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Preview: Norwich City vs. Arsenal - prediction, team news, lineups
26/12/2021 10:04:17

Following four straight wins in league and cup, Arsenal aim to keep their pursuit of a top-four place on track when they visit the Premier League's bottom side Norwich City on Boxing Day.

Having cruised to their 10th top-flight victory last time out at Leeds, and then serenely progressed to the EFL Cup semi-finals, the Gunners now meet a home side who have won just twice all season.

We say: Norwich City 1-3 Arsenal

Momentum is certainly in Arsenal's favour heading towards the end of a largely disappointing year, and they are set to extend their winning streak to five with another success on Boxing Day.

Remarkably, Norwich have never taken three Premier League points on December 26, and a thin squad disrupted by illness and injuries cannot hope to compete with their capital counterparts this time around.

Match preview

After starting the month inauspiciously with back-to-back defeats, Arsenal have seemed galvanised by the disciplinary action taken against their captain by manager Mikel Arteta, going on to score 14 times in four successive wins in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's absence.

Featuring a much-changed side, the Gunners followed up nine points from nine in the Premier League with a 5-1 victory over Sunderland in the EFL Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday, in which cup specialist Eddie Nketiah netted a hat-trick for the North London side.

Eighteen-year-old starlet Charlie Patino also added his name to the scoresheet against the Black Cats, to cap a consummate performance from Arteta's second string and set up a tantalising semi-final tie with Liverpool next month.

Since their recent London derby win over West Ham lifted them into the top four for the first time since October 2020, Arsenal have gone on to post a convincing win over Leeds last weekend before comfortably progressing in the cup. They will, therefore, be confident of maintaining a Boxing Day record which has seen the club lose just twice in their last 23 games played on December 26.

Indeed, only Liverpool and Manchester City have bettered the Gunners' points tally over the past six league matches, but they have tended to falter far more often when on the road. Ahead of the trip to Carrow Road this week, Arsenal have lost five of their nine away fixtures in the Premier League, compared to seven wins from nine on home soil.

Undoubtedly, Arteta will expect to improve that record against a struggling side, with three points from such games a requirement if they are to secure a return to the Champions League during the second half of the season.

Victims of disruption caused by the latest twist in the COVID-19 pandemic, Norwich City have been sidelined since their home defeat to Aston Villa over a week ago, having had their fixture with West Ham United called off due to a virus outbreak in the squad.

While opportunities to train together have necessarily been limited, perhaps the break came at a good time for the ailing Canaries, who had just lost three consecutive games without scoring and have failed to win in five.

Not only has new boss Dean Smith inherited a squad low in confidence and lacking elite-level quality in key positions, a number of injury and illness-related absences have hindered his efforts to help them escape the drop zone.

While they remain just three points adrift of safety, Norwich have played at least one game more than several of their relegation rivals, so must start to accumulate points at a greater rate if they are to survive.

Sitting bottom of the Premier League pile with only 10 points to date, they will be aware that only three teams who started Boxing Day in last place have previously managed to avoid demotion since the competition was inaugurated nearly 30 years ago.

Having also lost 10 of their last 14 top-flight encounters with their next opponents, the Canaries will be up against both form and precedent on Sunday.

Team News

Ahead of their trip to Norfolk, Arsenal still have concerns over the fitness of first-choice right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu, who came off early on against Leeds with a muscular problem. An ever-present since joining, the former Bologna defender sat out the EFL Cup tie in midweek and could be forced to watch from the sidelines again on Sunday.

Calum Chambers is the latest member of Mikel Arteta's squad to be afflicted by COVID-19, joining Albert Sambi Lokonga and Pablo Mari in self-isolation, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been absent due to another illness.

Arteta has previously named the same starting lineup for four consecutive Premier League matches, and is expected to leave deposed captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out again, instead selecting Alexandre Lacazette up front.

The virus outbreak in Norwich's camp, meanwhile, has yet to be quelled, with players including Josh Sargent and Christos Tzolis back in training ahead of Arsenal's visit but other unnamed squad members this week testing positive for COVID-19.

Billy Gilmour and Dimitris Giannoulis had reported suffering symptoms after the Villa game, but could yet be included. Milot Rashica (groin) and Republic of Ireland defender Andrew Omobamidele (back) are still out injured though.

Following his Premier League debut in the loss at Tottenham, midfielder Jacob Sorensen has been called upon to fill in at centre-back for part of both subsequent games - deputising for Grant Hanley (shoulder) and Ozan Kabak (calf), who both remain doubtful for this weekend. He could now return to the engine room, as cover for the injured Mathias Normann.

Norwich City possible starting lineup:

Krul; Aarons, Kabak, Gibson, Williams; Gilmour, Sorensen, McLean; Dowell, Pukki, Cantwell

Arsenal possible starting lineup:

Ramsdale; Soares, White, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Partey; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Lacazette

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