Arsenal is big but QPR date will be even bigger

Tomorrow’s Premier League visit of Arsenal is unquestionably the biggest match at Carrow Road – at least in terms of the status of the opposition – since Manchester United were sent packing by the Canaries 6� years ago.

The Gunners are the first of the genuine elite of English football to roll into Norwich this season and the huge interest is reflected by a sell-out crowd that should set a new all-seater record attendance for the stadium of about 26,750, plus live TV coverage that will multiply that audience many, many times over.

But, whisper it quietly, the game itself is probably not as vital to Norwich City as the visit of Queens Park Rangers a week later.

I know that argument goes against all that managers say about never looking beyond the next match and approaching them all in the same thorough and professional way, and quite right, too. After what City have achieved under Paul Lambert in just over two years, we would not expect anything else.

But if Arsenal were to win tomorrow – and after conceding 17 goals in their last four away games they certainly won’t be taking that for granted – it would only confirm what most observers, excluding those of a yellow and green persuasion, are expecting.

If, on the other hand, QPR were to leave Carrow Road with a point or three in eight days’ time, it would potentially be more damaging, especially with leaders Manchester City and unbeaten Newcastle next on City’s fixture schedule.

The Canaries have no realistic chance of finishing above Arsenal or Manchester City, and one can fairly safely add Newcastle to that list, though how much longer they continue to occupy a Champions League spot remains to be seen.

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But Rangers, promoted as champions with City last May, may prove to be one of the sides they must finish above if they are to extend their stay in the top flight.

Former boss Bruce Rioch made the point this week that any points taken from the big six Premier League clubs, Arsenal included, could be regarded as “bonus points”, and that City had already collected one from their trip to Liverpool.

He also said: “It’s the home games against Wolves and Wigan and Queens Park Rangers you really need to win to stay in this league.”

A total of 40 points is generally regarded as enough to guarantee Premier League survival, though it was a close-run thing last season when Wolves stayed up with 40 and both Birmingham and Blackpool went down with 39.

In the past 10 seasons, only one team has been relegated from the Premier League with 40 points or more, and that was something of a freak when West Ham went down with 42 at the end of 2002-03 campaign, despite finishing 16 points clear of the team below.

So if 40 is the safety target for City, it means winning nine more games – a third of their remaining fixtures – or collecting the equivalent number of points, 27, from a combination of wins and draws.

So far, while the level of City’s performances may have exceeded most people’s expectations, not many of their results have been genuine surprises – apart from taking a point at Anfield.

We have a fair idea of where we think they can pick up wins and the odd draw, and which games fall into the “bonus points” category.

Six years ago, it was not the fact that they were doubled by Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool that sent the Canaries hastily back through the trapdoor into the Championship, but failing to beat Crystal Palace, Portsmouth or Blackburn at least once, and getting doubled by Fulham.

That is why, while the Arsenal game is a mouth-watering prospect and it would be wonderful for City to take a point or even three tomorrow, Queens Park Rangers a week later is an even bigger game.