Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 3)

This is the 3rd part of the article on the effects of Foreign ownership. If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 yet than I’d advise you to read it before you jump into the this part. Part 1 can be found here! Part 2 can be found here!

3. Foreign ownerships effects – The pride of a nation

The National team is often the pride of a nation. In times of economic crisis people often look to their nation’s football team as a means to take their mind of the horrid reality of austerity. National games are the only time when fans of fierce rivals can put their rivalry apart and cheer for each others players. For a national team to be successful though, the league needs to supply quality youth that can elevate the national team to new heights. In this part the emphasis will be on the national team and youth and how foreign ownership effects both. It is inevitable to look at the FA’s 25-man squad rule introduced in 2010 and therefore the part on youth will focus on how effective the rule can be.

3.1 Effects on the National team – The loins of the lions

The national team is one of the things foreign ownership affects indirectly. Of course its not the aim of the owners to diminish the talent pool of the national team but it is something that occurs as a consequence. Often people claim that the failure of England to qualify for the Euro 2008 was down to the exuberant transfer made by clubs with foreign owners (Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and Sinawatra bought Machester City in 2007). From the inception of the EPL in the 1992/1993 season until the time of Taylors (2007) study (2006-2007 season) the percentage of English players that start a match have dropped 47 percent. But can this drop be attributed to foreign ownership alone?

Figure taken from Walter et al., 2009

The important thing to note is that in the above graph the flurry of signings by Manchester City from 2008 onwards is not represented therefore it is hard to make a decisive conclusion. Nevertheless from the above graph we can see that since the inception of the EPL in 1992/1993 the percentage of English players in the league has decreased dramatically. In fact, in 1992 there were only 11 foreign players (foreign player here meaning players that are neither British nor Irish) playing in the entire league (Wikipedia, 2012). By 2009 this has changed dramatically: the average foreign player per team was 13 (Williams, 2009). In 1999 Chelsea were the first ever club to have a starting line up which had no British players (Inge et al., 2001) and in 2005 Arsenal was the first ever EPL club to have their team sheet of 16 players be made up of only foreign players (BBC Sport, 2005). Ironically it seems it wasn’t just foreign players who displaced their English counterparts in the EPL but the club owners as well.

According to Taylor (2007) the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was due to the lack of English footballers in English football. He also argued that foreign ownership just compounds this effect and that it would lead to foreign management methods and increase the amount of foreign players entering the EPL. However, I respectfully disagree with this claim. First of all from the figure above it is evident that foreign players have started displacing English players before “project” type foreign owners were even in the league. Furthermore the Chelsea of 1999 and the Arsenal of 2005 were not in the hands of foreign owners. We should not however dismiss the figure above completely as it points towards a double edged sword when it comes to foreign players and management. In part 2. I have demonstrated how these players, owners, and managers enrich the EPL and make it more marketable. What the above figure shows is that it was the English players who have paid the costs of the financial success of the league. And thus the national team is also victim of this. Dobson et al. (2001) argue that the theories of the economic positives on the EPL of foreign influence outweigh the negative effects on the English national team. Whether or not this is true is politically debatable however it points to something Taylor (2007) implicitly conveyed: the incentives and interests of foreign owners are to enrich the club and the club only. This attitude could potentially hurt the national team, but it should be in the FA’s interest to curb the incentives of these owners in a manner that benefits the English National team.

Even before the FA took direct action by introducing the ’25-player’ rule there was an essence of caution about the number of foreign players in the EPL. In 1999 the department that controls immigration in England, made the rules tougher to slow down the pace of foreign players being introduced in the EPL. It has to be noted that these attempts were not too successful as they could be only applied to non-EU citizens since EU law as outlined by the Maastricht treaty (1991) is about promoting freedom of labour movements and thus a work permit to play football in England is automatically given to all EU footballers. However the intent is clear that it was in response to the concern that English footballers were overlooked by clubs.

In 2010 the FA took direct action against the trend of foreign players displacing English ones by introducing the 25-man rule. The 25 man rule basically states that the 25-man squad of an EPL side must be compromised of, a minimum of eight ‘home grown’ players where a “home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)”  (English Premier League, 2012).

3.2 The 25-man rule and youth development – problem solver or problem creator?

The 25-man rule could be looked at as a way by which the FA wanted to promote investment in youth by the teams. It was an effort made by the FA after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. The reason this article has to look at this rule in detail is to determine whether or not the 25-man rule was able to curb the investments of foreign owned clubs in a manner that they invest in youth development.

