The FourFourTwo Preview: Norwich vs Arsenal
The Canaries’ final song of the season.
Poor Norwich – it definitely wasn’t supposed to be like this, and certainly not all over before a ball had been kicked in boredom on the final day (damn you Sunderland, damn you).
- Chelsea 0-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Man Utd 4-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 WBA (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Wigan 1-1p Arsenal (FAC)
No, this was supposed to be another season of building for the men from Norfolk – perhaps even a climb towards Europe if they played the cups right. Certainly, after 12th and 11th-placed finishes in their two seasons since promotion from the Championship in 2011, survival was scarcely even a bare minimum. But even in this often-excruciating bottom-half scrap, staying afloat has proved an achievement too far.
A hefty summer outlay we all thought would bear fruit (be honest, you did too) – the promise of goals from Gary Hooper (£5.5 million) and Ricky van Wolfswinkel (£8.8m, lololol), the youthful exuberance of Leroy Fer (£4.8m) and Nathan Redmond (£2m), defensive strengthening via Martin Olsson (£2.5m) – hasn’t had the effect it should have.
It’s not enough to describe how hopeless Van Wolfswinkel has been in words, so we’ll do it with numbers: he’s a striker, with a solitary goal coming on the opening day and none in almost 22 hours of Premier League football since. He’s managed nine shots on target in 25 appearances, which is just shy of £1m per ‘accurate’ effort.
Chris Hughton lost his job with a month of the season left. His replacement – Delia fave Neil Adams – has hardly worked wonders in his short-and-inevitably-doomed spell in the Carrow Road dugout, but Norwich were sinking without a trace under Hughton anyway. Now the reality of a devastating return to the Championship is upon them, after Sunderland completed their brilliant escape with a 2-0 trample of West Brom on Wednesday night.
Arsenal on the final day would have made for an uncomfortable ride should they have needed all three points anyway; after all, Arsene Wenger’s north Londoners are practically the World’s Greatest Team playing for squat diddly.
The Gunners have secured fourth with ease despite Everton’s noble efforts to break the cycle, after four straightforward wins over West Ham, Hull, Newcastle and West Brom. Their strong end-of-season form is certainly not uncommon, as we pointed out last week, but their futile last-ditch streak might be forgiven by Arsenal fans this time around with an FA Cup final to look forward to next weekend.
At very least, the Gunners are heading into that game in good form. Wenger will inevitably rest a few weary legs with the Wembley tussle in mind, so expect to see a couple of fresh-faced greenhorns make an appearance in Norfolk. And maybe, just maybe, Abou Diaby.
Norwich are going down with an underworked physio at least; Anthony Pilkington (hip) looks likely to miss out again, although Joseph Yobo (calf) could return after missing the Canaries’ last four matches.
Arsenal, of course, have injuries because they’re Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) missed Sunday’s win against the Baggies, although the former could be fit for this one. Jack Wilshere’s ankle is fixed, which is good news for Roy Hodgson, but Theo Walcott’s ACL woes still see him crocked. German hotshot Serge Gnabry (knee) will probably miss out having been out for a month, while poor old Diaby could make his first appearance since March 2013.
Player to watch: Martin Olsson (Norwich)
Norwich fans won’t be aggrieved if we say the Swede is too good for Championship football – but whether he stays at Carrow Road remains to be seen. At 25 it’s unlikely he’ll fancy second-tier football after another impressive top flight campaign, and with suitors almost certain to be clamouring for his services.
The left-sided touchline hugger might fancy giving Bacary Sagna food for thought in his last league game for Arsenal (probably), having been bumped up to the wing for the first time this season at Chelsea. Despite rarely receiving the ball he was denied a penalty, but was unable to provide for Johan Elmander from the wing.
Compare that with his dashboard from Fulham, and against a lesser side he was constantly involved, receiving passes up and down the left and flinging in 7 crosses. He’ll need to do more of that.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 4-1 Norwich (PL, Oct 13)
- Arsenal 3-1 Norwich (PL, Apr 13)
- Norwich 1-0 Arsenal (PL, Oct 12)
- Arsenal 3-3 Norwich (PL, May 12)
- Norwich 1-2 Arsenal (PL, Nov 11)
Poor Adams had this one coming – and it’s hardly his fault. He’s already picked up a point more than anyone expected with that draw at Chelsea, although Norwich really should have beaten Fulham in his first game when they failed to take advantage of their first half pressure. After the Stamford Bridge draw he was effusive in his praise for his charges, who fought valiantly without pushing too hard for maximum points. "It keeps (well, kept) us going for sure," said Adams.
"I thought the performance was outstanding. We had a game plan and virtually executed it to perfection. I was tempted to put two strikers on but what you don't want to do is give the ball away because if we'd lost we would have been relegated." But they drew and... well, you know the rest.
Arsene Wenger is expected to finally pen a new deal with Arsenal once the season is done, but the Frenchman admits the Bundesliga could be a possible destination once his Gunners days are over. "If I was to go somewhere then I think it would be in a different country – I am so much Arsenal that I would not like to coach anywhere else in England," he said. "Germany [is an option] because I am of German culture a little bit, and it's a country where I have never worked. I am very close to it."
Facts and figures
- 6 of Norwich’s last 8 home games against top-six teams have had more goals in second half than first.
- Norwich have lost by more than 1 goal in just 1 of their last 34 home matches.
- 9 of Arsenal’s last 12 away games have had at least 3 goals.
- Arsenal have won 7 of their last 9 trips to bottom-six teams.
Best Bet: HT/FT Draw/Arsenal @ 5.50
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
A carefree kickabout with the kids. 2-1 Arsenal, and a sad goodbye to Norwich.