Arsene Wenger could face an unpleasant reception from some sections of the Arsenal faithful on Saturday as the Frenchman prepares for a milestone game at home to Norwich City.
The clash at Emirates Stadium marks Wenger’s 750th Premier League game in charge of the Gunners, still 60 behind the record held by Alex Ferguson with Manchester United.
Whether Wenger will remain at Arsenal long enough to surpass his long-time rival has been a hot topic of debate in recent weeks, with some of the club’s fans planning protests on Saturday as their Champions League qualification hopes remain in the balance.
After picking up just six points from their past four outings, Arsenal come into the weekend in fourth, one place and five points above Manchester United having played a game more.
A handful of supporters’ clubs have outlined plans to hold up banners reading “Time For Change. Arsenal is stale – fresh approach needed” in the 12th and 78th minute, in reference to the 12-year gap since Arsenal’s last Premier League triumph.
Although Saturday’s game could be set against a backdrop of negativity, there was positive news for Wenger on the injury front, with Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain nearing returns after knee problems.
“Everyone is training, so that’s new for us. That’s the first time this season,” Wenger told the club’s official website.
“It’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first week in full training now, so I don’t think I will select him this weekend.
“Santi might be in the squad this weekend, I don’t know yet. He is available. Everyone is available, but maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain is not competitive yet.”
Arsenal have played three times since Norwich’s last outing – a damaging 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland – and the two weeks’ rest may have allowed Canaries duo Russell Martin (illness) and Andre Wisdom (knee) to return to full fitness.
After back-to-back defeats, Norwich have dropped into the final relegation spot, behind Sunderland on goal difference, and could have fallen to second from bottom by the time they kick off in Saturday’s late game.
Manager Alex Neil used his free time last weekend to visit old club Hamilton Academical, whose director Ronnie MacDonald backs his long-standing friend to save the Canaries from an immediate return to the Championship.
“You have the right boy to do it,” MacDonald told the Eastern Daily Press. “I actually saw him on Saturday. He was up here at the stadium and he is not remotely daunted.
“All you can do is your best in your life and if it is not good enough you can live with that. The one thing I will say is you won’t see him buckle. The great thing about wee Alex is that he really cares about his club.”
Key Opta stats:
– Arsenal have won eight of their last 12 league home games against Norwich City (W8 D3 L1).
– Mesut Ozil has now gone eight successive Premier League appearances without an assist, despite having a league-high 18 in total this season.
– Olivier Giroud has now gone 14 Premier League games without scoring, his longest goal-drought in the competition.
– No team in the Premier League has a lower scoring top scorer than Norwich this season – Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani (five goals).
– Of players to have had 10+ clear cut chances in the Premier League this season, Norwich striker Cameron Jerome has the worst conversion rate of these chances (2/12 – 16.7 per cent).
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