The first issue with the 25-man squad rule is the arbitrary number of 25. The reasoning behind this is that with such a limit, as the season progresses and injuries are piled up the managers will have to dip into their academy as they could have an unlimited number of Under-21 names on their team sheet. Thus youth will be used more by the managers. The fault with this reasoning is that it means that the most talented U21s who are 1 or 2 seasons away from being introduced to the team won’t be sent on full season loans if any loans at all as the managers will want to play it safe and keep them at home. However injuries in some areas might not occur and some of these young players will lose a year of footballing experience and might eventually miss out on the first team completely if they don’t get any first team football. Therefore this rule might actually affect the most promising youth in an adverse way instead of benefiting them due to the nature of injuries and suspensions being unpredictable.

The other issue is that the teams with money will have the possibility to go and buy players in the January transfer window: The teams with a lot of liquidity behind them can afford to buy someone in the January transfer window when injuries are piling up. However the team has to make sure they have a free spot on their 25-man squad unless they buy a player who is British. This leads me to my main gripe with the rule: it inflates home-grown players prices. One just needs to look at the recent price tags of the English/British players to see this: Andy Carroll (£35million); Jordan Henderson (£15,8 million); Joe Allen (£ 16,7 million); Stewart Downing (£20 million)

Home grown players are a double edged sword when it comes to promoting the national squad. Players such as Cesc Fábregas and Nicklas Bendtner counted as home grown players despite the fact they are not playing for the England national squad. However their presence in the youth academy definitely had a positive effect on other youth prospects. As one coach from the Premier Academy League put it: “There‟s a transfer, there‟s an obvious transfer, because they [foreign players] will come and people will put them on a pedestal and say that they are technically more gifted . . . but they have to come in and get up to the speed of our game and learn to do everything that they do at our intensity, our tempo. But we have the transfer the other way of their calmness on the ball, the creation of space, that first touch, their decision making . . . it works both ways, and to simplify it, I think it‟s a physicality one way, and a technicality the other way” (Elliot, 2009). This exchange is often termed ‘feet exchange’. Long story short: the presence of foreign youth players in the academy raise the bar for indigenous players as well and thus has an overall positive effect. This doesn’t mean all English players who were training with Spanish young midfielders will come through the system, it merely means that the players who have the right mix of physicality and technicality will rise among the ranks.

What I think the FA was hoping to achieve with increasing the pool of home grown players is naturalisation of top footballers. Naturalisation occurs when a player is eligible to play for a different national team but instead chooses to play for England. This is essentially what happened with Carl Jenkinson. Arsenal bought Jenkinson because they needed a young Right Back who could take over from Bacary Sagna in the long run and not be counted as a foreigner in the 25 man squad. This allowed Jenkinson to raise the eyebrows of Roy Hodgson after some good performances on the pitch and the FA naturalised Jenkinson snatching him from the Finnish FA. (Wilfred Zaha of Crystal Palace was also naturalised) So its a win-win for the club and the FA. The FA gets a new English player and the club gets a free spot on their 25-man squad sheet. Now the problem with this is that the players who are willing to naturalise for England are the ones whose nations football team is even worse. Arteta has been in England and not featured for Spain yet but he has stated he would not want to play for England. What I am trying to convey is that naturalisation has its limits as well.

Ever since the 25-man rule has been in place the academies of the big clubs suddenly began to grow. On the surface this seems like a success of the 25-man rule and to some extent it is the case; however it polarised the league even more. Club managers are not stupid and they soon realised that the best way to fool the current rules is to start signing players when they are 16 years old rather than scout them and then only sign them when they turn 20 if they are good enough. If these players are not good they could be sold anyway. Now this all costs money which means the teams with the most resources will have the largest youth squad. Chelseas youth academy has increased dramatically over the past couple of years (but this did not stop them from investing large amounts of cash into their senior squad). Therefore with the help of the 25-man rule the effects of foreign ownership started to creep into the youth system. Now for the England national team this might be a good thing; however it came at the cost of essentially creating a carbon copy of the EPL at a youth level, where financial background is starting to be an increasingly dominant factor.

