Arsenal travel to Carrow Road winless in seven as the pressure begins to mount on Unai Emery after another disappointing defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League on Thursday night.
A second half double from Daichi Kamada cancelled out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener in the first half, as Unai Emery tinkered tactically once again after the preceeding 2-2 draw with Southampton, that has left the Gunners in desperate need of a victory.
Daniel Farke’s Norwich side picked up their first win since September with an impressive 2-0 victory at Everton, and they were well worth their victory at Goodison Park, which has left them 18th in the table, three points from safety.
Farke was able to welcome back Christoph Zimmermann from injury to a backline that has been ravaged by absentees throughout the season, and the German centre half helped his side to a clean sheet at Goodison Park. Farke’s side opted to play a deeper defensive line than in recent weeks, before looking to hit Marco Silva’s side on the break through the pace of Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Onel Hernandez out wide. It would be no surprise to see a similar style against a Gunners side who like to operate with a high defensive line and leave space in behind, and this is something both Southampton and Frankfurt have exploited well in the recent week, particularly when Arsenal were forced to chase the game.
Kenny McLean impressed when pushed further forward, helping to replace the creative gap left by Emiliano Buendia with five key passes, and this allowed Hernandez to move out wide and provide width with a more defensive Sam Byram at full back.
The two full backs for Norwich are often expected to provide the width as Farke’s front four often look to play narrow, however the injury to Jamal Lewis saw Byram come in out of position at left back, but this worked wonders as he cut a more reserved figure, giving the excellent Cuban winger Hernandez a license to press on and cause Djibril Sidibe problems, forcing the French full back to stay back. It is certainly an area of focus both for Arsenal and Norwich, and the formation that Emery opts for will certainly be interesting, as Norwich have showed throughout the season that the most space when attacking is down the flanks.
If Norwich are to continue with the deeper, more reserved defensive line against Arsenal and look to utilise the counter attack with the likes of Hernandez and
Cantwell, it would also help to guard against the pace of the Arsenal attackers such as Aubameyang and Lacazette, who have shown in plenty of games this season their avility to thrive in spaces left behind. Frankfurt were guilty of affording Aubameyang too much space in behind and in the channels on Thursday in the first half, however this came up against a back three with a 35-year-old sweeper in Makoto Hasebe, so it is not expected to be the same scenario come Sunday.
Emery experimented once again against Frankfurt, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation with David Luiz moved into central midfield, however the Brazilian defender went off injured in the first half and this leaves a potential selection worry at the back for Arsenal. With Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding also doubtful it could leave Arsenal short of options at centre back, and leaves a big question over whether he opts for four or five at the back.
The left wing of Norwich is certainly an area Arsenal could look to target, with the more attack-minded Hernandez potentially leaving his counterpart Byram open to overloads out wide. It would be no surprise to see Emery opt for either a 4-2-3-1, with Nicolas Pepe given a chance up against the full back with Callum Chambers pressing on the provide the width, but this would also leave the Gunners themselves open to the counter attack, with the defensive contribution from Pepe often questionable.
It also brings into question how does Emery shoehorn in all his attacking talent without leaving his side too open, and for all his creative talent, Mesut Ozil has often lacked the required contribution defensively required in these away games, so Emery may opt to go without the German playmaker. With Norwich packing the midfield centrally, the spaces to exploit will be out wide for Arsenal, and it could see Aubemayang moved out wide with Lacazette central, to try create a presence and an option in the box, particularly if crosses are going to be an avenue to open up the Norwich defence.
However, it could see the Arsenal midfield overrun centrally, and although the energy and tenacity of both Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira can’t be overlooked defensively, they can often lack the nous required to break teams down, and this further reinforces a reliance on either playing wide, or perhaps the introduction of Ozil centrally to try provide a spark.
A tactically interesting game, and the many different options Emery has to utilise in search of a first win in eight makes it a tough one to predict, but there are a couple of angles worth touching upon.
Arsenal’s games have been card heavy this season, and with the tactics employed, and being left to chase games, it has been no surprise to see them rack up. Up against a fast breaking Norwich side, they’ll be exposed to the break, particularly with their high defensive line struggling for pace without Bellerin and Luiz. The midfield could easily become overrun by Norwich centrally on the break as well, and this brings into play the likes of Guendouzi and Torreira when looking to stop the counter. Norwich also take appeal, but with a lack of certainty on the Arsenal line up, it becomes a tough ask to pinpoint where the spaces will open up for the Gunners, and thus who may be targeted. A 2v1 situation against Byram (12/5 Bet365) could see him brought into play, but the appealing option remains on Arsenal to simply have O1.5 cards at 1/1 (Bet365).
With the congested middle of the pitch seeing Arsenal more than likely to target the wide areas, the Gunners to have O6.5 corners at 11/10 (Bet365) also takes appeal. With Arsenal averaging 7.77 for, and Norwich 7.77 against this season, the tactics of both sides do lend itself to expect it to stay similar to the statistical norm, especially if Lacazette is to start centrally, offering an option for Emery’s side centrally.