Norwich City-Arsenal Preview
Arsenal have a full squad in training as they head into Saturday's game against Norwich City at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal's season has been stunted by a string of injury problems, but he expects to have all hands on deck for the run-in as the Gunners face a crunch encounter at Manchester City next weekend before closing the season at home versus relegated Aston Villa.
The Gunners (18-10-7) are five points ahead of Manchester United in the race for fourth place and the final Champions League berth, but the chasers have a game in hand and have been putting pressure on the north Londoners. Arsenal also trail Manchester City for third on goal difference. Finishing outside the top four is the worst-case scenario - and also a first in Wenger's 20-year tenure - but Arsenal could still mathematically catch neighbours and rivals Tottenham Hotspur in second.
The Frenchman again also tried to tamp down fan discontent over failing to mount a title challenge amid reports multiple fan groups are calling to hold up banners in both the 12th and 78th minutes to express their disapproval.
"It is very frustrating because we were in a position for a long, long time where we could compete for a title," he told the team's official website Friday. "I can understand the frustration, because nobody is more frustrated than we are. But (we need) to fight no matter what happens, master all kinds of situations and protect and go for what we can achieve.
"Our disappointment has not to go too far."
Wenger is hoping the array of squad options will boost that chase.
"Everyone is training, so that's new for us," Wenger said. "That's the first time this season.
"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."
Even perennially absent midfielder Jack Wilshere is back after making his comeback from a length injury against Sunderland last time out.
"It's the best feeling," Wilshere said. "All those late nights and long days in the gym, this is when it really pays off.
"You can do all the training, you can play for the under-21s to build your fitness up, but what really matters is playing for the first team and getting back on the pitch, so I'm really happy."
Arsenal may have a fully fit squad available, but some of their star players are struggling for form, a key reason they've won only three of their last nine league matches (3-4-2) and fell off the title chase. Striker Oliver Giroud is without a goal in 14 league games - his longest barren spell at the club. While Mesut Ozil has a Premier League-leading 18 assists, he's failed to add to that total over the last eight matches.
Norwich City (8-7-19) have four games left to avoid the drop and return to the Championship. But Alex Neil's side have a daunting close with matches against Manchester United, Watford and Everton. The Canaries enter the weekend third from the bottom on 31 points, trailing Sunderland on goal difference and one point better than Newcastle.
"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," Neil said. "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.
"Over the course of the season we have tried different things to change it (Norwich poor form), but really it is on the day and your players making good decisions. We have done bonding trips, we have done everything you care to think of and there is no correlation between bonding trips and winning."
Norwich, who have just two wins in their last 14 matches (2-2-10) are expected to be without Andre Wisdom, Alex Tettey and Timm Klose due to injury.
The Canaries have won just one of their last 14 league games (1-6-7) against Arsenal but scraped out a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture. The Gunners have made the most touches in opposition penalty areas this season, while Norwich have the fewest.