Norwich City v Arsenal - Match Preview

The early kick off in the Barclays Premier League this weekend sees Paul Lambert's newly promoted Norwich City take on Arsenal at Carrow Road.

The early kick off in the Barclays Premier League this weekend sees Paul Lambert's newly promoted Norwich City take on Arsenal at Carrow Road. But whilst this game may once upon a time have seemed like a foregone conclusion, 2011/12 has already thrown up several curveballs, and only a fool would rule out the chance of an upset at this stage. The last time these two met at Carrow Road, Arsenal were looking to extend their 42 match unbeaten streak in the Premier League to 43. They did so in style as Reyes, Henry, Pires and Bergkamp fired the Gunners to a 4-1 win, they ended up scoring 87 goals that season as their fast paced attacking mentality won them a lot of admirers. Fast forward 7 years however and one could be forgiven for thinking that the tables have turned slightly, the Norfolk outfit have settled into life in the Barclays Premier League well, their spirited performances against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United have forced fans to sit up and take notice of their forward thinking style of play, and in Paul Lambert they have one of the most revered young managers in English football. There's very little margin for error for an Arsenal team that not long ago were sitting in the relegation zone; but Lambert's team will not want to read too much into their early season form, whilst they sit pretty in 9th position on face value, the reality is that they are still only 4 points above the drop zone. So what do we have to expect from tomorrow's encounter? The facts are these, Norwich are yet to keep a clean sheet in their first season back in the Premier League since they were relegated on the final day in 2004/2005 with a 6-0 defeat to Fulham, and whilst their attacking play has attracted admiration from alot of neutrals, their defensive displays at times have been far from impressive. Having shipped 6 goals in their last 2 fixtures, it won't inspire Canaries fans for me to remind them that they have conceded in all twelve games that they've competed in in the league and cups this season, including a 4-0 home loss to League One's MK Dons. So in Robin Van Persie, they find themselves up against a player who they could do without having to worry about. The flying dutchman is in the form of his life, 11 goals in 11 league games, including 8 in his last 4, and 29 goals in 28 league games in 2011 has meant that if RVP hits the back of the net tomorrow, he will become only the 5th player in Premier League history to score 30 league goals in a calendar year, some motivation I think you'll agree. However, there's no I in team, and if Norwich can shut out the undoubted offensive threat that Arsenal pose, this game is theirs for the taking. Were the league being judged on away form, Arsenal would be sitting in 16th, having collected just 4 points from a possible 15 on the road this season, conceding a league high of 18 goals in the process, whilst the Canaries have only been toppled from their perch once in 5 league games on home soil this season. The key for the Norwich will be set pieces and wing play, they have scored the joint-most headed goals (6) in the league this season, and it is no secret that if Arsenal has one weakness that stands head and shoulders (pardon the pun) above the rest, it is their inability to defend from set piece and crossing situations. The Gunners conceded 23 goals from set pieces last season, meaning that with a percentage of 53.5%, they conceded the highest proportion of the goals from set-pieces last season in the Premier League.

Team News:

Norwich City: Paul Lambert hasn't any new injury worries for tomorrows game, tactically, he will need to decide whether or not he stays with the 4-4-2 that he deployed at the 3-2 loss to Aston Villa, or whether he reverts back to the 4-5-1 that has served his side so well in the opening games of this season. Zak Whitbread, Daniel Ayala and Elliott Ward are all close to return, but are not expected to be selected for tomorrows game, whilst defender Russell Martin has recovered from an ankle injury that forced him to pull out of Scotland's game with Cyprus in the international break. Former Arsenal trainee Bradley Johnson is also in contention for selection after suffering concussion in that 3-2 defeat to Villa. Arsenal: Wenger's men kept their first clean sheet in 5 league games last time out against West Bromwich Albion, and could remain unchanged, with Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen pairing up at centre back. Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are all sidelined, so Johan Djourou should slot in at right back. Failing this, summer's recruit from Werder Bremen, Per Mertesacker could partner Vermaelen a in the centre, as Laurent Koscielny moves across to full back. Jack Wilshere is off crutches whilst he continues his recovery, and Abou Diaby is nearing a return to fitness- but neither are in the squad for this weekends game. Marouane Chamakh will be looking to make an impact from the bench if needed.

Prediction:

There are going to be goals in this game, so if you fancy a flutter on over 2.5 goals, this is the game to do it in. Neither side has played out a scoreless draw in 2011/12 and Norwich have competed in 29 league matches since their last stalemate. For my money the key will be the wings, Andre Santos and Johan Djourou both look very suspect at full back, and with the height and power of Grant Holt to name but one player to aim at in the centre, Norwich will go into this game confident that they can snatch a victory. The pace of Walcott and Gervinho will be key for Arsenal, as will the continued development of Aaron Ramsey in the centre of the park. I personally expect the Gunners to shoot down any chance of an upset however, if RVP is firing, then the team will be as well, infact Arsenal are unbeaten in all 24 Premier League games in which he has opened the scoring. Norwich 1- 3 Arsenal
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