At present I find myself typing today’s blog from a hotel room in Dubai. It means I won’t get to the game today, but I will be watching it from a Sports Bar round the corner. Why is any of this significant? Well, I’ve been to Dubai before just once, in May 2012. I missed out on a home game that day too, as Norwich visited the Emirates and drew 3-3 with us after we’d fallen behind 2-1, brought it back to be winning 3-2, only to royally Arsenal it up and end up letting the canaries leave with one point. As a football fan yourself you’ll know that by and large, we’re all superstitious when it comes to football, so I really hope that the fact I’m in Dubai at the end of the season seeing Arsenal play Norwich is not a bad omen.
That Norwich side was a mid-tab;e team with nothing to play for, whilst we were in theory still fighting for a Champions League spot, so the only difference I can see this time around is that Norwich need points more than they did back in 2012. Which also worries me. It worries me because we are by no means secure when it comes to Champions League spaces and despite the fact that many of us – the players included it seems – just want the season to end, we don’t want it to end with us staring at Thursday and Sunday games for large parts of next season. No thank you very much.
So today, amidst rumored protests and A4 banner statements, the players have to show that they are still professional enough to get a result. They have to deliver a performance that is worthy of three points. They have to show more drive than last weekend, when they chuntered around the Stadium of Light looking a little rudderless, certainly toothless.
There were more audible groans in the away end last week and despite noises of fan unrest and the manager saying he understands the frustration, the only really way to abate the frustration is to win football matches, the team don’t even have to play that well. If we’d have one-nilled ourselves all the way to the title, then nobody would be talking about Arsene getting out, we’d be excited about possibly lifting that trophy again. Football is about winning and we simply haven’t been winning enough and certainly not against inferior opposition. So today’s game I personally will be approaching with plenty of trepidation.
What we need from today’s game is for some of our star players to step up. If we are ever to match the crème de la crème of Europe, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi, and cement ourselves once again as true European Knights, we need convincing performances. Ozil needs to be the Ozil of late 2015. Alexis needs to continue his great run of goalscoring form and for gods sake, please choose Welbeck over Giroud, Arsene. Our front three needs mobility and despite the years of service Giroud has successfully given us, it does look as though his career is going Arshavin right now. Nothing epitomised that more than his completely failed back heel to a Sunderland player last weekend and I hope that Arsene reinstates ‘Welbz’ to the starting line up so we can have another striker who runs the channels.
For us to be successful, we’ll need to pull about that Norwich defence with more fluidity of movement in our front three, something I heard Tim Stillman say in yesterday’s Arsecast. If we go with the immobile central striker later on this afternoon, we’ll see a Norwich side who will sit deep, soak up pressure and hope to catch us out. It’s what Watford, Southampton, Swansea and Crystal Palace have all done to varying degrees of success so far this season already. What we need is a bit more movement and urgency from the players.
I hope we see that. I hope we see a collective of players stung by the criticism they have been getting, keen to prove that they can still do it and deliver Champions League football next season. Norwich will not be easy, but it should be a team we can overcome. They are fourth from bottom for a reason and it’s not because they’ve had the worlds longest unlucky streak with defending or refereeing decisions. It’s because they are poor. I still maintain that they looked like one of the poorest teams I’ve seen this season when we picked up a draw at Carrow Road. Even poorer than Villa when we played them at Villa Park. So I’m hoping we can get some revenge because we were so poor om that day and gifted them a point. I want us to give them a hammering today. I don’t think we will, but I’d like it.
The team will be fairly obvious, so there’s no point in going through a one to 11, but I do wonder who Arsene will partner alongside Elneny in midfield, now that everyone is fit. Given how poorly I thought Ramsey and Giroud played last weekend, I’d be tempted to give Jack a start, with the view that if he doesn’t last 90 minutes, Santi can be an option from the bench. But I think Arsene will be more cautious. I suspect we’ll see the same side that played against Sunderland but with Welbeck instead of Giroud. Surely even Arsene saw that Giroud just didn’t work that day? Right now though, who knows what the guy is thinking, because I certainly have no clue any more.
Man City play Southampton away on Sunday and so this is an opportunity for us to at least temporarily go third until we play them in Manchester next weekend. We have to take that opportunity. We simply have to.
Catch you tomorrow with some post match thoughts.