Arsenal vs Norwich: Praise to a team who have stood by their identity
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
Usually, it is so easy for Arsenal fans to detest teams at the bottom of the Premier League. It is so easy to detest their playing style. It is so easy to predict how they’ll set up against the Gunners in an away match. Sit in a low compact block and defend, defend, defend. The usual culprits who spring to mind? Perhaps Watford? Crystal Palace? Newcastle? But not Norwich.
Norwich, who’s Premier League status is growing nearer to disappearance by the day, deserve praise for what they have achieved this season. They have not conformed to the norm and have stuck by the playing style which delivered such a wonderful return for them last season in the Championship. They are an extremely rare commodity in the Premier League.
The Canaries have stuck by their belief in playing free flowing attacking, expansive football. There has not been a single game this season which I can recall Daniel Farke setting up his team to grind out a draw or to seize a smash and grab win. In foreign leagues this is common. As many of us saw in the Bundesliga last month, there are very few defensively oriented teams whilst in Spain almost every team tries to stick by a passing philosophy. The same cannot be said for the Premier League’s lesser clubs. Almost every team outside the ‘big six’ sets up in a defensive manner when confronted by a top opponent.
From day one in the Premier League Norwich have refused to follow suit. A trip to Anfield on the opening day was a daunting one for the Canaries but they did not compromise their beliefs. Yes, they lost 4-1, but I would have been proud if I was a Norwich fan that day. The manner in which they insisted on building from the back against Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressing machine was both crazy and commendable.
Nonetheless, this insistence which Daniel Farke is so adamant to stand by is something which Mikel Arteta must expose tomorrow night. He must ensure that his players know that there will be stray passes to pick up when Norwich build up play from deep. His players must also be clinical when they are handed these gifts by Norwich. Arteta should also ensure his players counter attack effectively when Norwich commit too many players forward. Making errors, and teams capitalising upon them, is something which Norwich have been especially susceptible to this season.
That being said, Arsenal fans should not bank upon this encounter being one which will be stress free. Norwich’s young full-backs, Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, pose a constant attacking threat with their pace. Up top, Teemu Pukki hasn’t looked particularly sharp since the restart but his goal-scoring threat is considerable and on the left flank Todd Cantwell’s goal-scoring prowess has been clear for all to see since Norwich’s promotion. All the while, our chief editor’s favourite non-Arsenal player Emi Buendia’s creative threat is one which is underestimated by most Premier League fans.
If Arsenal are to win this game, they’ll have to nullify Norwich’s attacking outlets listed above and capitalise on their clear weaknesses. If the Gunners are at the top of their game on their return to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow, this one really should be a walk in the park. Arsenal have won 2 in 2, Aubameyang is well rested and Norwich sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier League without a win since the restart. Yes, Norwich are desperate, so an inspired performance from the Canaries cannot be ruled out, but all the signs point towards a comfortable Arsenal win tomorrow. I believe they’ll duly deliver.
Predicted Lineup: Martinez, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney, Willock, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pépé, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Score Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Norwich