There are two things that I will never forget about last season’s two games against Norwich: the Morrison goal from their very first shot in the away fixture and the repeated agricultural challenges which eventually led to Bradley Johnson’s breaking Bacary Sagna’s leg with a nasty stamp in the home fixture.
That’s not to say that I don’t remember Benayoun’s goal or van Persie’s two strikes at Carrow road which earned Arsenal all three points. Nor have I forgotten how referee Anthony Taylor denied Arsenal as clear a penalty as you will ever see when Kyle Naughton shoved van Persie to the ground from behind just as he was lined up for a tap-in that would have sealed the three points.
Rather, those first two incidents are permanently seared into my memory as glaring hot moments of rage. Morrison hauling Per Mertesacker down and scoring from a hopeful punt is one of those things that I’ve seen happen to Arsenal so many times over the last five years but for some reason when I think about Norwich, that’s one of two things that are all I can think about.
The other one, of course, is the stamp by Johnson which even Sagna felt was deliberate — and something we have seen the referees allow against Arsenal time and again. The Norwich midfield had been “closing space” as they say in England and kicking Arsenal up and down the pitch. Then the stamp and Sagna was stretchered off.
How many broken legs does Arsenal have to suffer from thugs before something is done? Infinite, I guess because they just keep happening. In fact, Sagna’s replacement, Coquelin, was kicked with his very first touch. So, yeah, that’s something I associate with Norwich as well. Agricultural challenges and lucky goals from hopeful punts.
This, then, is one of those games which will test both the mettle of Arsenal and of the fans. Norwich will play two banks of four tomorrow, a special treat for the home fans who are paying premium prices of £60 to see their club sit back and take it up em. An aside here on ticket prices, yes, Arsenal have the most expensive ticket, but when you watch Arsenal at home, you’re almost guaranteed an entertaining display. Maybe, instead of just looking at cost per seat, the BBC should look instead at how entertaining the home team is and whether the ticket price provides good entertainment value. Can the Norwich fans who will pay £60 to see their home team sit back in two banks of four and rotationally foul Santi Cazorla go home feeling like they got good value. I suppose that will depend largely on the result. Get any points and I bet they will be happy with what they paid, get all three points and the tickets will be worth hen’s teats.
The nationalism break wasn’t as bad as it has been before in terms of devastating long-term injuries but there’s another bite at the apple next month. Rather than physical, most of the effect of the break could be psychological. Mertesacker and Podolski were part of a painful 4-goal comeback by Sweden in which the big fucking German was seen pounding his fist in dismay multiple times — even though he wasn’t directly responsible for any (maybe the last) of the goals.
Koscielny hurt his back and is out for tomorrow’s game and maybe a break is a good thing because he was all over the shop for France against Spain. If it hadn’t been for Hugo Lloris’ great saves and Giroud’s last minute goal the papers would no doubt be hammering Koz for his sloppy performance.
Gibbs is also out with the injury he picked up against West Ham meaning that his backup, Andre Santos will get his first start for Arsenal this year. Rumors are swirling around Santos that he is going to Turkey but the Arsenal fullback has scotched them on Arsenal TV and says he is happy fighting with Gibbs for a starting place. He even said that they talk about it all the time. Which… seems.. odd.
Santos gets a lot of stick and that is because he led Arsenal in the ignominious category of “being dribbled past” last season. Which is simply a statistical way of saying that in one-v.-one situations his stabby little tackle doesn’t always work. His passing, though, is damn good and crosses especially so. If he and Giroud could combine for something, that would be nice.
Also, do you think it’s possible for the away fans to sing Joe Walsh’s Life’s been good to me for Santos?
His maserati does one eighty five!
He lost his license and now he can’t drive.
He’s a defender who cannot tackle.
That doesn’t matter at Good old Arsenal.
Cazorla is healthy and will start in the hole for Arsenal in the modified 4-4-1-1 slash 4-3-3 that Wenger has them playing. He will be targeted by Norwich’s destroyer. I’m kind of hoping that Arsene plays Giroud in front of Cazorla. I like that Giroud holds the ball up and provides an outlet for Arsenal’s clearances. I also would like to see him get on the end of some of Santos and Jenkinson’s crosses.
Walcott is out after a horrible challenge left him with a bruised lung. It’s a real shame that he’s not able to play because I think he would have bamboozled the Norwich defense late in the game when they had tired legs from all the chasing they will do. He was also in a bit of a run of form there and showing what he can offer at West Ham.
Sagna and Wilshere were basically ruled out of the match by Arsene Wenger. The Gunners boss stated that he felt like both could use one more game (maybe Monday’s reserves game) to reach full match fitness. But Wilshere’s agent has stirred the pot and said that his client will be part of the team tomorrow. Interesting, I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether Wenger was pulling our legs or not. But in his presser the boss did seem like he was going to look to Reading for their first match.
In the keeper position, Arsenal have a bit of a mini-crisis. Fabianski is now seeing a specialist for an injury and Szczesny is “two weeks” away from a return. Mannone has done ok but has only impressed in so much as he hasn’t been his old self. Norwich will be looking to test him on corners and set plays from midfield. Grant Holt, in particular, will be barging around like a bulldog, slobbering on everything on every set play. Mertesacker and Vermaelen will have their hands full if Mannone doesn’t come out strong.
I expect a tight match. Norwich will be looking to steal the show with a quick counter or a set play goal and their team should be well refreshed because they have no international players. Arsenal on the other hand have a team full of globetrotters who have only just flown back to London and immediately have to run off to Norfolk to get the boot stuck in them for 90 minutes. Could be a cagey match between the two and referee Lee Probert will have his hands full.
Late kickoff and I have my daughter’s football practice tomorrow so again I will be watching the game on tape delay. That means I won’t be able to publish my By the Numbers column until late Saturday night and my match reaction here until Sunday. So, this is it from me here until Sunday!