The Premier League returns on Saturday with Arsenal seeking to remain top of the pile when Norwich City visit the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal are unbeaten since the opening day of the season, but their 10-match winning run in all competitions was brought to an end last time out with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at West Brom. Although they’ve made a poor start to the campaign, Norwich have been far from pushovers for Arsenal since their return to the top flight in 2011.
Indeed, last season Norwich came out on top when the two met at Carrow Road, while it took three goals, two of them controversial, in the final five minutes to give Arsenal a come-from-behind win in the reverse fixture. On Saturday, expect plenty of congestion in the midfield, where Norwich will look to stifle their opponents with the physical pair of Alexander Tettey and Leroy Fer as well as the more creative, but still not overly offensive Jonny Howson.
The onus then will be on Arsenal to try and break the opposition down, something with which they have struggled in the past. Yet this season, of course, Arsene Wenger has the potent creative weapon of Mesut Ozil. Given the spark he has provided since his club-record transfer from Real Madrid, there will have been more than a few anguished faces around the Emirates when Ozil left Germany’s win over Sweden prematurely after taking a kick to the knee. The good news, though, is that he looks set to be fit for the weekend.
There is also the exciting proposition of Santi Cazorla linking up with Ozil for the first time in an Arsenal shirt. The Spaniard, out for over a month, will likely be in the squad, although, lacking match fitness, is expected to have to make do with starting on the bench. Wenger may also have one eye on Tuesday’s crunch Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund. Against that high-caliber of opposition, the recently introduced double midfield pivot of Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta is likely to be utilized but against Norwich, with Arsenal having the imperative to attack, expect Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey to drop back into their more favored role.
Arsenal’s defense is unlikely to have an overly taxing day. Despite spending significant money on bolstering their front line over the summer, neither Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper nor Johan Elmander have yet come to life. Just five goals have been scored in seven Premier League outings. It may take some time for Arsenal to get the breakthrough, but they have the composure this season to not let it become an undue concern and the quality to eventually get the job done.
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Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Norwich City
Arsenal: Mesut Ozil will face a fitness test, but Wenger sounded confident that the attacking midfielder would be available. Tomas Rosicky will be back in contention, while Cazorla and Bacary Sagana will be on the squad. Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo all remain at least a few weeks away from a return.
Norwich: With Elliott Bennett a long-term absentee, Norwich’s only doubt is over Anthony Pilkington. The wide man has a hamstring problem and will face a late fitness test.