As the end of the international break looms, Arsenal fans all over the world simply can’t wait to see the Gunners back in action. This international break was unfortunately timed, as it interrupted a purple patch of form for Arsene Wenger’s men, who had won 9 of their last eleven matches in all competition. As it stands, they sit on top of their group in the Champions League, are placed 7th in the Premier League and have been drawn against Manchester City in the Carling Cup quarter final. As the Saturday fixture against Norwich draws nearer, it becomes more and more obvious that it is imperative that the Gunners shoot down Norwich at Carrow Road.
Make no mistake, this is a game that Arsenal should be winning, and comfortably. But how often in the last few years have we seen Arsenal get complacent when facing these fixtures? Despite their good form, it is crucial that Arsenal remain grounded. They must remember that in terms of skill, they are not the same team they were last season, or in previous seasons. A loss here would go some way to undoing the progress made by Wenger’s men. Arsenal have often had trouble against lesser sides in recent years, and Wenger will be hoping for a repeat of the calm, composed performance his men delivered against West Bromwich Albion in their last fixture, a 3-0 win at the Emirates. This match was won professionally and efficiently, and Arsenal showed a maturity that perhaps has been missing previously. They didn’t take Albion lightly, and were fully focused on getting the three points. The same thing is required against Norwich. This is the first of several consecutive games which are very winnable for Arsenal, and to prove they are on the way to putting their horror start behind them, they must collect three points. Nothing less will do.
Line up wise, Arsene Wenger has a big decision to make; who will partner Thomas Vermaelen at the heart of the defence? The candidates are Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Vermaelen is the best defender at Arsenal, and therefore must play in his favoured position, and I think he will be joined by the big friendly German, Per Mertesacker. It is safe to say we will see a bit of experimentation from Wenger to determine who makes the best partner for Vermaelen. Mertesacker has performed reasonably well so far, but he is still adapting to English football. This would be a good game for him to gain confidence, and he is a very experienced international, as is Vermaelen. Koscielny would consider himself pretty unlucky to be dropped, however it is a long season, and rotation is key to avoid injury and fatigue. Vermaelen and Mertesacker were very solid against Marseille, and they seem to possess traits that complement each other nicely. Mertesacker reads the game very well, and he times his tackles and interceptions almost flawlessly. He is calm, relaxed and composed. Vermaelen has pace, fire and aggression. He loves to get in the face of opposition strikers, is dominant in the air and gets forward nicely. The performance of these two players is crucial to provide a solid platform for Arsenal to build upon. A team can only dominate a game if they are solid at the back, and for me, these two are extremely capable of doing that job. I also think that playing Per Mertesacker in close proximity to promising right back Carl Jenkinson will help the young man develop his skills and understanding of the game.
Arsenal should win this game. Arsene Wenger’s side may not be as technically gifted or as dynamic as his previous sides, but they are united, focused, professional and work as a team. No disrespect for Norwich, they are flying high in 9th place at the moment, but they are a newly promoted team and do not have the class of Arsenal. Provided the offensive players continue to improve and support Dutch superstar Robin van Persie, Arsenal should have too much class, solidity and discipline for the Canaries.
Predicted scoreline: 2-0 (Goals to RVP and Walcott)
Predicted starting line up (barring any injuries): Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Ramsey, Arteta, Song, Gervinho, RVP, Walcott
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