30 April 2016

Jack-Jack on the Attack: Can Wilshere save the day?

This is it. This is the one we've had circled since the fixtures werepk first released, the one on which we have pinned all of our hopes and dreams. It would be a clash between two—oh, sorry. Those are my notes on next week's match, the one at the Etihad. This one may lack the marquee billing, but it more than makes up for that in significance. While there was once a time when we could look past Norwich's visit, but we have to seize all three or see an already lack-lustre season slip away all the more.

I won't even get into the ramifications of the following, but we're level on points with Man City who sport a far-superior goal-difference. City are aiming at a Champions League title, going into their second-leg semifinal at a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid. Liverpool, seventh in the Prem, lost their first-leg 1-0 to Villareal but still have a legitimate shot at winning the Europa League. Elsewhere, Man U, fifth in the Prem but with a game in hand, will play Crystal Palace for a chance at winning the FA Cup. In short, a fourth-place finish no longer feels like it will earn Champions League qualification.

Turning our attention to the one match we can in theory control, Norwich find themselves in a tight, three-way relegation scrap. They're level on points with Sunderland but trail on goal-difference. Resurgent-ish Newcastle are but a point behind. We did ourselves no favours by drawing with Sunderland last week; a win there might only inspire the Canaries to think they can do the same or better in order to climb out of the cellar. Then again, this is a squad that has one just three times away from Carrow Road (although one of those was at Old Trafford, for what that's worth). Then again, they've only conceded four goals in their last four away-matches.

If our own form had been just a click or two better than "tepid", none of Norwich's issues would matter—not one whit. As it stands, though, after draws against Sunderland and Crystal Palace, we've looked more like we're the ones struggling to stave off relegation rather than earn a Champions League spot. The one bright spot from last weekend was the resurrection of Jack Wilshere, who in ten minutes played with more piss and vinegar than most anyone else in the squad had shown all day. In addition, he has some fresh legs, a much-needed attribute when we consider how jaded and dejected so many have seen of late (be they Gunners or Gooners).

After all, one of the highlights of Wilshere's career has got to be his pornogol against Norwich in 2013, the one that involved no fewer than eight touches among himself, Cazorla and Giroud in a matter of seconds before he was through on goal. I'm not saying he'll reprise that one, but I will suggest that he'll provide a crucial spark in this and in our remaining matches.

LAST 3
Norwich 1-1 Arsenal (29.11.2015)
Norwich 0-2 Arsenal (11.05.2014)
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich (19.20.2013)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have scored 14 goals in Norwich's last four visits but haven't kept a clean-sheet in any.
Norwich have scored just once in their last six away matches.
The two clubs first clahsed on 23 September 1972, a 3-2 win to Norwich.

INJURIES
Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain are doubtful. That is all.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Coquelin, Wilshere; Alexis, Özil, Iwobi; Welbeck.

Arsenal's sense of urgency simply must overwhelm Norwich's grim sense of determination.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 3-1 Norwich.