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Norwich City v Arsenal Preview: It's Country Time!

Caption Contest time!
Caption Contest time!

Norwich City
v Arsenal
Carrow Road, Norwich, Farmland, Norfolk, the Birthplace of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
Saturday, 19 November, 2011
12:45 PM BST/7:45 AM EDT/4:45 AM PDT
ESPN 2/ESPN 2 HD/ESPN Deportes/

It's back. Oh yes it's back. After an extremely tedious international break (except for the part where England went all Inter Milan 2010 on Spain), glorious, real football is back. Arsenal get the Premier League weekend started with a trip to the flat lying county of Norfolk, where they will take on high-flying Norwich City, the Brazil of East Anglia (I assume Ipswich Town are the Argentina. Or the Paraguay. Maybe I'm just making this all up.). 

Funfact: Before the Industrial Revolution, Norwich used to be the second city of England, because of the farmland that could be used for grain. Also, Horatio Nelson was born in Norfolk. That's pretty awesome. 

Arsenal are without long term injury suspects Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby, who have been joined by hernia surgereé (I'm calling that a word) Kieran Gibbs. Carl Jenkinson is also out with a stress fracture problem. Norwich, meanwhile, have relatively few injuries, missing Daniel Ayala and James Vaughan (shocker!). Manager Paul Lambert (who of course had Henri Lansbury on loan there last year) has achieved two straight promotions and has the Canaries playing an attractive, even if somewhat pragmatic, style of football. They have also shown tactical flexibility, with Lambert switching from his favoured diamond formation to play 5 at the back, or 5 in midfield. This has sometimes meant less of playmaker Wes Hoolahan, known as Wessi, the Irish Messi, which is an awesome nickname (he, like Lionel, is also 5'6). 

Norwich have played well against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, and they earned a draw at Anfield, where Grant Holt scored a wonderful header. Norwich have scored 6 out of 15 from set pieces, and Holt, a battling centre forward who was excellent last season, is a threat. Welsh international Steve Morison has been playing ahead of Holt recently, but given the reputation Arsenal have with set pieces, and given Holt's prowess in running the channels and in the air, he should start as their loan striker as Norwich will likely put 5 in the midfield and try to make it hard for Arsenal to break them down. 

In the past, Arsenal may have taken this game easily, but this season there seems to be more maturity around Arsenal, and less complacency and less bad decision making, and Arsenal should have enough to beat Norwich. With Gervinho's incisive wing play, they are better equipped to break down teams that try to defend deeply and narrowly and constrict space. Furthermore, Aaron Ramsey is beginning to find the incisive passing that his game lacked at the beginning of the season, and has contributed directly to three Arsenal goals in the last weeks. And, as always, Alex Song and Mikel Arteta can pick a pass from deeper positions. 

Arsene Wenger played Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen to great effect against West Bromwich Albion, but away from home, he may select the superior positioning skills of Per Mertesacker to partner either the aggressiveness of Koscielny or Vermaelen. With Vermaelen having played 90 minutes on Tuesday, and Dortmund on Wednesday, Koscielny may be the preferred partner, or Wenger may choose to put Vermaelen at left back and rest Andre Santos, given that Kieran Gibbs is out until Christmas. There may also be an Arshavin sighting, given that Arsenal have four games in the next two weeks. Knowing Tomas Rosicky's injury history, and the fact that he played 180 minutes in 4 days means it's unlikely he can play Saturday. He should be available for Wednesday, though, and could spell Aaron Ramsey. 

Lineup: Szczesny; Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Santos; Song; Ramsey, Arteta; Gervinho, van Persie, Arshavin
Subs: Fabianski; Vermaelen, Frimpong, Benayoun, Walcott, Henry Chamakh, Park

Prediction: Szczesny thinks a bale of wheat is a ball, and so he runs out and clears it during an Arsenal corner, to the merriment of many. From the corner, Per Mertesacker finally scores, and celebrates with the wheat. Andrey Arshavin weaves through the entire defence, but misses when he's one on one. Theo Walcott gets a goal when he runs onto Aaron Ramsey's through ball, and Park makes it three after Gervinho dribbles past three defenders. Norwich get a goal back from Grant Holt from an Anthony Pilkington cross, but Arsenal prevail 3-1. The wheat is last seen over White Hart Lane before disintegrating just like Harry Redknapp's (alleged) tax returns.