So while it would appear that the FA and the English Premier League in general are aware of all these recent impacting factors and both the positive and negative effects that foreign ownership’s are having on the league, the key question at the end of this saga is: What realistically can be done about it and where are these choices inevitably leading us? What future consequences do these outside influences hold for the England national team and the mid-level teams of the Premier league that are the very ‘essence’ of the game? While these questions will be answered in time, for now at least it seems that money really does talk in the football world and sadly a lot of the smaller teams that have made this league so fiercely competitive over the past decade may find the road ahead much tougher to travel without healthy financial backing, while a few less fortunate teams may find themselves fading into obscurity as transfer fees continue to rise and it becomes harder and harder for the average team in England’s famous league to attract quality players.

And we are through! All 3 parts are online for you guys to read. If you missed Part 1 where I looked at the different types of foreign ownerships than click here! If you want to give Part 2 a read again (which focused on transfer prices and wages and how foreign ownership affected it) then click here!

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Sources
Advertisements

Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 1)

What are the effects of foreign ownership on a League? Are they primarily positive or do the negatives outweigh the positives? These are questions one often stumbles upon when discussing football nowadays.  Foreign ownership is not exclusive to football, however, as its roots are in the business world where it happens rather often. It basically means that a local company is being bought by a Foreign Investor. So why is it so different when it comes to football? The answer is: you. The presence of fans who love the club they support can make foreign ownership in football a bit messy. This piece will be a 3 part analysis with part 1 having the aim to explore the the types of foreign ownerships. Part 2 will look at its effects on the financial success of the league and foreign ownerships’ effects on the transfer market prices and wages. Part 3 will look at the National team and the youth and how foreign ownership affects it. It is in part 3 where we will see if the 25-man rule of the FA was the right decision or not.  The English Premier League (hereinafter EPL) will be the focal point simply because that is the league I follow and thus have a deeper understanding of how things work in it (compared to other leagues).

Even the lampposts hate Glazer

To date there are primarily three scenarios that can happen to a club when it is taken over. I will name these three scenarios as “Project“, “Business“, and “Self-sustaining”. The first twp scenarios are exactly the opposite of each other which will have an effect on the way the fans perceive it. Generally speaking “project” type ownerships are more welcome by the fans (of the club that is being taken over) while “business” ownerships will most probably bring grief to the fans. Whether foreign ownership sells the soul of the club remains to be seen (and I will not spend much time on this specific issue myself) but I will state that foreign ownership is unfair by default as the fans do not know if the owner will look at the club as a business opportunity or as a project, not to mention a project ownerships external effect on the league. 

1. Foreign ownership in general – Selling the soul of the club?

First of all we have to note that currently the majority of the 20 clubs in the EPL are under foreign ownership, and that out of the big six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool) only Tottenham Hotspur is in British Hands (with Joe Lewis being the majority stockholder owning 85% of spurs). Newcastle United are a team that looks like they can break the top 6 that I have named and they are also a team in British hands.

1.1 Project ownership – Expensive toys for rich (overgrown) kids

By project ownership I mean an owner who looks at his team as a project. In the EPL the first owner to do this successfully was Roman Abramovich whose business attitude towards Chelsea FC, which lead the team to become an EPL force, paved the way for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Manchester City. The basic idea behind a project ownership is to inject funds into the Football club which will then be used for transfer activities, as illustrated by the table below:

Transfer Market Activity (from Transfer League). Values are nominal and not weighted against inflation

Please note that I only used EPL teams for the representation, and since the EPL was created in 1992 most of the data used in the calculation will be from 1992 onwards. Also note that the table above merely looks at  the dealings of the clubs at hand in the transfer market (in no way are these numbers a representation of the boards dealings) and that I only looked at the clubs within the top 6. There are other clubs that would fit the description of project buyout in the EPL: QPR, Sunderland (prior to Short buyout).

Looking at the table above one might ask if Liverpool FC really does fall under the banner of “project” ownership and it might be argued that to some extent yes it does (especially with last seasons transfer dealings).  But these numbers do not show other revenue streams apart from players being sold and when that is being factored in, Liverpool’s financial activity on the transfer market does not stand out like Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s. In short, John W Henry is a massive improvement over Hicks and Gillet (regarding funds invested in the team), but is far from following the classic “sugar daddy” concept. Instead Fenway Sports Group is aiming at maximising its revenue streams similar to Stan Kroenke of Arsenal FC and and Elis Short of Sunderland.

