I had typed out a nice little preview for Norwich City vs. Arsenal, only—for some unforeseen act of God (and an involuntary tap on the “back” button)—to see it snatched away. So here I go again, using trusty old Microsoft Word.
It is natural and normal for every fan of club football to truly abhor the periodic international breaks that are thrust upon us. They break a team’s momentum, take players away and send them back maimed and crippled, disrupt the fans’ normal routines, leave our weekends wide open with nothing to do and put a complete damper on all forms of conversation on Fridays and Mondays (and Tuesdays, for those of us who have a lot to say).
And as a diehard fan of a club who had six wins and a draw in the seven games heading into the aforementioned international break, I can quite justifiably be miffed at this latest diversion for all of those reasons—and more.
But I’m not. Given that the last two international windows came as divine intervention after 2-8 at Old Trafford and 1-2 at White Hart Lane, I’ll allow FIFA this one in return, and let them continue unhindered with their splendid initiatives to counter racism.
And while we’re on the subject of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, you ARE a complete moron!!
Anyway, apologies for that brief distraction, but the truth must be told, mustn’t it?
Back to the business on hand, now. Arsenal travel to Carrow Road in East Anglia to face newly-promoted Norwich City. The Canaries have enjoyed a somewhat patchy return to the top flight, with three wins, four draws and four losses in their 11 games thus far, but still find themselves at ninth place in the league table—just two spots and six points below the resurgent Gunners.
In the Scotsman Paul Lambert, Norwich have an astute tactician who has moulded his team into a well-organized and highly-spirited bunch.
Results may not have gone their way this season, but this is a team that has drawn at Anfield and has been on level terms with the resident opposition at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge after 68 and 82 minutes, respectively.
This is also a team that recently scored twice in the last nine minutes against Blackburn to force a 3-3 draw.
No pushovers, by any stretch of the imagination.
Arsenal, as briefly alluded to earlier, are on a sequence of impressive results. Nine wins in the last eleven games is great going by any standards, and as Arsene Wenger’s deadline-day signings continue to settle in, the team will get stronger, both defensively and as an attacking unit.
Having summarily dispatched Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge (remember, the game when John Terry fell flat on his face?), Arsenal find themselves in the midst of a spell of somewhat easier games. They started well, overwhelming West Brom 3-0 at the Emirates.
As they head to East Anglia, the Gunners need to come together, produce yet another strong performance and take care of business.
Will they have what it takes? Read on for my prediction of the result and much much more.
Let's start with the one I hope I get wrong.
108 goals for Arsenal, 13 goals already this season, 34 goals in 38 appearances in 2011, Premier League player of the month for October. And you say he won't score against newcomers Norwich? Are you crazy??
As I said, I hope and pray that I'm way off the mark with my opening prediction, but I have a feeling that despite the unexpected extra rest during this international break, our captain and talisman will come away from Carrow Road without scoring. Norwich boss Paul Lambert is tactically astute, and he will have drilled his defense rigorously over the past two weeks on how to deal with the Dutchman's goal threat.
RvP will certainly be in the thick of things, and may even set up some of his teammates, but he will draw a goal-scoring blank.
Egg on my face, please, Robin.
For all the hullabaloo over Arsenal's defensive frailties this season, only two teams (Manchester United and Swansea) have kept more clean sheets (five) in the Premier League. Arsenal and six other teams, including Liverpool and Manchester City, have four apiece.
Admittedly, we have conceded 21 goals already, but if you exclude the away fixtures against United and Blackburn (where we were at a desperate defensive nadir), we've only conceded nine in nine games—which doesn't sound bad at all.
Our central defense has stabilized in recent weeks, with everyone now fit. The return of the Verminator, Thomas Vermaelen, has been a massive boost, and clean sheets (plus an all-round air of defensive calm) in our past two games indicate his influence on proceedings at Arsenal's defensive end.
On the flanks, Andre Santos has been a bit iffy, but Carl Jenkinson continues to impress. More on them later.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny continues to enjoy a solid season. Although there don't yet seem to be signs that he has ironed out his one major weakness, his commanding presence in the box—and that of Vermaelen—will nullify Norwich's aerial threat.
All said and done, I hereby predict that the scoreline at the end of the game will read 0-something.
Based on what little I’ve seen of Norwich this season, I can envision this game being played at a frantic pace. Arsenal will stay true to their attacking principles, and even though Paul Lambert will instruct his players to maintain a solid defensive shape, the Canaries will bomb forward on the counter.
Given that both defenses are prone to the occasional act of recklessness, someone is going to tumble over in the box. Going by the law of averages, Arsenal are due a penalty, having earned (and missed) just one this season. It will come after RvP has been subbed off, so Mikel Arteta will step up and hammer home.
I’m getting carried away by this prediction stuff, aren’t I?
At the outset, this sounded like a fun, somewhat provocative and thoroughly unsubstantiated prediction to make.
But then when I looked into it, it actually seemed to make sense.
I have mentioned already that the game will be played at a great pace. Arsenal and Norwich already have five red cards between them this season. Neither side is averse to the occasional rush of blood.
Phil Dowd, the referee, has dished out 36 yellows (the second highest number this season) and one red card in just eight league games this season. Last season, he led all comers with 111 yellow cards in 30 games.
That’s decided, then—someone is heading for an early shower.
Which Andre Santos will we see against Norwich?
If there’s one worry I have with regard to Arsenal’s defensive game, it is with the left-back position. Kieran Gibbs is by no means the finished article. And anyway, he’s too physically fragile at the moment to be a regular incumbent.
