The late kickoff today sees Arsenal take on Norwich at The Emirates, and events on the pitch have taken a back seat.
The news of a staged protest, involving placards, signs and banners, has taken centre stage – a surefire sign that results have been underwhelming of late.
Whilst the fans in the ground will hopefully cheer our team on to victory, our Manager Arsene Wenger has been on the offensive in his latest Press Conference in an attempt to diffuse the cloud of negativity that has lurked over our club in the last third of the season.
Wenger has stated the character of the team should not be in question – and referred to certain detractors as having less character – but also mentioned how disappointed he and his squad are to not be in title contention.
The league championship may be Leicester-bound, but Arsenal’s Champions League qualification is now in danger as well. Manchester City are level on points, and if United win their game in hand, they are a mere two points away.
Whilst most people will point to a massive game versus City next weekend, it will matter little if three points aren’t picked up today.
In regards to the match against the Canaries, a rare boost has been given to Arsene Wenger. For the first time this season, he has a fully fit squad to choose from.
Yes, that’s right. You read that line correctly. Arsenal at this moment have NO INJURIES.
Santi Cazorla has been training with the first team for two weeks, Oxlade-Chamberlain for one week – and they were the last two to return to full fitness.
Bearing in mind that Cazorla has been out since November, it may be optimistic to see him starting the game, but a place on the bench may beckon for both players.
A fully fit squad also brings with it a headache of sorts for Wenger.
Who plays? Who makes the bench and who misses out entirely?
Surely Cech is a certainty. Then our back four pretty much picks itself – dependant on whether you prefer Gabriel over Mertesacker – but midfield is where the choices are plentiful.
In the centre, you have the steel of Coquelin. He links up so well with Cazorla, but Elneny has been excellent since breaking into the first XI. Throw into the reckoning a fit Wilshere, the dynamic Ramsey, the effervescent Rosicky……
What of the attacking slots? Iwobi has fully justified his spot since his inclusion, but he has many who covet his spot. Alexis Sanchez is a starter for sure, along with Ozil, but what of the rest?
In the sole striker position, Olivier Giroud has been preferred to Danny Welbeck in the last two games, perhaps in an effort to bring him out of his slump, but the exact opposite has occurred. The Frenchman has seen his drought extend, and calls for Welbeck have intensified. The England striker will be in the forefront of Wenger’s mind when naming the team today – or should be.
What all of this above highlights, is that we have a large squad more than capable of going through a season, when injuries do not blight us. With all of these choices available to him, it is nigh-on impossible to predict the team who will line up against the Canaries today, but whoever gets the nod must be fully aware of the consequences of dropped points.
The atmosphere could be noxious if proceedings don’t go according to plan, so a good start with plenty of attacking intent would be welcome. Norwich boss Alex Neil has not battened down the hatches in an attempt to stave off relegation. He has his team play expansive football, or they at least try to. Something worth remembering though, the corresponding fixture ended in a 1-1 draw, so they are more than capable of making things difficult. This match is the perfect time to put on a show of footballing verve, a display that reminds us all that Arsenal still are capable of blowing the opposition away – something that has been sorely missed this season.
Arsene Wenger will be left in no doubt how the fans feel after these ninety minutes – if the match ends and the scoreline isn’t in his favour, then it will be painfully hard for him to ignore.