Can Norwich beat Arsenal? For Paul Lambert, nothing is impossible

Norwich City v Arsenal, Premier League, Carrow Road, Saturday November 19, 12.45pm, Live on Sky

For those Arsenal fans whose football gaze doesn’t often slip away from the Premier League, the opening day of the 2009 League One season is probably not a date that stands out in the memory.

For two clubs and one manager, however, August 8, 2009 was a watershed moment. For Norwich City it represented a new low point as they followed relegation the previous season by losing 7-1 at Carrow Road to Colchester United, their heaviest ever home defeat.

The visitors that day were managed by Paul Lambert, the Scotsman who was forging himself a growing reputation as manager of the unfashionable Essex club.

Ten days later Lambert was back at Carrow Road, but this time in the home dugout, having been hired to replace Bryan Gunn, sacked after a fairly disastrous seven months in charge, but mostly because of that riotous defeat to Colchester.


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The Norwich board were desperate when they appointed Lambert, having seen the club drop from the Premier League as recently as 2005, and keep on falling during the ill-fated reigns of Peter Grant and Glenn Roeder.

Not in their wildest dreams could they have envisaged the effect Lambert would have on their club.

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Nine months later they had escaped League One, promoted as champions. A year on from that, they were back in the top flight, after finishing as runners-up behind runaway champions QPR last May.

The 42-year-old Lambert has prevailed over this miraculous rise with the deadpan demeanour that has become his trademark. If anyone thought Kenny Dalglish led the way in the dour Scotsman press conference stakes, they haven’t been watching Lambert.

But football management is not a popularity contest, results are what count. And in that regard, Lambert has not been found wanting.

This season’s defeats at Chelsea, and then at home to West Bromwich Albion were the first time the Canaries had lost successive league matches in his tenure.

They have lost only two more, and a haul of 13 points from 11 games sees them in sitting in the top half of the table, and is a respectable return given the squad Lambert has available.

Many of the players who accompanied Lambert on his rise through the divisions are still there, the likes of Russell Martin, Wes Hoolahan and top scorer Grant Holt.

The acquisitions since returning to the top flight have been prudent, but calculated. Anthony Pilkington (Huddersfield), Elliott Bennett (Brighton) and Steve Morison (Millwall) all had stellar records in the lower divisions, and Lambert is clearly confident they can repeat it at the highest level.

Wales international Morison will lead the line against the Gunners on Saturday, and may be partnered by Holt if Lambert decides to play two up front.

In midfield the combative duo of Hoolahan and Bradley Johnson usually patrol the centre of the park with the pacy Bennett on the right flank and Pilkington on the left.

At the back Leon Barnett has been a revelation since joining from West Brom at the start of the year and will play alongside Russell Martin, while Kyle Naughton, on loan from Spurs, has impressed at right-back as has former Colchester defender Marc Tierney on the left.

Arguably the most impressive Norwich player so far this season, however, has been goalkeeper John Ruddy. The 25-year-old never made the first team after five years and nine loan spells at Everton, but has come to the fore after Lambert snapped him up in the summer of 2010.

Despite being sent off in the defeat at Stamford Bridge, Ruddy has regularly performed heroics so far this season, not least at Anfield where a string of breathtaking saves preserved a 1-1 draw.

He will expect to be busier than Wojciech Szczesny on Saturday, although Arsenal’s away league record (17 goals conceded in five games) may suggest otherwise.

Norwich have not beaten Arsenal since the opening day of the Premier League in August 1992 when they pulled off a stunning 4-2 win at Highbury. For Lambert however, as the last two years underline, nothing is impossible.

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