Gunners in search of win to help clinch Champions League spot
Gunners in search of win to help clinch Champions League spot

Arsenal take on Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon in the Premier League.

The Gunners go into the match in fourth place in the table, as they look to secure a Champions League place for next season.

Whilst the Canaries arrive in one of the two remaining relegation places and are involved in a three-way fight to maintain their Premier League status with Sunderland and Newcastle United.

The match though is likely to be overshadowed by protests being coordinated by three Arsenal fans’ groups calling for change at the club after 12 years without a title success.

Supporters are being asked to hold up ‘Time for Change’ banners in the 12th minute, at half-time and in the 78th minute.

The mood of fans’ won’t have been helped by Arsene Wenger’s comments at his press conference yesterday that the title challenge hasn’t been helped by sometimes having to play home matches “in a very difficult climate.”

The manager once again made a passionate defence against the critics who have questioned his players’ character. Unfortunately that hasn’t been backed up on the pitch where many performances both at home and away have been way below the standard required to mount a credible title challenge.

It leaves Arsenal in a fight to secure a Champions League place in the remaining matches of the season against a background of increasing dissatisfaction from a section of supporters.

Another slip-up today would only add more fuel to those protests.

Head-to-head

Arsenal will be looking to continue their excellent record against Norwich City

They have won eight of their last 12 league home games against the Canaries, drawing three and losing just one.

Only one of the last 14 league meetings anywhere between these two clubs has ended in a Norwich City win. They have lost seven and drawn six against the Gunners in this period.

The Managers

Arsene Wenger

The match will be Arsene Wenger’s 750th Premier League match in charge of the Gunners – only Sir Alex Ferguson (810) has managed more in the competition.

On the planned protest and character of his team being questioned following their demise in the title race, Wenger said.

“We wanted to go a step higher up and win the league, which was possible. That’s why we are frustrated. I can understand the frustration, because nobody is more frustrated than we are. But to fight no matter what happens, master all kinds of situations and protect and go for what we can achieve. Our disappointment has not to go too far.

I believe that some people questioned the team’s character. I tell you something: this team has character and attitude. Some people who question them, I know them well. They have less character than this team has. I saw them play and even know them very closely. They should not question the character of these players, because they are exceptional characters.”

Alex Neil

“The bottom line is that we’re in a fight and we need to come out fighting,” he told Norwich City TV. There’s been a lot of negativity as you can imagine, obviously with the fact that we were four points clear and now we’re not, but this isn’t the time to give up. It’s the time to roll our sleeves up.  We’ve been training hard and making sure that we’re ready for the game, we need to make sure we go to Arsenal and give a good performance.”

Key Players

Mesut Ozil’s dip in form since the turn of the year has been one of contributory factors in Arsenal’s title challenge fading. He has now gone eight successive Premier League appearances without an assist, despite having a league-high 18 in total this season.

A return to the form that has seen Ozil create a league-high 137 goalscoring chances for team-mates this season could be decisive in securing the Gunners a Champions League spot for next season.

Arsenal have also struggled for goals in the second half of the season. This is highlighted by Olivier Giroud having now gone 14 Premier League games without scoring, his longest goal-drought in the competition. iF he starts today he will need a much improved performance following an ineffective showing against Sunderland last weekend.

A lack of a top class striker has been a contributory factor in Norwich’s struggles this season. No team in the Premier League has a lower scoring top scorer than Norwich this season – Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani (five goals). The Canaries will hope that both bring their goalscoring boots to the Emirates tomorrow.

Team News

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger has a fully-fit squad to choose from for the first time this season.

Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both available for selection after recovering from Achilles and knee injuries respectively.

Cazorla is more likely of the two to feature in the matchday squad as he has been back training with the first-team squad for two weeks, compared to Oxlade-Caamberlain’s one week.

Tomas Rosicky has also recovered from a thigh injury, but he is not expected to feature.

Provisional squad: Ospina, Cech, Monreal, Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Santi Cazorla, Rosicky, Ramsey, Elneny, Wilshere, Ozil, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck, Giroud.

Norwich City

Russell Martin should return to the squad after missing the Canaries 3-0 home defeat by Sunderland a fortnight ago, due to a virus.

Timm Klose and Andre Wisdom have been ruled out of the remaining fixtures with knee ligament damage.

Provisional squad: Ruddy, Rudd, Olsson, Bassong, Martin, O’Neil, Whittaker, Howson, Brady, Naismith, Redmond, Mbokani, Dorrans, Jarvis, Hoolahan, Jerome, Bamford, Mulumbu, Pinto.

Match Officials
Referee:
Mike Jones Assistants: R West, M Scholes Fourth Official: K Friend

Prediction

Gunners to move back into third place with a 3-0 win.