Norwich preview :: Goodbye to a legend

An early start this morning and an early kick off for Arsenal as we face Norwich in our final home game of this challenging league season.

The situation we’re in in simple and requires little explanation – win both games we have left and we finish third and qualify automatically for next season’s Champions League. The importance of that cannot be understated for reasons we all know, players with dwindling contracts and the need to bring in new signings who can improve us. If we finish third you can look at it as improvement in basic terms from last season, but we were no closer to winning the league this year than last and we need to be a team that challenges next time around.

There’s nothing new in terms of the team news with Diaby missing and Park coming into the squad to replace him. I suspect the line-up tomorrow will be the same as the one that started against Stoke, although if it were up to me I would play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right today. Gervinho didn’t impress last week, hasn’t impressed since he got back from the African Cup of Nations of Africa in Africa, and while I’m cautious not to heap pressure and expectation on The Ox, I just think this is a game that could suit him.

We’ve won just one of our last four league games, which is what has made this run-in so tight, and that’s something we need to turn around today. From what I’ve seen of Norwich this season they’ve looked a solid, impressive team. Some might say they go into this game on their holidays, with Premier League football assured next season, but it also means they have no pressure, nothing to lose and it could be a positive thing for them.

Some of our most frustrating results this season have come against teams you would, normally, expect us to beat. Swansea, QPR, Blackburn etc have all taken three points from us and we’ve got to be careful we don’t fall into the familiar trap of underestimating our opponents today. I’m pretty sure that Arsene will have been stressing that very thing to the team all week but with this Arsenal team you never know.

However, if we’re up for this – and there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be – then I think this is a game from which we can take three points. The manager has asked Robin van Persie to drag us over the line, a tacit admission that the skipper is the best chance we have of scoring goals, but there are others in this team who could, and should, be able to contribute.

Rosicky, Ramsey, Benayoun, The Ox, Vermaelen are all capable and if we win this game it won’t be because of one man. Or at least it shouldn’t be. We need the team to remember that they are just that, collective responsibility will be what wins us the game, not ten men looking to one remarkably talented one to make something out of nothing. It’s more than likely that 6 points out of 6 will be necessary to achieve our final goal this season, fingers crossed the first three of them come tomorrow.

In other news, Arsene spoke about Robin’s contract situation, and pretty much said what we all hoped he say:

My desire and my wish is to find an agreement with Robin van Persie, extend the contract and stay with us for a longer time. Hopefully we can reach that.

If that wouldn’t happen, we’ll still want him to stay but I am more focused on the first situation. I think what is important for us is that we find an agreement with him to be happy and to stay and finish his career here.

And again, this is why third is so crucial. At his age, and with his talent, Robin needs to be playing at the very top of the game, so again we come back to the collective responsibility that the team has. Our efforts to keep him aren’t fully dependent on finishing third but they’d make a big difference, obviously.

Meanwhile, the other strikers at the club are still an issue. The manager hinted at something of a cull while praising what Podolski will bring to the team next season.

And finally, in terms of news, we’ll travel to Nigeria in the summer for a pre-season game, another attempt to widen the fanbase and a great chance for the many fans in Africa to get to see the team.

It’s also worth noting that today is Pat Rice’s final game at home after so many years working for the club. In 1979, he became the first man I ever saw lifting a trophy as Arsenal captain when we won the FA Cup. He’s a real Arsenal man, a proper legend and far from the ‘yes man’ he’s been portrayed as by some of the clueless who love to make their voices heard.

Let’s hope he gets the send of he deserves today after all he’s done. Thanks, Pat!

And that’s about that. I’m heading over this morning so I’ll see some of you pre-game, and post-game, in The Tollington whose landlord has urged to me remind you that as well as tasty, delicious pints there are also a limited number of copies of So Paddy Got Up behind the bar too.

See you there pre and/or post match for a beer and hopefully a good celebration of three extremely valuable points.

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