Paddy Davitt: Time to cast envious glances at City

Daniel Farke takes Norwich City to face an Arsenal side below them in the Premier League.

Daniel Farke takes Norwich City to face an Arsenal side below them in the Premier League. - Credit: PA

Arsenal v Norwich City. A relegation battle or more pertinently a club who appear to have lost their way against one happy to follow their own path. 

Whatever way you cut it, the Canaries' Premier League visit to ailing Arsenal this weekend may have far-reaching ramifications for Mikel Arteta’s job prospects

The Gunners prop up the rest following the opening three league games. It is their worst league start in 67 years. Setting aside the premature urge to draw any conclusions from early standings such a poor run does nothing to lift the dark clouds, or alter the gloomy mood music, around one of English football’s marquee clubs. 

Whatever the current sad state of affairs viewed from afar, Arsenal remain a goliath; a club rich in history, class and silverware. 

But they have been left behind by the super elite. Under Arsene Wenger’s long reign they never finished outside the Premier League’s top four between 1997 and 2016.

Or to put it another way in modern football parlance, never had to make do and mend without the Champions League revenue tap turned on. 

Since then they have failed to finish in the top four. Admittedly you could argue Wenger presided over the start of the relative decline, although the financial burden of moving to the impressive Emirates from Highbury was always prominent in the Frenchman’s case for the defence. 

Unai Emery was unable to ease the transition to the satisfaction of a large and vocal fan base. Arteta was seen as a longer term appointment, and Arsenal’s transfer business in the most recent window hints at a similar method. 

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Technical director Edu speaks of patience and the on going work to clear out the dead wood and find younger alternatives. But many Arsenal fans fear it also indicates they are no longer seen as attractive to the best talent in the world.  

All this underscores whatever the relative ambition, scope or horizon of your football club a failure to evolve, adapt and embrace new thinking, from boardroom to dugout, will see you fall behind. 

Norwich’s difficult start to their latest Premier League tilt has predictably drawn criticism from the usual ill-informed quarters. But Stuart Webber, Daniel Farke and those who matter inside Carrow Road place great store on ignoring the noise.

They have evolved a culture and a philosophy wedded around a self-sustainable model which, at the very least, has put the club on a firmer financial footing, and proven residually effective in lifting Championship titles. What we have yet to ascertain is whether it can bridge the divide.  

But this fresh attempt to do so embraces a drive for marginal gains in every area of the football club.

The under-stated appointment of Dr John Iga earlier this summer, to the post of head of strategy and innovation, illustrates not only the clear focus at the top but also a desire never to stand still and admire the view.  

Norwich City have spent, by their standards, vast sums in the summer transfer window, although you could also argue the net spend is more modest if you subtract Emi Buendia’s sizeable fee.

But ‘arming Farke’, to use the popular idiom, is not the only facet to a strategy that pervades every area of the football club’s operations.

Norwich feel there are competitive advantages, however small, they can aggregate to leverage against rivals with deeper pockets. As Iga himself said, speaking to City’s Youtube channel, the Canaries are striving to ‘out-smart’ opponents on and off the pitch.  

When you look around at the transformation of Colney, embellished this summer with the £750,000 investment in a revolutionary ‘SoccerBot’ training aid, you see advancement in bricks and mortar as much as ideas. More is planned at the training ground. Much more. There is nothing stagnant or tried and trusted about Norwich’s approach.  

Measured in Premier League survival for this season it may come up short, but filtered through a self-sustainable drive to maximise every available resource to attain progress you may arrive at a different conclusion.  

For many Arsenal fans this weekend may be as much about 90 minutes left to decide whether Arteta survives in his post, or whether the coaching cycle must begin again.

For Norwich it is the next stage on a long journey. Farke has no less expectation on him to produce results this season, but he does so as one cog in a network of moving parts all striving to reach the same end point.

Cohesion instead of chaos. 

NCFC Extra: Teemu's relief at Norwich City opener

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