What is a distinguishing feature of this type of ownership is that the enterprise will have a soft budget constraint. This basically means that the clubs management (this is a wider group than just the club manager) can negotiate with the owners to invest more money into the enterprise’s squad. This is a vital difference as it leads to these clubs having seemingly  limitless demand for players since when they would need to balance the books they simply engage in vertical negotiation with the well off owners to invest more into the club. However by doing so the clubs management loses some control over the club and allows it to be shaped by the owner.

In a “project” ownership the personality of the owner will very much define the managerial aspect of the football club. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea, the team has seen 10 different managers at its helm which is roughly 1 manager/season (!!!). This is an alarming figure by itself but factor into the equation the amount of money needed for these manager changes and you get a fortune being paid just for hiring and sacking managers.There is nothing wrong with this but a manager tends to plan for a longer term than 1 season and most of the times the real benefits are only reaped in the 2nd or 3rd season when the manager figured out which tactic is suited for the team and who he should ship in (and out) to make the team better.

If we look at André Villas-Boas record with Chelsea it is not horrible in fact it is better (by a very small margin) than Mancinis record was when he got the Manchester City job (as represented by the table on the left). From the table and the fact that Roberto Di Matteo was just recently sacked after being in charge of Chelsea for a shorter time than Villas-Boas,  it is apparent that Abramovich’s impatience is starting to define Chelsea FC’s decisions. Roman Abramovich wants to produce a team that can consistently win (such as Barcelona FC or Manchester United) but in the process of doing so he is actually taking 2 steps back every time he sacks a manager. If Chelsea do want to be a European force they might have to consider parting ways with Roman Abramovich. The real question is: can they afford to?

Suddenly this doesn’t just seem like a joke

Indeed the first issue that most teams under this type of ownership will experience is that they are essentially locked into a position. Due to the excessive transfer spending (and commercial deals that come from the owners network) these teams generally become indebted to their owner to the extent that they can no longer afford to walk different paths. This dependence is the reason why the personality of the owner will start the define the football club. In fact the more money the owner invests in the club the more it can define what it will look like as the more dependant the club becomes the more superior the owner becomes in any vertical bargaining situation. Of course it is not to say that if the owner leaves the club has to file for bankruptcy but the lavish transfer lifestyle the fans are used to will suddenly come to an end and these teams will have to look to their academy for survival, assuming their academy is good enough to supply the quality needed to stay on top.

Apart from the monetary issues when the enterprise parts way with their ‘sugar daddy’ there is the issue of the managers (Im referring to the boardroom staff here not the manager of the team) having a different set of skills under this type of ownership. Due to the soft budget constraint the teams management will not be as responsive as other teams when the transfer is negotiated. If there seems to be a financial issue the management of these teams usually just go to their owners and engage in vertical bargaining. This does not mean that these  managers are inadequate (vertical bargaining needs skill as well after all) it merely means that the management has a different set of skills. Thus if the owner decides to leave the club it will be a financial and a managerial challenge which is extremely hard to mount.

However the most important question is: Is this type of ownership sustainable? The answer is no. It creates an extreme subordinate-superior position where dependence is what keeps things in place. What if the owner decides to not pay for the team? For a recent example we have to venture into la liga which has recently become another attractive prospect for investors as “there are no more clubs for sale in the Premier League” (Rossell, 2011). There is a high chance that foreign ownership will be popular in this league as it has a financial disparity that stems from televising rights (will talk about this later) which has the potential to “kill Spanish football” to quote the words of Villareal manager Fernando Roig (2011). The team I shall look at is Malága CF which is currently under the hands of Abdullah bin Naser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. In the summer of 2012 Malága CF were struggling financially and didn’t pay their taxes or the player wages for the past weeks. The management of the team engaged in vertical bargaining with the owner to ask the owner to finance things. However things did not work out and the team was forced to liquidise its assets. This meant that Santi Cazorla and José Salamón Rondon left the club on the cheap for the team to be able to continue. Many things can be said about the owner and how he ‘doesn’t understand the ‘sugar daddy’ concept’; however this attitude doesn’t look at the management of the team: Why did they start vertical bargaining rather than sell their less wanted players? When it was obvious the owner won’t pay the team was at a disadvantage when negotiating their players sales. Of course Malága continued on to the Champions League after the sales but the damage dealt to the club puts it at a huge deficit if it wants to be in the Champions League the next season.

