For the third occasion in a row, Chris Hughton looks to have taken a good job at the wrong time and as he struggles to get Norwich City going in the right direction this season, it could be a case of one bad hand too far.
When Hughton was installed at both Birmingham City and Newcastle United, he was taking over big clubs who had found themselves relegated from the Premier League and with cost-cutting very much at the forefront of each club’s agenda.
That he performed well at both clubs, especially in the tough circumstances he inherited, is plain to see: the Championship title was won at a canter with the Magpies before he was unceremoniously sacked halfway through a top-flight campaign that wasn’t threatening an immediate return, while at St Andrews, Hughton reached the play-offs despite the financial disarray inflicted by Carson Yeung.
His reputation as a firefighter (as well as a decent coach) was built in those two demanding roles, so when Paul Lambert threw his toys out of the pram and jumped ship to Aston Villa, he was a sensible choice to take over at Carrow Road – he would, after all, have a difficult job on his hands improving on the work that Lambert had left behind, but had shown his quality in adversity.
But this appears to be one tough ask too far. Second-season syndrome was always likely to make the Canaries ill, but Hughton hasn’t yet found the medicine to cure it and the way things are going so far he may not be able to.
Norwich have been very poor, especially at the back, conceding 17 goals already (only Southampton have let in more) and having taken just three points from seven games, it is going to be a long, hard slog for a team that has been overachieving for several years.
An admittedly tough set of fixtures has not helped – Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool have all been faced – but there hasn’t been much in the performances to cheer and there will be little respite when Arsenal come to town on Saturday evening.
The Gunners are clear favourites at 53/100 (Norwich are 5/1 with the draw at 3/1) and it is easy to see why. Norwich have defended so badly, been so wide open and so disorganised, that a team adept at exploiting space will punish them and Arsenal are last sort of opponents City want to face right now.
Jesus, even Liverpool mullered Norwich, putting five past them. Arsenal’s passing and movement, led by the excellent Santi Cazorla, will be too much for Leon Barnett and Michael Turner – Championship players in all but name – to cope with.
I don’t think this Arsenal side are good enough to challenge for the title, but they are good enough to see off Norwich. Arsene Wenger’s men have been impressive on the road this season and remain unbeaten despite some tough-looking trips. The Gunners drew at champions Manchester City and bogey side Stoke, with wins picked up at Liverpool, West Ham and Montpellier in the Champions League – and I think they look like certainties here.
But odds-on aways aren’t something I like to get involved with, so the 11/10 on Arsenal to win a game of over 2.5 goals is the play. Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £20 bet and using it on this selection would return £42 if successful.
Norwich are just letting in too many goals, with no obvious remedy, as I don’t think they have the personnel to keep good players quiet.
So I see the Gunners scoring at least two goals, but let’s not pretend Arsenal are water-tight, despite what you might have read about Steve Bould – Wenger’s side haven’t kept a clean sheet in seven matches now, so there is hope for Norwich in that respect.
There were nine goals in the two fixtures between these sides last season and there could be a few more on Saturday, but take the 11/10 on there being three or more in an Arsenal win.