Norwich are quite the story, securing a second Premier League season after being at the bottom of League One just about two years ago. That’s taking into account that the Canaries have had a tough run recently, only picking up one point in the last five games. They have been on the end of thrashings from Manchester City and Liverpool in the last month and many would expect them to face another at the Emirates this weekend. The last match between these two ended 2-1 to Arsenal with Robin Van Persie having to bail the team out after a poor defensive mistake allowed Norwich to score the opener. With Norwich’s counter attacking style, those mistakes need to be cut out completely.
While this match might not mean much to the visitors, it’s all important for Arsenal, who absolutely need three points to keep third on the table.
Paul Lambert has used a 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 this season, playing mostly on the counter against big teams. While this means they might throw a lot of men in defence, they will look to release their attack quickly too, leaving them vulnerable for our own counters. They have used the five man midfield against bigger opposition to give them more stability and to give them a better chance of retaining possession. It also offers support for their defence with an extra man tracking back.
Norwich played a mixed passing game with the five man midfield helping them slow down play and keep shorter passes. Their initial pass often comes from defence with the ball going out to the wings. They do try to play the ball in behind the defence so that’s another thing to be vary of. The Arsenal fullbacks will need to closely mark the Norwich wingers and make sure that the ball doesn’t get out to them.
Statistically speaking, most of their attacks come from the right wing but Anthony Pilkington is a big threat down the left and is far more likely to cause damage. You’ll find the striker playing with his back to goal often. This moves the focus of the attack onto the wingers who push forward past the striker, which is why it’s necessary to cut off access to the wings if we want to nullify their attack. It goes without saying that players like Grant Holt or Simeon Jackson need to be tightly marked from the resulting crosses as well.
As mentioned earlier, their defence usually plays the initial pass and they do it with some good accuracy. They also try playing the ball out of sticky situations and if Arsenal close down well, they should be able to force Norwich into making enough mistakes.
Norwich’s fullbacks also get involved in the attack and this leaves them very open for the counter. With their defence staying compact, they are poor at defending out wide.
Anthony Pilkington will be the man to watch on the left flank. He definitely has enough pace and skill to really bother our defence. Fortunately, between Sagna and Koscielny, we should be able to keep him out.
The Weak Link
With Marc Tierney out and Adam Drury picking up an injury against Liverpool last week, we’ll see Russell Martin playing out of position at left back. After coming on against Liverpool, he was constantly exposed and not being a natural left back, he should be the target going forward.
This Arsenal squad usually delivers in big games and even though it may only be Norwich, this is definitely a big game. Arsenal should be winning this comfortably.
Editor’s note: please don’t be startled at the lack of Arsenal content in this post – there’s an Arsenal player in the picture so I hope that appeases anyone who is angry (who would get angry at a temporary change in focus though?) – but I did warn you all that it was coming. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back to discussing things like the importance of Mikel Arteta in no time.
Infrequent observers of Reading, the newest additions to the Barclays Premier League (no, I’m not trying to be Owen Coyle), would suggest that, seeing as Russian millionaire Anton Zingarevich is set to take control of the club at the end of the season, the Royals will spend big this summer as they prepare for the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. This, however, is not the case.
Ex-Gunner (see? There’s a bit of Arsenal sprinkled in) Brian McDermott’s side are built around the idea of team spirit, and certainly showcased it in bundles during and at the culmination of their second-half surge to the peak of the Championship. There are no particular stand-out players, but they are instead a group of players who fit together extremely well. The signing of Jason Roberts was perhaps the catalyst for their remarkable run, but they are by no means a one-man team.
Last season the teams who were automatically promoted were Norwich and QPR, the latter going up as champions. Those who prefer to take a simplistic view on things would have predicted that QPR, having finished higher in the Championship, would also fare better in the division above. I, and also those with good footballing prediction instincts (not unlike those of Paul the octopus, God rest his tentacles), went the other way, tipping QPR for the drop, thinking they’d be the only promoted side to go down.
And that’s the way it looks like going. Norwich, and Swansea too, are fairly clear of trouble, while QPR have been languishing in and around the drop zone for most of the season. The Hoops, like Reading soon will, have millionaire owners, and attempted to bolster their squad and in turn their hopes for survival, by buying several well-known Premier League players; Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton to name two, before the additions of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora in January.
Norwich were much more modest and prudent with their business. They signed Elliott Bennett, Steve Morison, Bradley Johnson, James Vaughan, Kyle Naughton (on loan) and Anthony Pilkington, before also adding Jonny Howson in January. While none of these signings were particularly eye-catching, they all fitted seamlessly into the Norwich side, and didn’t disrupt the harmony of the squad.
It would be difficult to say the same of the QPR new boys. Barton brought with him lots of media attention and an apparent hobby of being a moron. They also seemed to struggle to fit the rest of their new players into the side – Wright-Phillips has seemed hit and miss, and with Zamora and Cisse being added to the ranks, the Rs have a surplus of strikers, a few of whom must not be happy at their lack of game time.
This apparent lack of harmony within the squad does not seem limited to the playing staff – Barton caused a significant rift between the players and the fans, which certainly didn’t help the club. While they have claimed several scalps – including Arsenal’s – their inconsistency has cost them, in particular their inability to win the so-called six-pointers.
Norwich, on the other hand, have few relegation worries as they enter the remnant of the Premier League season. Like Reading they have few spectacular players – although Grant Holt often single-handedly carries the goal-scoring burden, as Roberts occasionally has in his brief spell at the Madejski – yet the strong team ethic is clearly visible, and leads to consistent results. Paul Lambert has recently come in for increased praise, and it’s all deserved; he’s used his resources well, and built a good team.
While the Canaries had limited resources, you can’t help but feel that QPR spent because they felt they had to. This, of course, was not the case, as shown by Norwich, but their spending spree may well have contributed to their downfall.
The difference, however, is that Reading will have the resources that QPR chose to utilise to the full (if not efficiently/effectively), unlike Norwich, who probably wouldn’t have been able to spend if they had wanted to. Brian McDermott will have to resist the temptation to delve too deeply into Zingarevich’s pocket, and you get the sense that he will. Kaspars Gorkss, along with the permanent signing of Mikele Leigertwood, both from QPR, were the only additions in the summer, before a late trolley dash in January to secure the signings of Roberts, Tomasz Cywka, Hayden Mullins and Matthew Connolly, the latter two being on loan.
Other than Roberts, who forced his way into the side after an impressive start, none of the January signings have been regular fixtures in the Reading side, pointing towards a reluctance on McDermott’s part to disrupt his side’s good form. Unless the Royals’ form dips dramatically in the final straight (perhaps more of a canter for the Berkshire club considering their newly-acquired Premier League status) it’s difficult to imagine them changing the look of their first choice eleven in the summer.
Squad depth is the only potential issue, and already targets have been speculated about – for one, Kevin Doyle, who played for Reading for four years before joining apparently-doomed Wolves. A player of Doyle’s calibre would certainly add to the quality in the ranks at the Mad Stad, and also knows the club well, so the pros of a move are there for all to see.
Whoever Reading do sign, they should be a welcome addition to the Premier League. McDermott has them playing attractive football, and they’re an ambitious, humble club. Norwich have set the benchmark this season with an impressive year – it’s time for the Royals to test their mettle.