1.2 Business ownership – Fans money in businessmen’s  pockets

Ownership of an EPL team (or ex-EPL team) is a very lucrative investment fuelled by huge amounts of income from television deals. The reason behind this is that televising rights are centrally negotiated and distributed to keep financial equality between the teams. Without a doubt teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal FC could negotiate better television deals than the likes of Wigan Athletic or West Ham United. Of course this all sounds fine but Walters et al. (2009) raises a concern that the foreign investors might be solely driven by business and profiteering and not really interested in the success of the team and the league in general. This moral hazard problem is aggravated by the fact that the fans continue to pay their ticket prices which then end up with an owner who has no interest in reinvesting these funds (neither in the squad nor in increasing revenue growth). Very often these type of foreign ownerships are brief (1 or 2 seasons long) and end up with the owners leaving the club with heaps of cash siphoned from the club. This was the case for Portsmouth FC

Fortunately these types of ownerships are not common for teams who already cemented their place in the EPL; however the same could not be said for lower league teams where the respective team is ambitious to break into the EPL. Breaking into the EPL is lucrative as an average EPL club gets 45 million while an average Football League division team gets 1 million (from televising rights). Naturally this invites investors to buy teams which have a high probability of breaking into the EPL and once they make it (if they do) sell the club for a higher value. Some might even argue that this is the reason why newly promoted clubs often get relegated in either their first or second season. Whether this is the case is debatable, however it points to an obvious gulf between the EPL and the lower divisions of England.

Why should we care about this gulf? The reasoning is simple: The larger the gap in financial power between the EPL and the lower divisions the more desperate the management becomes to break into the EPL. This desperation will lead to the active search of people who are willing to invest in the team. The investment required is minimal and the rewards are huge if the team does make it. The worrying part is that the FA does nothing to address this issue and the EPL is only concerned with maximizing the profits for the top division. In fact if a team is relegated from the EPL it is subject to receive funds from the EPL to help it rise back to the top division. As ‘altruistic’ as this might seem it essentially creates a private club of EPL teams that are always financially better off than their lower division counterparts even if their managerial skill is subpar to that of lower division teams. How to tackle this problem is beyond the scope of this piece, but it does present a question to ponder on: Is financial elitism healthy for the league?

1.3 Self-sufficiency – The clubs that desperately want to fit the bill

This is the category that is the exception to the rule (so to speak) and is the broadest in definition. The owners (foreign or not) will want to make the club as self sufficient as possible. One could think of this as the middle ground for foreign ownership. It is not a “business” ownership since the owners do not siphon money out of the club (YES, Kroenke and the board does NOT take money out of Arsenal Holdings plc.). However these owners don’t handle their clubs as a “project” ownership either by throwing money at the squad. Instead these owners aim to maximize revenue streams. According to Dobson et al (2001) these owners of the football club assess the success of the club not solely on trophies but on five factors: profit, security, attendance or revenue, playing success, and health of the league. It is important to note that just like the “project” owners, the “self-sustaining” ownership model also invests/reinvests into the club. However instead of investing completely into the squad, clubs under this model invest in the enterprise itself in an effort to maximise revenue streams.

The degrees to which how much is invested in the squad and how much in the enterprise varies a lot and is often dependant on the saturation of current revenue streams and the potential of revenue growth. Manchester United and Liverpool FC were both capable of increasing their commercial revenues (Liverpool against the odds since they fell out of the Champions League) which allowed both teams to invest in their squad knowing that revenue growth can cover these expenditures. Arsenal FC, however drove its main revenue streams (matchday revenue and property development) close to saturation before attempting to increase commercial revenue via the Asia tour. Now of course Arsenal are tied down in certain deals until 2014 but nothing would’ve stopped the commercial team to attract new secondary sponsors (think about it: Manchester United have 2 different shirt sponsors for their playing kit AND their training kit). Because of this Arsenal are lagging behind in commercial revenue and in order to keep themselves afloat are forced to dip into their squad and sell their assets (More on this here). Of course for Arsenal this is mainly due to the debt they had to incur to construct the Emirates Stadium, a project which left a huge dent on its finances but in the long run, with a strong commercial team, can make the club a European powerhouse as the board envisioned it to be. But for this to become a reality it is imperative for the commercial team of Arsenal FC to ‘up its game’ otherwise the team will start to drift out of the top 4 on the football field as the management will dip in the squad to keep its accounts healthy.

