Arsenal v Norwich: New Year struggles

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Olivier Giroud – bleacherreport.com

Much has gone wrong for both teams since the turn of the year. At the end of December, Arsenal were top of the Premier League, averaging 2.05 points per game. In the last four months, they have gained 1.56 per game, form that would place them below Liverpool and West Ham over a season.

Equally, Norwich City were 15th midway through the season, taking 1.05 points per game. They have since averaged 0.73 per game, form that would see them six points adrift of safety. The leaky Canaries have shipped 28 goals in 2016, they became one of three teams since September to concede two against Aston Villa and lost 3-0 to Sunderland last time out. In that match, the absence of Timm Klose took its toll and the Swiss centre-back is now out injured for the rest of the season.

That is a worry for Alex Neil because Sebastien Bassong and Ryan Bennett are struggling. They had a decent run together around November and December when both showed their aerial ability, particularly at Old Trafford, but both have a lack of pace that has been exploited lately. This might be partly down to a lack of protection. Certain teams, notably Leicester, can get away with having slow centre-backs because they defend from deep and force opposing teams to cross the ball, which suits Morgan and Huth. Norwich’s problem is that their midfield is wide open at times, due to a shortage of numbers and a lack of defensive qualities.

The team started strongly against Sunderland, wide men Matt Jarvis and Robbie Brady causing problems and putting the opposing defence under pressure. When they didn’t score early on however, they lost sense of the notion that a draw would be ok and therefore had no balance. They could have done with Alex Tettey in central midfield rather than the immobile Gary O’Neill, but the former is out injured for the rest of the season. With no reliable holding midfielder to stop them, Sunderland played simplistic early balls forward and their striker would isolate the centre-backs.

If Norwich are similarly open in this match, it may be best for Arsenal to start Danny Welbeck up front. He has a willingness to run in behind and stretch defences, which could spell problems for Norwich’s sluggish rear-guard. And yet, the fact a man who is not uniformly seen as a striker, and has scored just 33 Premier League goals in eight-years could be Arsenal’s best option, says a lot in itself.

Many Gunners fans wanted a striker to be signed in the summer and while there were justifiable reasons for the club not to bring one in, that looks a mistake now. Olivier Giroud had a goal-laden Autumn and Winter period, but has not scored a league goal since his brace at Anfield in mid-January. Both teams look unreliable in both boxes and a poor 2016 for these respective clubs shows few signs of getting better.