Premier League Preview: Arsenal to slip up at Carrow Road?


Arsene Wenger

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for two of the weekend’s Premier League games. Arsenal hope to bolster their title credentials on their trip to East Anglia, where Norwich will hope for back-to-back home wins. Manchester City look to recover from defeats to Liverpool and Juventus when they host Southampton, a side that have solid in recent weeks.

Norwich v Arsenal

Arsenal picked up a 3-0 win against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night. They found it difficult to break their Croation opponents down in the first twenty minutes and were perhaps fortunate with the first goal that Zagreb gave them the chance to counter-attack, a goalscoring method that had looked unlikely at the beginning of the night.

However, once the first goal came the space opened up and Arsenal exploited that. Established first teamers Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were among those widely praised but Arsene Wenger may be encouraged by the performance of Joel Campbell. The Costan Rican put in arguably his best individual performance since the World Cup, combining his blistering pace with an impressive end product, his passing on the night being as good as any Arsenal player.

And yet, there were a few moments in the opening exchanges in which Coquelin-less Arsenal looked vulnerable against quick counter-attacks. One might question the defensive strength of a double pivot that involves Santi Cazorla, a playmaker by trade, playing alongside Mathieu Flamini, who is perhaps past his best. Between now and the January transfer window, when Wenger will surely look to sign a holding midfielder, there could be an opportunity for the likes of Calum Chambers or Krystian Bielik to show what they can do in the middle of the park.

Norwich have lost five of their last six league games but recent performances have been encouraging. Narrow defeats away to Manchester City and Chelsea sandwiched a 1-0 win over Swansea, in which the Canaries defended strongly and worked hard for their clean sheet.

While Alex Neil’s side are not being beaten heavily this season – thrashings at Southampton and Newcastle being the two exceptions – they are not always clinical enough in the final third. Winger Nathan Redmond and defender Russell Martin have scored more goals – four and three respectively – than regular striker Cameron Jerome.

Dieumerci Mbokani has only started three games since joining in September and has already scored two goals. Norwich already have an accomplished crosser of a ball in Robbie Brady and if they have Mbokani in the box, the Canaries could pose more of a threat in front of goal. The Congolese forward is very athletic and impressive in the air, making him a potential nightmare for opposing defenders.

Youssouf Mulumbu was one of Norwich’s better players in the defeat at Stamford Bridge and the former West Brom man could be a key player on Sunday. Arsenal’s midfield will consist of Cazorla and Ozil, and possibly Aaron Ramsey too, all of whom lack physical qualities. Mulumbu is reknowed for his strength and tenacity and this is a superb opportunity for him to stamp his authority on the midfield.

Arsenal have looked a bit more open in recent games – particularly their 2-1 defeat to West Brom last week – and this same sense of defensive naivety could cost them in the title race. Given Norwich’s competent displays of late, there is an opportunity for them to have a fruitful afternoon against Arsenal and this blog will go for a draw.

Man City v Southampton

For a team aiming for major trophies, Manchester City have looked worryingly open this season. The Citizens have conceded 21 goals in their last 15 games in all competitions and defensively, they look far too unreliable.

Many people are questioning the quality of the centre-backs on offer. A combination of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi’s erratic nature and Martin Demichelis lack of pace has led some to predict that Vincent Kompany’s return to full fitness will solve the problem. However, Kompany has been far too inconsistent himself over recent seasons and has suffered from a lack of protection. Had the Belgian played in Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus, the same problems would have surfaced.

The team were far too open when dealing with opposition counter attacks and struggled to deal with the Old Lady’s high tempo play. Some people said that it was an even game, largely on account of Raheem Sterling’s miss and the fact that Man City dominated possession.

However, their retention of the ball was largely because Yaya Toure, the man granted a free attacking midfield role, favoured too many sideways passes. The 32-year-old looked sluggish and lethargic, which suggests he is no longer good enough to have an influence in big games for City. The club may have reached the stage whereby they are better off moving on from him.

When it came to clear cut chances in Turin, Juventus had many more and the Italian giants forced a few saves from goalkeeper Joe Hart. The former Shrewsbury man picked up an injury with nine minutes of normal time to play and will be out for the next 10 days with a hamstring problem. Willy Caballero, who had a torrid time in his only Premier League game this season against Tottenham, looks to fill in having conceded 18 goals in 10 starts during his City career.

There is an opportunity, therefore, for a Southampton side just six points off City in the Premier League table. The Saints lost 1-0 at home to Stoke last week in a disappointing performance, as Ronald Koeman’s side hit the target just once after a particularly abject first half.

There is sufficient evidence, however, to believe that that result was an anomaly, rather than a sign of things to come. The defeat was Southampton’s first since mid-September and third all season, other losses coming against fast-breaking Everton back in August and Martial-inspired Manchester United. The south coast side have looked solid at the back in recent weeks, conceding just three goals in five games as Jose Fonte has formed a strong partnership with Virgil Van Dijk.

Pelle is suspended for this match, but that could prove a blessing in disguise. The Italian is not the quickest and players like Shane Long and Sadio Mane, the latter having been benched last week, seem more capable of causing problems in what is likely to be an afternoon of counter-attacking football.

Manchester City are in poor form at the moment and given how tight the Premier League is this season, the gap in quality between these two teams is debateable. Southampton can pick up a point on their trip to Manchester.