NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Leon Barnett of Norwich City battles with Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 19, 2011 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
The 11th Annual Bradley Johnson Pen Set
Saturday, May 5, 745 AM EDT Kickoff
Emirates Stadium, London N5
Form: ARS WWLDD | NOR DWLLL
Televisual Coveration: ESPN 2, ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes
Arsenal welcome Norwich to the north of London for the first of two matches that, should Arsenal win both, will see them end up in third place for the season. Closest rivals for third Tottenham and Newcastle face off against Villa away and Manchester City at home on Sunday. Norwich look to be already on vacation, with consecutive losses to Manchester City, Blackburn, and Liverpool by a combined score of 11-1. Arsenal won the away fixture in this tie 2-1 wayyyyy back in November, and they will be looking to do the same tomorrow.
Follow us below the jump for squad news and various worries.
Norwich will be without the services of defenders Marc Tierney and Daniel Ayala, while other defenders Zak Whitbread and Adam Drury face late fitness tests. Maybe if Arsenal are lucky, Norwich will just play with no defenders.*
*This won't happen. Tactics!
Arsenal, for their part, have the same squad as they did last weekend with the exception of Abou Diaby, whose season is over after he strained his calf. This fairly limits Arsenal's midfield options to Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain an option in the middle as he was against AC Milan, if necessary. Francis Coquelin is a possibility as well off the bench. Hopefully, as Aidan argues here, Rosicky will take up a deeper position alongside Alex Song and leave the more forward role to Ramsey, but as this really hasn't happened since Udinese in August, it's perhaps a pipe dream.
Up front, the options are also a little limited due to Theo Walcott's injury. It seems likely that Yossi Benayoun and Gervinho will flank Robin van Persie again, with Chamberlain an option up front as well. The defensive foursome will be the standard, although Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen will have to be cautious in order to deal with the large presence of striker Grant Holt.
All in all, it's a match that seems fairly straightforward on paper. Three points here is what is required to inch ever closer to that vital third spot in the table, the players know it, and they must be ready.
Match prediction: you know how when you were a kid, your parents would bring you a new Lego set home from the store, and you would gleefully open those little cellophane packets with holes in them (as if the Lego bricks would suffocate if they didn't have holes in the packet) and spill the pieces out onto the table? And then you would unfold the instructions while looking at those creepily soft-focus photographs of the completed set and how wonderfully complicated it looked to put together? And then you would see the pictures of alternative things that could be constructed from the same bricks, but there were no instructions for those, so you felt inadequate to the task of making the alternate thing?** Well, imagine Arsenal are a Lego set, and the standard, by-the-numbers, obvious thing is the starting XI described above, but the alternative, cool thing, that's really hard to do, is to play with Rosicky deep, Benayoun and Chamberlain on the flanks, and van Persie paired with Marouane Chamakh with a propeller on his head. That's my vision for tomorrow, with all players having weird Lego hair.
** At least I felt inadequate. Maybe you didn't. I don't like disobeying instructions.