After a disappointing start to the season, both on the pitch (results) and off (injuries/COVID), the early international break came at an ideal time for Arsenal — pending no further injuries or illnesses occur from national team play. The Gunners added six players to help bolster key positions and in some cases exit the break as assumed starters. Additionally, a flurry of late moves helped get Willian, Reiss Nelson, Hector Bellerin, & Alex Runarsson’s wages off the books.
But regardless of the level of transfer market activity, Arsenal still sits bottom of the Premier League with zero points and zero goals. Saturday’s home match against Norwich City (zero points & one goal) offers the perfect chance to get the season on track. To find out how things are going with the Canaries, we spoke with Sam Seaman who covers Norwich for Norwich Talk & My Football Writer.
TSF: Over the past decade, Norwich has spent five seasons in the Premier League and five in the Championship. What are the expectations that Norwich can avoid relegation this season and what is different about the squad from the 2019-20 side that finished 20th?
SS: The feeling this season is that if they’re ever going to become an established Premier League club, now is the time to do it. There’s not an unrealistic expectation, and Norwich fans are aware that there’s a chance of relegation, but especially with the signings they’ve made, I think there’s a confidence that they can do it.
TSF: Prefer being in the Premier League, but struggling with the aspiration of rebuilding a presence in the league, or in the Championship and competing for the trophy?
SS: Personally, I prefer the Premier League just because it’s the highest level. It’s great to see Norwich winning most games in the Championship but there’s no point if the Premier League isn’t the goal.
TSF: We meet on matchday four, both sitting on zero points, but Norwich has managed to score a goal this season. It’s been a difficult schedule to start the season (Liverpool, Manchester City, & Leicester City). Have the performances been about what you expected or simply a case of getting starting this season and a difficult schedule?
SS: The Leicester game was close to as well as they could’ve done without a proper defensive midfielder, albeit with two mistakes that lost them the game. Liverpool was a bit of a mix, but the Manchester City match was disappointing given the attitude with which they were beaten. In a way, it feels like the season is starting this weekend for Norwich, although they’ll still go in as clear underdogs.
TSF: Is Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour (on loan) the biggest summer addition or who do you believe will have the biggest impact this season?
SS: He may be the player with the most quality but I don’t think he’s the biggest addition because he’s not what Norwich needed most. The top priorities were defensive midfield and centre-back so in that sense Ozan Kabak and Mathias Normann are the biggest signings. But I think after losing Emi Buendia some firepower was needed, so Milot Rashica and Christos Tzolis could be key as well.
TSF: How would you rate Norwich’s transfer activity this summer window? Did they add enough to the team or what areas were left unaddressed?
SS: Every area was addressed and that’s what’s most pleasing from a Norwich City point of view. The calibre of players brought in is also exciting and overall it’s difficult to find significant fault in anything Stuart Webber, the sporting director, did this summer.
TSF: How will the club try to fill the Emiliano Buendía sized hole after his move to Aston Villa?
SS: Not directly. The plan was to adapt to a more Premier League-ready style of play anyway but Buendia’s departure has certainly played into that. Instead of signing another creative midfielder, they’ve gone for pacey wingers in Rashica and Tzolis and it looks like they’ll try to replace the Argentinian’s creativity with a counter-attacking threat.
TSF: Teemu Pukki (now 31) has been the club’s top goal scorer for the last three seasons. Is there anyone at the club that can challenge him for that title and, if not, is that a primary issue for Norwich’s survival?
SS: Josh Sargent has been brought in to provide competition for Pukki but the Finn is still very much the main man in Daniel Farke’s eyes. How reliant Norwich will be on Pukki we’ll see, especially given the calibre of the other striking options they’ve now got, but I still expect him to start most games when fit. They did need to improve the quality of the competition upfront to complete the squad and I think it’s big that they’ve done so.
TSF: How do you expect Norwich City to line up this weekend and give us your starting XI?
SS: It’s difficult to predict without knowing the full impact of the international break but I’ll go with: Krul; Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Williams; Normann, Gilmour, McLean; Rashica, Cantwell; Pukki.
TSF: What is your score prediction for Saturday’s match?
SS: I think the international break came at a good time for both clubs so I’m expecting a better performance from both sides than in the opening three weeks. I’m optimistic about Norwich’s chances but Arsenal have a lot of quality and will be very motivated so I think they’ll edge it 2-1.
Thanks to Sam Seaman for discussing Norwich City with us ahead of matchday four. Arsenal will host the Canaries on Saturday at 10 am ET.