London, United Kingdom | AFP |
Arsene Wenger will be forced to confront renewed supporter protests at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as he attempts to stop Arsenal’s troubled season imploding in the final weeks.
A number of fans’ groups are planning to mark the visit of struggling Norwich by displaying placards during the game demanding change after another frustrating campaign.
The Gunners’ Premier League title challenge was finally ended following last weekend’s failure to beat lowly Sunderland, leaving Wenger’s side to face another relegation-threatened team with their focus now trained on preserving a top four spot.
The goalless draw at the Stadium of Light opened the door for Manchester City to move into third place, leaving Arsenal in fourth place, five points clear of Manchester United who have played a game less.
The odds remain in Arsenal’s favour as they attempt to qualify for the Champions League for a 20th successive season under Wenger’s guidance.
But the French manager concedes that record is under threat, and anything less than victory against a Norwich side currently occupying the third relegation place on goal difference will increase the pressure on Wenger’s position.
Mesut Ozil’s admission this week he is in no hurry to sign a new contract –- his current deal runs until 2018 –- only added to the sense that while there is no silverware at stake, the remaining weeks of the season could be significant for the club.
Missing out on the Champions League will do nothing to encourage Ozil and Chile star Alexis Sanchez to agree new terms.
However, a strong finish backed by victory at Manchester City in the penultimate game will guarantee third place and automatic passage to the Champions League group stages, strengthening Wenger’s hand.
“Now the fight is to get the best position for the Champions League,” Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech said.
“You need to start winning games. We have three games to play and we need to get as many points as we can.
“I don’t think it will be enough to finish in the top two now as the other teams have taken advantage of our two points dropped.”
In that context, the possible return of Santi Cazorla after a six-month absence with a knee problem will be welcomed by Wenger, although England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains sidelined.
“Santi might be in the squad this weekend, I don’t know yet. He is available,” Wenger said.
“Everyone is available, but maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain is not competitive yet. It’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first week in full training now, so I don’t think I will select him this weekend.”
Norwich will attempt to revive their bid to escape relegation after a recent upturn in form that brought seven points from three games was ended by successive defeats against Crystal Palace and Sunderland.
The 3-0 home defeat against the Black Cats was particularly demoralising and the Canaries now face a three-way battle with Sunderland and Newcastle to avoid going down to the Championship with Aston Villa.
Alex Neil’s side sat out last weekend’s round of fixtures and the manager must hope the break will leave his team refreshed.
“It looks like it is going all the way now. There are huge amounts to play for and certainly the points tally, with limited games left, you feel it is going to go right to the end,” Neil said.
“Obviously playing Arsenal away at the Emirates is tough but we need to try and take something and then we have two at home and we have to target them and Everton away, whose home record is not great.
“People can talk about the points we need, but two wins and a draw from where we are, I think that will be enough.
“It is about us. I look at the four games we have got and think we need to win some of those, not who has got who elsewhere.”