28 November 2015

Norwich vs. Arsenal: can the Gunners unlock the Canaries' defense?

A dominant performance against Dinamo Zagreb should send Arsenal into Carrow Road full of confidence and purpose, determined to bury memories of our last match away from the Emirates. However, Norwich, despite their precarious perch just above relegation, have shown grit in recent weeks, losing narrowly to Chelsea and Man City, the latter needing a last-minute penalty to overcome Alex Neil's boys. Worse, it seems as if Neil has a plan for facing the league's big boys...

Speaking ahead of the match, Neil pointed out that "Teams have got themselves into a method of counter-attacking on a regular basis...[s]o that is something new for us, coming up against sort of the bigger teams, with them being happy to surrender the ball and it how you make best use of that." In other words, the plan that had worked so well for us against Dinamo Zagreb--hitting hard on counter-attacks--is one that Neil's squad will be ready for. While the Canaries may lack the defensive stolidity of Pulis's West Brom, they have improved. conceding just six goals in their last five matches after getting thrashed by Newcastle. We'll likely see a 4-4-1-1, with Ryan Bennett and Sebastian Bassong anchoring a defense that will concede space on the wings but allow little to nothing in the box.

The good news there is that this does play to one of our strengths as Alexis and Özil both enjoy and flourish on the left side, and Campbell and Bellerín pose a significant threat on the right. There may be little point in sending in crosses because Giroud will likely be too busy grappling with Bassong to latch onto anything, but those four should find plenty of time and space to carve out chances. Campbell and Alexis in particular, with their propensity to cut towards the centre, should find chances to get take shots. I know that my previous prediction (that Campbell would light up the Baggies) fell flat, but I'm sticking to it again for this one. He showed some spark against Dinamo Zagreb, assisting Alexis for the third goal but also showing signs of growing confidence and understanding of his role. Campbell should build on that performance, finding another assist if not his second Arsenal goal.

We're going into a stretch of eminently winnable matches and will have take maximum points from them as we build up towards facing Manchester City on 11 December. We certainly can't afford to look past Norwich, though.

LAST 3
Norwich 0-2 Arsenal (11.05.2014)
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich (19.10.2013)
Arsenal 3-1 Norwich (13.04.2013)

FACTFILE
Arsenal lost its first-ever match against Norwich  on 23 September 1972.
Norwich have won just once in 25 previous matches against Arsenal.
Arsenal have scored at least two goals in seven of our last eight matches against Norwich.

INJURIES
Coquelin, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, and Rosický will all miss out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Cazorla, Flamini; Alexis, Özil, Campbell; Giroud

Norwich may bring confidence in after holding their own so well against Chelsea last week, but they'll be hard-pressed to hold us off in similar fashion.

PREDICTION
Norwich 0-2 Arsenal