The last time Norwich City went to the Emirates they were soundly beaten by a superior Arsenal team backed up by a superior Arsenal squad and the London club had an exciting young coach in Mikel Arteta.
The Gunners were trending upwards and City clearly downwards as they meekly surrendered their Premier League status. Taking these things into consideration, the fact that the two sides appear to be on a par 15 months later is a travesty for Arsenal fans.
Not that Norwich will be entirely happy with how they’ve achieved this parity. The only thing keeping them from rock bottom is their opposition’s horrendous start. What separates this weekend’s clash from their previous three games, however, is that the Canaries have finally completed their squad.
Stuart Webber has secured the crucial double signing of Mathias Normann and Ozan Kabak, ticking off his two top transfer priorities and arming Daniel Farke with all the tools he needs for Premier League survival.
While every match has felt like a step towards the season properly starting, City’s trip to North London feels a significant one: the first with a full compliment.
There appears a chance that the pair could feature this weekend, although Farke did exercise his usual caution when discussing their availability.
“When I think of Ozan Kabak I think a player full of potential,” said Farke, “but he is a young player and his last league game was April. We have to be careful with what we are doing because he has only just arrived.
“We are happy that we have (Normann and Kabak). They will help us in the medium and the long term but how quickly we can throw them in we will have to see. We have many things to keep in mind.”
City will, however, be without Dimitris Giannoulis, who is suffering from back and neck issues, and Christoph Zimmermann, who is out due to an ankle issue. USA international Josh Sargent featured for his country in the early hours of Thursday morning (UK time) and is suffering from jet lag and hamstring issues, making him a doubt.
Giannoulis’ compatriot Christos Tzolis is likely to be available, however, after a positive international break followed his recovery from a calf injury. Bali Mumba has returned to team training after a small knee injury but is unlikely to feature against Arsenal.
The Gunners will be without Granit Xhaka through suspension, but Arteta remained coy on fitness issues after the international break.
Although feelings of optimism are not misplaced, complacency must not creep in either. City visit a side in dire straights and bottom of the table, but they also visit a side boasting talent such as that of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pepe. They visit a side that finished in the top half of the Premier League and then spent more than £100million on new players.
Yet again, the Canaries go in as underdogs. The away side may see this as their chance to take advantage of a vulnerable side, but the home side will see this as an opportunity to stop the rot against relegation candidates and, if reports are to believed, fight for the job of a man they very much believe in.
Whether City play like underdogs remains to be seen. They were beaten by Liverpool and Leicester with at least a resemblance of belonging in each, in the latter much more so than the former, but a repeat of their miserable surrender at Manchester City must be avoided if points are to be earned.
Arsenal may have quality but they’re vulnerable, and the Canaries must look to take advantage of that.
One of the key areas where this could happen is on the right side, where the Gunners’ dependence on Tierney has created a weakness. While the ex-Celtic man has shown alongside Grant Hanley that he’s capable of defending in a back three and his positional sense is usually no issue, the problem for Arsenal is that almost all of their creativity comes through Tierney.
This means that the Scot is expected to transform from left-winger into centre-back in the space of an opposition counter-attack, unbalancing the Arsenal side and creating a weakness that Milot Rashica will be very interested in exploring.
All of this weakness, however, seems to be making for a perfect ‘along come Norwich’ moment, as was beautifully highlighted on social media on Thursday morning by the editor of @AlongComeNodge.
But the bottom line is that for survival to be achieved the Canaries must move away from the same old Norwich previously a beacon of hope on the horizon for managers in turmoil. There should be no further mention of ‘free hits’.
No matter how early into the season, the games are disappearing thick and fast and the points have to be earned at some point. Arsenal are a good side and should not be underestimated, but this is a real opportunity for City.