Arsenal will move into the Champions League places if they can take three points from their meeting with struggling Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Gunners currently lie two points behind both third placed Chelsea and fourth placed Tottenham in the Premier League standings, but, crucially, have a game in hand on the latter. Since losing to their north London rivals early last month, Arsenal have won three successive matches to put them into position to make the Champions League for a 16th successive season.
Last week’s victory at West Brom came at a price, though, with Per Mertesacker being sent off and now serves a one-match suspension. That will mean Thomas Vermaelen returning to the starting lineup for the first time since being dropped following a poor showing against Tottenham.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has insisted that the Belgium international still very much has a future at the Emirates.
“Yes, of course,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official Web site. “He has a long-term contract. He is our captain and periods where you don't play can happen. That's part of our job, to be in competition or not.”
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There is better news for Arsenal with the return to training of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Wenger said that both have a 90 percent chance of being involved on Saturday. The scorer of both goals against West Brom, Tomas Rosicky, is a major doubt with a hamstring problem.
Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat when they met Norwich at Carrow Road last October and Wenger is eager for his side to show how far they have progressed.
"We know that they are a good side and we know that they are a dangerous side,” he explained. “We believe that today we are stronger than we were at that moment of the season and that's what we want to show on Saturday.”
That win earlier in the season began a rich vein of form for Norwich as they went 10 matches unbeaten in the league, winning six. Since that spell, though, Chris Hughton’s side have won just once in 15 matches and have slipped to within four points of the relegation zone.
Norwich have a doubt over the fitness of goalkeeper Mark Bunn after he was taken off in the 2-2 draw with Swansea last week. England international John Ruddy is not yet ready for a first-team return.
D: Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal
M: Ramsey, Arteta
Gervinho, Wilshere, Cazorla
D: Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido
M: Bennett, Howson, Johnson, Snodgrass
Prediction: Arsenal have been very good in recent times at avoiding slipups against weaker opposition and have every chance of continuing that pattern against a Norwich side looking bereft of confidence.
The potential return of Wilshere, in particular, should provide a huge boost and compensate for the possible loss of the in-form Rosicky.
Norwich’s main chance of getting something from the game could well be taking advantages of Arsenal’s weakness defending crosses with balls aimed in toward the physically imposing Grant Holt.
Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.