Tag Archives: arsenal vs norwich

Arsenal Vs Norwich City: Endgame, Part One

So, it’s a pretty important day today. Arsenal’s season comes down to these last two games and the equation is pretty simple – win both games and qualify automatically for the Champions League, fail to win both and we don’t qualify, or at least the likelihood is we’d face an anxious wait and it wouldn’t be in our hands.

It’s a time for cool heads and grim determination. Norwich City have had a good season and gotten some great results against top teams, and they will be a challenge today but this will have to be a challenge that we rise to. On too many occasions this season, our team has fallen foul of complacency, underestimating teams that we are expected to beat, and we just can’t afford that today.

The situation in terms of Champions League qualification is that we sit one point ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle. Chelsea are almost completely out of the reckoning following their defeat to Newcastle in midweek, and indeed a victory for us today would confirm our first finish above Chelsea in the league for eight years. On paper our fixture is the easiest compared to Newcastle and Spurs’ games this weekend. They don’t play until tomorrow, with our game being the only Premier League fixture of the day which is a bit bizarre.

What we simply must to is apply the pressure to the other teams in a big way. We all know that third place is the grail here, fourth carries the risk factor with it not only because of the Champions League qualifying round in August but also because if Chelsea were to win the Champions League Final then they will replace the team that finishes fourth in the competition. Newcastle have a hugely difficult game against a Manchester City side on the verge of winning the title (excuse me whilst I throw up a bit), whilst Spurs travel to Aston Villa in a game that I quite honestly expect them to win. Villa are having a dire time of things at the moment, and I don’t see that they’re able to get anything from a focussed Tottenham.

Not that it matters, provided we can win our last two games. There really is no room for error here, we must win these games. Everything else is a side issue at the moment. Robin Van Persie’s contract, soon to be the subject of intense speculation just doesn’t matter today. Who might come or go in the summer is irrelevant. In fact if it’s nothing to do with the result of today’s game then really it’s something we shouldn’t be worrying about just at the moment.

In terms of the team news there’s not much to say, things are pretty much as they were for the Stoke game minus the availability of Abou Diaby which comes as a little of a surprise. I do wonder in the manager might be more inclined to start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rather than Gervinho today, as the latter has struggled for form since the African Cup of Nations, as have a lot of players who took part in that tournament (so obviously it fills me with rapture that it is being held again next year). There’s the usual choice for the manager between Gibbs and Santos at left back, but I quite like the deployment of Santos further up the pitch that we’ve seen in recent weeks when he’s come on as a sub, we get rather the best of both worlds with Gibbs at the back and Santos with the license to go forward as much as he wants.

It’s a game which for all it’s importance doesn’t bare too much more close scrutiny. We know what to expect from Norwich, in our away game against them we had a really tough afternoon. They’re not only hard to beat but they can play a bit as well and I think we’ll be challenged all over the pitch today. Make no mistake, these last two games are going to be hard for an Arsenal squad feeling the effects of so many important players having played so many games this year.

Before I sign off, I was saying earlier that nothing matters apart from our last two results for the rest of the season but there is one big exception. It is of course Pat Rice’s final home game with the club today. I don’t want to say too much because I have it in mind to do a much larger feature on the man, possibly after the West Brom game but for now let’s simply say this: Arsenal without Pat Rice is borderline unimaginable to me. If you consider Arsenal’s “modern” era to have begun with the 1971 double as I do, Pat Rice has been there as a player or a coach for every single major success. The word legend is used far too easily these days, and I’m not going to use it here not because Pat doesn’t deserve it, but because it seems a poor and inadequate description of his contribution to our football club. Who might take over from him is a discussion for the future, for now let’s focus on a richly deserved send-off for a man as synonymous with Arsenal Football Club as it is possible to be.

Still, before he goes, there’s still a lot of work to be done by him and everyone else. Come on you Gooners!

