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English Premiership

Wenger asks Gunners to lay Norwich marker

NORWICH, United Kingdom, October 19 – Arsene Wenger knows Arsenal must not squander the chance to strengthen their Premier League title challenge when they face struggling Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Wenger conceded his team had failed a major test when they claimed just one point from back to back meetings with Manchester City and Chelsea, and the Gunners boss was particularly critical of the performance in the home defeat to Roberto Di Matteo’s team.

To their credit, Wenger’s men responded with victory at West Ham ahead of the international break.

And with Norwich, who lie second bottom, yet to secure three points this season, Arsenal have a good chance to force their way closer to the leading group.

The Gunners will head to Norwich having been handed a lift this week with Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna making significant steps towards a full return after lengthy injury absences and Olivier Giroud netting a confidence boosting goal for France in Spain.

Giroud had struggled to make an impact during the opening weeks of his first season at the Emirates Stadium following his £13 million move from Montpellier but opened his Premier League account with a goal at West Ham.

And he admitted the added-time equaliser against Spain will help kick-start his career at his new club.

“The goal in Spain is definitely in my top five,” he said. “It has also come at a time when I am looking for trust.

“After the West Ham game I felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I am convinced this last goal will also do me a lot of good.”

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Wilshere and Sagna, meanwhile, came through 90-minute appearances for the club’s under-21 team, although both are still at least two weeks away from a first team call-up.

However, Theo Walcott who is likely to miss the next two games after injuring his ribs in England’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino.

And Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski faces a three-month absence with an ankle problem, meaning third-choice Vito Mannone remains the club’s only fit senior keeper until first choice Wojciech Szczesny returns in three weeks’ time.

Mannone, though, is convinced Arsenal are destined to challenge for the biggest honours this season.

“The team is doing great, we have had many of the big games already,” Mannone said.

“We have started the Champions League well too, the team has got a good base to kick on from. I’m looking forward to some big achievements.

“We have a good solid squad and I think we can go for it. I have no doubt that if we keep our focus and we keep our mentality, we are going to challenge for the title.”

Norwich have so far failed to match the progress they made last season but winger Elliott Bennett insists it is too early to write them off.

“People did not think we would stay up last season, but we did. The more people go against this team, the better we seem to be,” he said.

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“We will come out fighting – like a dog, you back us into a corner, we will always bite our way out of it.

“If people keep doing that, then brilliant because we will hopefully prove them wrong, like we did last year.”

After facing Liverpool and Chelsea, Norwich face yet another testing fixture but manager Chris Hughton said: “It’s a great opportunity for us.

“We’re playing at home in front of a packed crowd and in what will be a great atmosphere.

“We need to make sure that we stay in the game and are also a threat. It’s a home game for us and these are the type of games you need to look forward to, and I know my players are.”

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