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Arsenal v Norwich; Premier League Match Preview

It’s really down to the next 3 matches. Norwich, Everton and Fulham. A maximum of 9 points on the table. All 9 points can be had before Tottenham or Chelsea even play their next match. Byt the time its all said and done should Arsenal do the business they could be in the driver’s seat for a top 4 spot. And it all starts with Norwich City.

It’s really down to the next 3 matches. Norwich, Everton and Fulham. A maximum of 9 points on the table. All 9 points can be had before Tottenham or Chelsea even play their next match. By the time its all said and done should Arsenal do the business they could be in the driver’s seat for a top 4 spot. And it all starts with Norwich City.

In the reverse fixture at Carrow Road, Norwich walked away with a 1-0 win courtesy of taking advantage of their chance and defending resolutely. They got in the faces of Arsenal and cut of time and space to slow down and disrupt their high passing and possession game. It was the start of a 10 game unbeaten run that looked to put Norwich in the stratosphere. But it’s best to say that their season has been one of extreme opposites.

Coming into 2013 Norwich only have 1 win in 15 matches. They aren’t very prolific and barely manage a goal per game on the road. When they play on the road they go into a shell and play tenative football. Arsenal’s reformed defense if it holds form could prevent Norwich from having any decent chances on goal. When that has happened this season to Norwich they suffer – shipping in 5 at Anfield, and 4 apiece versus Manchester United and Chelsea.

The key will be what will Arsenal do.

Arsenal face a late fitness test for Thomas Rosicky who has been at the fulcrum of the renewed Arsenal form. Much like last season his desire to get forward and with drive has made Arsenal resurgent in recent weeks. With Rosicky in the squad Arsenal are moving forward with design and purpose. No longer are there long spells of side to side and backwards passing. Tiki-taka is coming back to Arsenal and one of the main reasons has to be the Czech.

Tim Stillman recently opined that it’s not even his desire to go forward with the ball that is noticeable – what has made Rosicky so essential for Arsenal is his experience. Moreso than Jack Wilshere or any of the younger midfielders he knows when to get rid of the ball to the outlet rather than try and do it himself.  Additionally, he and Cazorla have built an understand that reminds me of how well Rosicky and Cesc used to play together. Whether or not he will play will have a profound affect on our set up.

If out, I think it’s likely we’ll see Cazorla take that role. While people will want to see Jack Wilshere immediately back in, I think it’s unlikely.  He’s just returned. They were going to rest him anyway and they won’t want to risk him so fast. So that means Cazorla in central but the question then becomes who goes left and right.

Without a doubt Gervinnho stays in. You ride the hot hand you’ve got. The Ivorian has been stellar these last few games. There are still signs of old Gervinho but he has shown and improved willingness to attack the box and presents Arsenal with another direct attacking option. The question then becomes where does Gervinho play and if he plays on the right does that mean Podolski starts on the left?

Podolski is in want of games. Depending on who you chat with or believe he has been kept out over a lingering ankle injury or because his work rate hasn’t really impressed in training. Either way, the game presents him with the perfect opportunity to get back in to the squad and show his quality. I’ve always liked Podolski and I view him as one of more clinical finishers but his work rate and defensive ability leave you the occassional bad taste in your mouth. In any case, a game against Norwich might be the perfect panacea for him.

The biggest question mark for this match is how does the defense react without it’s best organizer? Per Mertesacker will serve a one game ban for his challenge in the West Brom match. That means Thomas Vermaelen comes right back in to CB. This worries me. Vermaelen has not done well under the weight of expectations of being the Captain and while he certainly has the mentality to move on and succeed. His errors have been some of the biggest for Arsenal this season. His style is more physical and reactionary. He doesn’t read play as well as Mertesacker or Koscielny and sometimes it’s to his detriment.

I’m of the mind of you don’t change things if they aren’t broken and the pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny aren’t broken. Mertesacker got beat and made the one decision he thought was right. Probably in the hopes he’d get the ball but he didn’t.  Even if Vermaelen has a stellar game, I’m wary to change something that has worked as well as Koscielny and Vermaelen.

How the match might play out:

Norwich will set up with 10 men behind the ball looking to get an outlet over the top to their striker.  They will strive to compact and congest Arsenal’s passing channels and look to get into the face of players on the ball in order to disrupt passing rythyms. In each of the matches Chris Houghton has managed against Arsenal – at Norwich and Newcastle it’s how he has set up to beat the Gunners. The changes in Arsenal’s squad do raise some question marks. Specifically, will they be able to keep the mojo they’ve had since Bayern.  Arsenal haven’t been that stellar at home defensive wise. And there have been 52 goals scored at the Emirates. More than any other stadium in the Premier League. While Arsenal are scoring at a rate of 2 goals per game at the Emirates they are also letting in an average of 1.3 per game. The changes in defense need to be the focus and Arsenal need to quickly get on the front foot of the match and get Norwich to play the match and not sit back. Arsenal have shown more improved and slick passing, reminiscent of their former silky selves. That and their newfound resoluteness in the end should be enough to see off the visitors.

Players to Watch:

Arsenal. Gervinho. This new found confidence is making him  like the player we had hoped we got when he signed from Lille two summers ago. He is a confidence player and if he continues in this vane he will only soar higher and higher.

Norwich. Lee Camp. It looks like Norwich’s 3rd string Goal Keeper will deputize as both Ruddy and Bunn look to be out for this tie. Oh boy.

Projected Lineups:

AFCvNorwich04132013

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal:  Diaby (knee), Rosicky (late test) Mertesacker (suspended -1)

Norwich: Ruddy (thigh), Surman (knee), Bunn (groin)

Leading Scorers:
Arsenal: Cazorla 12

Norwich: Snodgrass, 5, Holt 5

Assists Leaders:
Arsenal: Podolski 9, Walcott 9

Norwich: Snodgrass 4

Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal: 0

Norwich: 1

Goals For:
Arsenal (home): 2.6

Norwich (away): 0.8

Goals Against:
Arsenal (home): 1.3

Norwich (away): 2

Last Five:
Arsenal: WWWLW

Norwich: DLDDL

Goal Difference:
Arsenal: 27

Norwich: -19

Match Official:
Referee: Mike Jones. Matches: 19. R2 Y64. 4Pk

Broadcast Information:
US: Fox Soccer Channel: 10:00AM

UK: Highlights on MOTD 1 BBC

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 3

Norwich: 1

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