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.
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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