Norwich City host Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday as two teams who have fallen well shy of mid-season expectations go head-to-head.
At the halfway stage of the campaign, the Gunners held a one-point advantage over Manchester City at the top of the table and were harbouring hopes of a first league title in 10 years. However, a slump of form between January 28 and April 6 – in which they won just three times in 11 league outings – effectively ended their prospects of challenging for the crown.
After dropping out of the title race, Arsene Wenger’s side looked in real danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time since the 1996-97 campaign.
However, a run of four consecutive victories, combined with Everton’s faltering form, have seen the Frenchman successfully guide his charges to fourth place and a qualifying berth for European football’s premier club competition.
As a result, Arsenal have little riding on Sunday’s game at Carrow Road but will be keen to maintain their winning momentum ahead of their FA Cup final clash with Hull City, which represents a chance to claim their first trophy in nine years.
“We go there to try to win the game,” Wenger told the press. “We want to finish on a high. We want to make 79 points and to make it as tight as possible to the top.
“I think we had a good away season, apart from some big games, but overall we were very consistent away from home and it’s important we finish well away from home.”
Norwich had been eyeing the season finale as a potential opportunity to save their top-flight status but Sunderland’s 2-0 win over West Brom on Wednesday means that Neil Adams’s side need a 17-goal swing to overhaul Pepe Mel’s men.
It has been a disastrous second half of the season for the Canaries who, after 19 matches, were in 14th position in the table, three points clear of the relegation zone.
Just three wins since then eventually led to Chris Hughton’s departure from the club in April, with Adams unable to turn around the side’s fortunes.
In four matches under his stewardship, Norwich have taken one point, a 0-0 draw at Chelsea last time out, which under other circumstances might have been considered a positive result.
After 12th- and 11th-placed finishes in their first two seasons back in the top flight, the 2013-14 campaign has been a torrid one for Norwich fans, who must now face the harsh reality of the drop back to the Championship.
The hosts may continue to be without Joseph Yobo (calf) and Anthony Pilkington (thigh), while Wenger confirmed that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains out with a groin problem.
However, the Frenchman will be boosted by the news that Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere will all return to the squad, with the trio having a chance to prove their fitness ahead of the trip to Wembley.