Another point to note is that “self-sustaining” ownerships interest is making the league better as the financial success of the owners are closely related to the financial success of the league (to a large part due to televising rights) as Dobson et al. (2001) rightly point out. In this sense it is closer to “business” ownership since both of these types of ownerships look at the success of the league for potential financial profit. However while  “business” ownership free-rides the success of a league a “self-sustaining” ownership aims to create the success of a league. “Project” ownership takes a neutral standpoint on this matter and one might even argue that it is against the financial success of the league as it decreases financial disparity between teams (increasing competition), and decreases the teams dependency on the owner. However this is debatable and I will stick to “project” ownership being neutral to the success of the league as the team under the owners control has nothing to lose if the league becomes financially successful.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which the financial success of the EPL is looked at and how foreign ownership affected this. If you are interested in transfer market prices and wages and how  foreign ownership affected it then this is the piece you don’t want to miss out. Part 3 will be published shortly after part 2. Youth development and the national squad will be looked at. If you are interested in how the mixture of the 25-man rule and foreign ownership turned out to be then this is what you’re looking for.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Sources

Match Preview: Norwich City vs Arsenal F.C.


So, off to Carrow Road to play out of form Norwich City after this incredibly dull interlull and I must say, I think this is the perfect team to be playing against after the break. A team that we should be able to punish and blow out the international break cobwebs against provided our team turns up on the day. So let’s look at what we can expect to see from this one.

Norwich are currently 19th on the table and have shipped more goals than any team in the league conceding 17 in just 7 games. They typically set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation similar to our own and prefer a short passing game, usually attacking down the right wing through the combination play of Jackson and Snodgrass before crossing the ball into the box often to try and create chances and smother the goalbox clearances. They are a team that is not shy about shooting and have scored a couple of decent range goals, although happily the majority of their efforts fly wide, averaging only about 25-30% of all shots on target, their lead scorer Grant Holt has only 2 so far. The best news for our defense however is that they haven’t scored any goals from set pieces which our team is particularly vulnerable to.

Offensively we can hurt them a lot. Norwich play an offside trap which quite frankly, is suicide against the pace of our team even with Theo Walcott currently injured. Despite their lack of success Norwich are a team that likes to come out and play rather than park the bus and cower in their own half (particularly when playing at home) and this will play into our hands. Our lightning fast counter-attack play should be easily able to give them a torrid time. Norwich are not a physical side and are poor at retaining possession averaging only 42% possession so far and prone to individual errors which also benefits us and I would expect our midfield to completely control the game and dictate play through Arteta and Cazorla. So far this season they have been largely hurt by attacks down the wings so expect to see our potent left wing attack up to it’s usual tricks, the downside of this being that Kieran Gibbs will most likely not feature due to the injury sustained against the brutes of West Ham United.

Formation-wise expect to see Arsenal in their shiny new 4-4-1-1 setup with most of the usual suspects in place. As I mentioned Gibbs is doubtful for this encounter so expect to see Santos at Left Back provided he’s not booked for speeding on the way to the stadium(take the bus mate).  Let us hope he can provide the attacking sting that Gibbs has given us recently. Koscielny like-wise may be recovering from the small knock he took while on international duty and coupled with his dip in form in his last two matches, he’s unlikely to feature in this one. With Szczesny still injured Mannone will continue as first choice Keeper and with Diaby still out the third midfield position is up for grabs. Norwich are rather poor at preventing shots from range so I’d like to see the combination of Arteta, Cazorla and either Ramsey or Chamberlain (2 players not afraid to shoot) to give us an extra scoring option if the opponent is proving stubborn, however Wenger may choose to put his faith in Coquelin instead. Also, owing to Giroud’s excellent efforts for France (sticking it to Spain) and the fact that Norwich are weak at winning aerial duels I’d like to see him given the nod at Centre Forward to muscle up on their defence and dominate the opposition’s goalbox. Gervinho has been excellent in the Center Forward role but with Walcott not on the subs bench I’d like to see him start at Right Wing. Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would LOVE to see Jack Wilshere given 10 minutes or so towards the end of the match if his fitness is up to it.

Norwich City Danger Men: Jackson, Snodgrass and Holt.

Result Prediction: Conservative because of the interlull: 1-3 Arsenal. More goals and defensive shutout if our team plays well.

Expected lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Jenkinson, Podolski, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: This is a game we should win and win well. I will be doing a post-match breakdown of the game after the weekend, till then let’s get behind the team. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!