From what I’ve seen of Andre Santos, he’s a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde player. Defensively, he is often caught out of position, is easily nutmegged and regularly asks his midfielders to do the tracking back.
That’s the normal Santos.
But then he goes and plays a blinder of a second half against Chelsea, where he barely puts a foot wrong.
Offensively, well, he’s Brazilian. What did you expect? Two goals already for Arsenal this season, as many as Gael Clichy managed in 264 appearances in red and white. I’ve read a number of views suggesting that Santos should be moved into midfield, but I disagree.
He should just be trained to defend better!
Speaking of the Norwich game, he will be up against Kyle Naughton, still on the books at Tottenham Hotspur. Naughton has a great engine, fantastic speed, is good on the ball and has been one of the Canaries’ standout players this season. Being from Spurs, he will be keen to do maximum damage to Arsenal, and Santos will have his work cut out.
I fear, though, that he will not be up to the task, and it will be up to Gervinho and Vermaelen to keep bailing him out.
Having been the voice of doom and gloom on the subject of Arsenal’s left-back position, I predict the exact opposite outcome for the other full-back.
Carl Jenkinson was playing for an unheard-of club a year ago. Arsenal signed him, he says, because they were impressed with his “athleticism." And in the short while he’s been at the club, he has shown much to cheer about.
Thrown in at the deep end and occasionally played out of position at left-back, Jenkinson’s appetite for hard work has always shone through. His crossing is now widely acknowledged as the best by an Arsenal full-back in years.
As he gains more experience at this level, his defensive nous will only improve. And the fact that Wenger has chosen to stick with him rather than go for Johan Djourou or Laurent Koscielny at right-back has given the young defender a massive boost.
Norwich City will pose a challenge to Jenkinson, especially in the form of Anthony Pilkington, who is enjoying a good season thus far. However, I believe that Arsenal’s right-back will pass the test with flying colors at both ends of the pitch, and produce his best performance yet in red and white.
Good luck, Carl.
I must admit that I watched England vs. Sweden on television, not due to any great interest in the game or the result, but more to keep a vigil on Theo Walcott.
He’s been crocked before while playing for his country, and given that he’s been enjoying a good start to the season, I was dreading that the injury curse would strike him once again. Fortunately, he came through the game as right as rain.
As an added bonus, I think he played particularly well.
He made several good touches, was a constant threat down the right-hand side, drew a number of fouls from opposing defenders, delivered a few good crosses, tracked back to defend and most importantly, rarely gave the ball away cheaply.
And he did all this while playing alongside Bobby Zamora!
Walcott has matured this season. And the most important dimension of this maturity has been a significant reduction in the number of errors he makes. He has been infuriatingly inconsistent in the past, following up a slaloming run past four defenders at high speed with a shocking cross into Row Z when completely unchallenged.
The frequency of the latter, though not eliminated, has been much less this season, and this improvement leads me to believe that Theo Walcott is the real deal.
Norwich will be no pushovers, but Walcott will be a real thorn in their side. I see him scoring or assisting at least a couple of goals this Saturday.
From the moment he broke into the Arsenal first team, Alex Song has been one of my favorites. In a team littered with attacking talent, he has had to perform the role of the destroyer. As a result, he has often faced some highly unwarranted criticism, even from Arsenal fans.
Song has never sought the headlines.
He has, unfortunately, never been granted them either.
But over the past few years, there have been numerous match-winning performances. Key passes (such as the one to Santos at Stamford Bridge), last-ditch tackles (at Dortmund, for example), goals (like the one at Eastlands last season) and body-on-the-line blocks are part of a normal day’s work for the Cameroonian.
But surrounded, as he has been, by the flair of Fabregas, Arshavin, van Persie, Wilshere, Nasri, Ramsey, Walcott, Gervinho and others over the years, his efforts have largely gone unnoticed.
This season, Song has continued his steady improvement and now looks well-settled in the company of his new midfield partner, Mikel Arteta. Arteta’s experience has enabled him to quickly adjust to a more defensive role than he had at Everton, and this has allowed Song to display that his game is not only about tackling.
There are signs that he can be a genuine box-to-box midfielder, and while I’m not exactly heralding the arrival of the new Patrick Vieira, I’m saying that Song has the makings of an Arsenal legend.
He will dominate against Norwich this Saturday, and play his part at both ends of the pitch. And don’t be surprised if you see his name on the score sheet too.
For a team that normally tops the Premier League possession stats and is the only team in Europe to come anywhere near the pass-masters at Barcelona, this season has been a major disappointment.
Arsenal lie fifth in the latest Premier League possession table, with an overall possession percentage of 55.2.
This is a function of two or three factors. Firstly, the new players signed in the summer transfer window were acquired very late in the day. They have only just started to truly gel with the team.
Secondly, Arsenal have somewhat abandoned their all-out attacking focus, and are paying more attention to defensive solidity.
Finally, Arsenal were quite woeful in their first four or five league games, something that can clearly be seen in their 39 percent possession stat at Old Trafford in August. Unthinkable, by Arsenal standards.
However, the team is finally hitting the straps, enjoying a season-high 65 percent possession against West Brom in their last league game. And against Norwich, who prop up the possession table at 43.5 percent, the Gunners will play keep-ball for extended periods.
May that translate into a bucketful of goals.
I'll end with a complex algebraic equation:
Clean sheet + Penalty + Jenkinson + Walcott + Song + Possession - RvP - Santos = big win for the mighty reds.
It's actually quite simple, isn't it?
Come on, you Gunners!!