rosicky (ankle), Abou Diaby (Diabytes) and Wojciech Szczesny (ankle) are still out and there’s more sad news, as Lukasz Fabianski is going to be out for three months with an ankle ligament injury.
I really feel very sorry for Fabianski, as he’s been through a lot in his Arsenal career. Since his arrival in 2007, Fabianski had played second fiddle to Manuel Almunia before getting his big break in the 2010-11 campaign. After getting an extended run of games in that campaign, he suffered a shoulder injury that paved the way for Szczesny to make the No. 1 his for the taking. It’s also worth noting that Szczesny has displaced Fabianski in both club and country.
To team news, Arsenal is pretty much stuck with Vito Mannone in goal till Szczesny returns to full fitness. Arsenal.com took out time to cull up some stats on Mannone, and the site also juxtaposed between the Italian shot stopper and Norwich’s custodian between the sticks, John Ruddy.
Mannone has conceded four goals from five starts while his English counterpart has opened the floodgates with 17 goals shipped in from just seven games but Ruddy has made 23 saves in contrast to Mannone’s 13. As expected, Ruddy will probably be the busier of the two goalies, as Arsenal will barrage the Norwich rearguard with goalscoring chances.
Moving over to the defense, Andre Santos will be drafted back into the squad to deputize for Kieran Gibbs that’s still out injured. The cuddly maverick has stated that his rivalry with Gibbs has improved him,
“Kieran is an exceptional player, and I know I have qualities too. This is a very healthy competition, we’re always talking about it between us before and after training. Kieran is a good friend and I respect the hard work he puts in every day and I know he feels the same way about me."
“He has been playing well and, even if we fight for the same position, I know how good he is. I know that he’s having a good spell in the squad and obviously I respect that and am pleased for him."
“I believe that whoever is better at the moment will keep on playing and it’s the manager’s choice. However, he will always give opportunities to all the players."
The fullback has also quelled those rumors linking him with a move back to Turkey (via SkySports), declaring that he’s happy at Arsenal and he intends to stay for a long while.
While I’ve been hugely impressed with Gibbs for his exploits on the pitch this season, I’m also happy with Andre Santos acknowledging the fact that Gibbs deserves to be where he is, but he’ll still give his best shot to win the left back position.
In the heart of Arsenal’s defense, I expect the skipper, Thomas Vermaelen, and the Big Friendly German, Per Mertesacker, to the team’s center back pairing. Laurent Koscielny played 90 minutes for his country and his cause was certainly not helped when he clattered Pedro Rodriguez in the penalty box. Had Cesc Fabregas converted his spot kick, Koscielny would have been a pantomime villain by now.
The right back dilemma is certainly another bone of contention, as Bacary Sagna continues to work his way to full fitness with more non-competitive games under his belt. Carl Jenkinson has done admirably in his absence but I’ll prefer to see Sagna drafted back to the team when he’s fully fit. It’s worth noting that I can have rest of mind when Jenko plays as well.
Moving over to midfield, Mikel Arteta will continue his fledgling role as Arsenal’s holding midfielder. I recently stumbled upon an article by Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe, where he tagged Arteta as the world’s best holding midfielder and it’s fair to say that it caused a great debate.
Irrespective of what anybody thinks about Arteta, his stats have proven how he has fared above his fellow holding midfield peers so far this season. Arteta has amassed an average of 4.6 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game—which currently makes him better than his fellow Premier League holding midfielders, John Obi Mikel, Michael Carrick, Mohamed Diame and Cheick Tiote (via Sam Tighe’s article). Lest I forget, he also has an exceptional pass completion rate of 93.8 percent.
Arteta plays like the modern-day Pep Guardiola and he makes the team tick, as he’s the most vital cog in the Arsenal midfield engine. This brilliant article from Arsenal Vision‘s Hahostolze shares that sentiment.
Arteta will play alongside his fellow matador, Santi Cazorla, who currently holds the record for the most chances created from open play (21) as well as the most goals scored from outside the box (9) in Europe’s top five leagues. Cazorla has been a revelation at Arsenal and I expect him to be more than a handful for Norwich.
The final midfield position up for grabs is the box-to-box role, and I expect Aaron Ramsey to fill in that role, as Abou Diaby still remains in the sidelines. However, Jack Wilshere has been included in the squad to play Norwich, and the box-to-box role suits him perfectly, as his bursting runs, link-up play, grit and determination won him the PFA Young Player of the Year award for 2011.
England’s Under-21 gaffer, Stuart Pearce, has already stated his intentions to possibly take Wilshere to next summer’s Under-21 European Championships in Israel but Arsene Wenger wants his star to concentrate on club football. While he was out for the best part of 14 months, Arsenal paid his bills and fought really hard to bring him back to optimal fitness, despite his setbacks and niggling injuries.
Now Stuart Pearce comes out of the blue and wants to select him, a full England international, to play for the Under-21s.
Finally, I expect Olivier Giroud to spearhead Arsenal’s attack with Lukas Podolski and Gervinho providing support through the flanks. After going on a worrying goal drought that lasted all eternity, Giroud has scored two goals in his last two games, and he has been backed up by Mikel Arteta, as well as his boss, to hit the ground running.
Giroud has stated that he hopes to emulate Dennis Bergkamp, but the last player that said that has a little boy inside him that screamed, glory glory Manchester United. Even if this is a bit stale, I’ll urge you guys to read this open letter to van Persie by a Nigerian writer called Master Mind.
I’m tipping Giroud for great things at Arsenal, but I must pay my respects to Podolski and Gervinho for their output to the team this season. Like all German Machines, Podolski has been very efficient for Arsenal and he has scored four goals from nine attempted shots this season. He was more or less a peripheral figure against West Ham, but he popped with an inch-perfect assist for Giroud’s goal.
Gervinho on the other hand, has surprised everyone, and he’s currently leading Arsenal’s scoring charts with five goals.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
Prediction: Norwich 1 Arsenal 3