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Fine Margins

First off, an apology for the lack of regular blogging service just lately. I’m now entering exam time at University which is essentially going to mean my world gone mad for a little while as I endeavour to prepare for that ordeal. Still it’s tough to ignore that Arsenal are also coming to the crunch as this season comes to its final, dramatic end.

Our draw with Stoke at the weekend, much like the draw with Chelsea before it was a satisfactory result in terms of the fact that it kept us third and in charge of our own destiny, but the dropping of those two points really means that our room for error is gone. There are two games to go, and though we are third, Tottenham and Newcastle sit only a point behind us meaning that dropped points in our last two games could easily dump us into fifth, never mind automatic Champions League qualification or whether Chelsea win the Champions League. On the bright side, one more win will confirm our first finish above Chelsea in the league since 2004. Not the biggest thing I know, but I’d take a certain satisfaction from it.

Our two remaining games are not easy, and I hope that is being drilled as far as possible into the minds of the players. Norwich have had an excellent season, they’ve enjoyed good results over teams of diverse quality and they are tough to beat. Our away game at Norwich was one that I felt we did very well to take three points from. Their season may be effectively over as they are clear of any threat of relegation and there’s not much prospect of them climbing the table to any considerable extent but they showed recently when they beat Spurs away from home that their enthusiasm for this season is undiminished and from their perspective, there’s no reason for them not to have a real go at it on Saturday lunchtime.

Following that game we wrap up the season away at West Bromwich Albion which is a curious game owing to the recent appointment of Roy Hodgson as manager of England (Incidentally, not that I could care less but I think he’s one of the best appointments England could have made), will they be distracted by the England circus as Spurs seemed to be when Redknapp was in the frame? I’m inclined to think not as West Brom have seemed only too pleased to allow Hodgson to take the job and seem genuinely pleased for him whereas I think Spurs were far more apprehensive of losing Redknapp.

Realistically I think we need six points from these games. I don’t fancy Spurs to lose either of their remaining games, away at Aston Villa and home to Fulham, whilst Newcastle undoubtedly have it toughest as they take on Manchester City at home in what realistically is the last chance for City to be deprived of the title (their last game is QPR at home) before travelling to Everton. But Newcastle have proved that they have the appetite for these sorts of games, and whilst its nothing to do with Arsenal I feel that Cisse’s goal against Chelsea last night bears some sort of mention. He’s a player that could get Newcastle the goal(s) they need against City, it’ll be an interesting fixture no doubt.

Away from all the madness and permutations of the Champions League qualification situation, there has been quite the departure from usual Arsenal transfer policy as the club have confirmed the signing of Lukas Podolski from Cologne. The forward will join us in the summer and will enjoy a full pre-season with the club instead of being chucked in a month into the season and I think that’s really important. His signing has prompted rumours that Arsenal are now moving swiftly to other targets such as Ajax’s Jan Vertonghen but I take that with a pinch of salt.

I think Podolski is going to turn out to be just the right sort of signing. Capable of playing the central role, but just as at home as a supporting or wide striker he’s the perfect player to take some of the pressure off of Robin Van Persie. He can play alongside him and score goals, or if Robin needs a rest, he can take the central role himself. And really, the crucial question to this signing is, is he being brought in to supplement Van Persie or replace him? Personally I think the intention is for it to be very much the former. I don’t think the club have any intention of losing Van Persie this summer, and perhaps one thing the Podolski signing may accomplish is showing Robin that should he stay, he’ll be supported by quality and won’t be expected to do it all himself.

It will be interesting to see if the club really is going to get all its business done very early this summer. Knowing the fans, even if we grant every wish, and ship all the players people want to see gone out and replace them all before the start of Euro 2012, there would still be complaining if we didn’t sign anyone for the rest of the summer despite having a full squad. Anyway, I think those issues are all for the future. For right now we shouldn’t be thinking too far ahead of our last two games of the season which are going to make for the tensest finale to a season I can remember since 2006.

Right then, that’s all for now, take it easy and I’ll return soon.