Melissa Rudd: Arsenal clash may feel like a bonus...but you never know
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After four consecutive Championship away wins and victory at Portman Road, it almost feels as though tonight’s Carabao Cup clash at Arsenal is something of a bonus fixture.
Of course, the near 9,000 supporters making the journey from Norfolk to north London expect to see Norwich put in a performance at the Emirates Stadium, but a win at Portman Road was always going to be more important, and always the paramount focus for Daniel Farke.
The fact that this evening’s game comes just two days after both teams played away fixtures means it’s likely both managers will make significant changes.
While Arsene Wenger can call on the likes of Jack Wilshere, who played just 13 minutes at Goodison Park, and Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott who were both unused substitutes, Norwich’s strength in depth is hardly comparable.
Yet Sunday’s gritty win at Ipswich proved that City have an abundance of strength in another aspect.
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The team spirit shown both during the game and at the final whistle was almost as pleasing as the performance.
There was a real sense that the players knew exactly what getting those three points meant to the fans, and they looked just as thrilled as those celebrating in the Cobbold Stand having maintained East Anglian bragging rights.
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As with any fixture against the Tractor Boys, there is always that gnawing feeling that the unbeaten run has to come to an end eventually.
Knowing that it had been eight years since a Norwich side had lost to Ipswich it would have been normal to expect some nervy individual displays.
Yet not one player in yellow looked overawed by the magnitude of the occasion.
Farke spoke about the need to play with ‘fire in the heart and coolness in the head’, and that’s exactly what transpired.
For that, the head coach deserves a lot of credit. He said all the right things in the build-up and spoke very genuinely about how special the fixture was.
From the collective performance it seems he imparted that on his squad and especially those new recruits who were also getting their first taste of an Old Farm derby.
They are the kind of matches where heroes are made, and the afternoon belonged to James Maddison, playing in his first derby of any kind.
The 20-year-old’s pinpoint finish, his third in a matter of weeks, was further evidence of his rapid development under Farke.
Maddison’s eagerness to get on the ball and make things happen was typified by his goal, opening up and picking his corner while Town’s players could only watch the net ripple.
If he continues to match his bundles of talent with the same application in a City shirt there will be a long list of clubs that will need warding off in the January transfer window.
Alongside him, Tom Trybull epitomised everything fans ask of their players in a derby.
After a first half where Ipswich bypassed the City midfield too easily, the German led by example after the interval, breaking up play and being first to every ball, with a calm Harrison Reed happy to take over and pick out a pass when he’d done so.
Yanic Wildschut’s direct running also caused problems all afternoon, even if his end product sometimes needed improving.
Farke had to prepare for Ipswich with an already depleted squad and tonight his biggest dilemma may be who he can play up front.
With Marley Watkins still serving his three-match suspension and Nelson Oliveira’s recurrence of a groin problem preventing him from starting at Ipswich, it may leave Jerome as the only recognised striker.
Given that City take on Derby then Wolves within the next week you’d think Farke would have one eye on who he wants to lead the line in those two games at Carrow Road when naming his team at The Emirates.
While he has fielded strong teams in the Carabao Cup so far, circumstances this time are likely to dictate much more rotation from the head coach. This is still a great opportunity though for the players to test themselves against some of the Premier League’s elite, and one you’d expect them to relish too.