Norwich vs. Arsenal: Gunners warm up for FA Cup final with 2-0 win

   The Gunners prepared for the FA Cup final by defeating Norwich 2-0 on Sunday to earn a fifth straight victory in the Premier League. Their confidence has been high since they’ve eliminated Wigan in the semifinals a month ago. There was nothing at stake in the Carrow Road match: Arsenal had already secured fourth place while the Canaries were virtually relegated. What really mattered was the changes from the side that edged West Bromwich 1-0. Wenger pulled out Szczesny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini and Cazorla to start Fabianski, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Ramsey and Rosicky.

   Resting Mertesacker and Cazorla made sense as they are key players and have made many appearances this season. Ramsey and Gibbs were returning from minor injuries and the manager wanted to make sure they’d be ready for the final. Fabianski and Rosicky aren’t regular starters but they got some playing time to have a chance of maybe winning a starting spot.

Diaby’s first appearance of the season

   I guess the main surprise was to see Sagna, Arteta, Ozil and Giroud start the match. Arteta and Ozil are key players in Arsenal’s passing game while Giroud is our only proven centerforward. That tells you how badly Wenger wanted to win the last league game. Sagna was able to rest his legs a bit by playing at centerback. His sound performance reminded the fans of the big loss the club could suffer this summer if he leaves on a free transfer. You can’t really blame Sagna: a player’s career is relatively short, so his last contract ought to be a fat one.

   In the second half, the manager replaced Ramsey with Wilshere in the 63rd minute and Rosicky and Giroud with Diaby and Sanogo in the 74th. Diaby made his first appearance this season while Wilshere returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for two months. Sanogo still hasn’t scored in 13 matches, so it’s doubtful that he will start next Saturday.

Podolski’s disappointing season

   The Canaries tried to finish the season on a high and were the more threatening side in the first 20 minutes. Fabianski turned around the post a long-range strike from Redmond before Tettey blazed over the bar. The Gunners then took control of the match although Giroud did not have much luck as a striker. He played a one-two with Podolski to be clean through on goal in the 31st but Ruddy tipped his effort over the bar. Giroud had a second chance in the 41st when Rosicky found him on the edge of the box. The Frenchman spun to curl a shot that Ruddy palmed away.

   Giroud may not be a world-class striker but he has significantly contributed to Arsenal’s top 4 finish by scoring 16 league goals, five more than last season. On the other hand, Podolski’s season has been quite disappointing with just eight league goals, three fewer than last season. Giroud played Podolski in with a reverse pass in the 27th but Ruddy stopped the Germany forward’s angled strike.

Ramsey’s perfect volley

   Giroud and Podolski did not score on Sunday but played a role in the goals. The Frenchman bought some time for Ramsey to make a run at the far post in the 53rd. Ramsey showed tremendous balance and technique to volley Giroud’s cross into the top corner from a tight angle. Nine minutes later, Gibbs cut the ball back to Podolski, whose strike was blocked by Howson. The ball fell to Jenkinson, who netted from close range.

   Ramsey has enjoyed a breakthrough season by scoring 10 league goals and becoming the kind of box-to-box midfielder very few fans could have dreamed of. In the first half, he sometimes looked like the frustrating player from the past seasons who would try useless tricks. Ramsey wasted a good chance in the 30th by attempting to feed the overlapping Ozil with a complicated backheel flick while a simple pass to Giroud or Podolski was the better option.

Showing more desire at Wembley

   Arsenal’s defensive focus dropped after the second goal, forcing Fabianski to deny Loza, Bennett and Snodgrass in the closing minutes to keep a clean sheet. There’s no significant conclusion we can draw from this match. Most Gunners only played at 80 or 90 percent of their potential against Norwich because they don’t want to risk an injury before the World Cup or the FA Cup final. You can bet there will be more intensity and commitment at Wembley than on the last day of the Premier League season.

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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