Norwich Preview: Probable Starting XI, Formation And Tactics
Arsenal hardly need reminding that 3 points is the only satisfactory result today as we host Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium in the early afternoon game; the only one in the Premier League today with the FA Cup final to follow later. While victory would be a fitting present for Arsene Wenger’s 900th game in charge, the primary stimulus of course has to be to stay ahead in the race for third.
Despite taking only two points from a possible nine in our last three games, the determined performance at Stoke and some of the combination play at the Britannia fosters belief that we are regaining our fluidity after the Wigan shock.
Norwich in the meantime have been incontrovertibly sliding down the table since the 3-2 win over Swansea in mid-Feb. They sit 14th on the table and are assured Premier League football next season, but the gap between 10th and 14th is only 3 points so there’s enough motivation for the visitors to put in a decent showing themselves as they aim for a top half finish.
For the Gunners, Abou Diaby’s 666th injury sees the Frenchman sidelined once again while Theo Walcott is not ready for this fixture. It’s the same side except Ju Young Park comes in for Diaby although Arsene did say on Thursday that Johan Djourou may be included in the squad too.
Paul Lambert’s side are depleted in defense and will be without Adam Drury and Zak Whitbread for this game, while Daniel Ayala and Marc Tierney are out for the season.
Probable line-ups are on the right.
In a must-win game against a team that tries to play football and are presently not defending very well, Arsene Wenger will be tempted to start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Gervinho’s pace and trickery on the right combined with the Ox’s energy and directness on the left can heap early pressure on the Canaries’ back line.
We also have to bear in mind that the visitors’ first-choice right-back Kyle Naughton is likely to start at left-back and Russell Martin will take his place on the right. This should allow both Arsenal’s wingers to get some joy down the flanks.
On the other hand, AW might want to control the game a bit more and Benayoun is in good form so I would not be too unhappy if the Israeli started on the left.
Paul Lambert has constantly tinkered with team shape and personnel this season so it’s difficult to predict what their formation will be. The Canaries are unlikely to just sit and defend, so a 4-4-2 similar to the one which saw them beat Tottenham is the most likely option. Norwich’s success this season is not based so much on tactical enterprise but on a hardworking team ethic and the goal-scoring contributions of Grant Holt, Anthony Pilkington and Steve Morison.
Indeed, outside of the top 6 in the league table, Norwich have scored the next joint-highest number of goals (47) along with Everton and Blackburn. At the other end, only the three teams currently in relegation territory have conceded more goals than the 63 conceded by Norwich and QPR (who are 16th, by the way).
The Canaries have been poor of late, defensive frailty has seen them ship 11 goals in their last three games. In the reverse fixture in November, Robin van Persie’s brace was enough to overcome an early goal by Morison, itself a result of some shoddy defending by Per Mertesacker. The Dutchman’s winning effort was a delightful right-footed dink over the on-rushing Ruddy – one of many memorable goals de kapitein has scored this season.
I think this game will be just what the doctor ordered for the Gunners, heading into the crucial finale at West Brom. In our last three outings against Wigan, Chelsea and Stoke, we’ve found it difficult to create with the other team defending with 10 men behind the ball for large parts of the game. The availability of open spaces today will be welcomed by Arsenal’s attacking players.
Ramsey will continue to play in the deeper role next to Alex Song but if Arsenal find their rhythm and dominate early exchanges, then the Welshman and Rosicky may keep switching roles during the game. I reckon Gervinho will be really important to Arsenal’s attacking play. The Ivorian is showing signs of regaining his early season form, even though his decision-making is iffy and the final ball remains elusive. It’s a matter of time until that’s put right and I wouldn’t be surprised if that time is this afternoon.
Unlike the game at QPR, complacency should not be an issue in this match. If anything, the players may be too eager to get that vital first goal which would help settle nerves. If it doesn’t materialize, Arsenal need to be patient and ensure we don’t leave the back door ajar in search of an opener – like we did against Wigan. Needless to say, conceding first would make the job much harder and bolster Norwich’s confidence of taking something from the game. We need a bit of concentration and discipline from the likes of Vermaelen and Song not to go rampaging forward too early in the game.
If we maintain focus at the back and blunt Norwich’s threat going forward, we have enough attacking potency to create chances and win the game comfortably. The biggest obstacle will be the impressive form of Norwich shot-stopper John Ruddy, but I still think we’ll manage to find the net a few times.
Without sounding complacent or over-confident, my prediction is a 4-1 Arsenal victory. The Canaries may sneak one in somehow, but we will make them pay for their sense of adventure.
Back tomorrow. Enjoy the game.