Norwich City boss Lambert backs his men to pass Arsenal test
Paul Lambert has warned players and fans alike not to get hypnotised by Arsenal's pretty passing today at Carrow Road.
Arsene Wenger's Gunners have been unflatteringly dubbed 'Barca-lite' for their commitment to playing the game in the right way. Lambert is under no illusions the visitors will see plenty of the ball this lunchtime – but the Scot highlights England's recent friendly win over Spain as proof positive possession is not the primary law of football.
'I think if Spain were playing you might turn up and hope they entertain. You can watch them all day long. I think they are brilliant,' he said. 'They had more ball possession than England and the way they play the game is a different level from everybody else. I think if you ask the Norwich crowd they would not turn up wanting to see Arsenal pass it around five million times. They'd be the first to let us know that is unacceptable.
'I know that myself. You can't allow them to do it because I wouldn't survive that long. There'll be times when we don't have it and you want the crowd to be patient. When we do, we'll have to keep it. Arsenal are a top side and you see how they play football, but then Barcelona go there and they can't get near them. But Arsenal do that to other teams in the Premier League. That is the magnitude and reality of what we are up against.'
Arsenal arrive on the back of putting five past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and with the league's top scorer in Robin van Persie.
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'It's not just about him,' said Lambert. 'I think it's the whole team you have to try stop because I am pretty sure if you asked him he would say he needs the service of the other lads to do what he is doing. He is scoring goals like it is going out of fashion, but we have to try and do something.
'You can see the speed with which they counter-attack. That is the major difference in the league. When you are attacking, you have to be so clued in at the back. Defenders can't concentrate on what your team might be doing in the final third. They have to be alert because good teams can hurt you so quickly. That is something we have to be really switched on. Even though you respect Arsenal once that whistle blows there is no respect.'
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Lambert has plenty of admiration for his opposite number, who came under pressure following a poor early season campaign despite constructing a dynasty of success in north London which had brought three league titles and four FA Cups during his 15-year spell.
'They have a top manager who has been there years and years and it was funny when they were having a bad time how people came out and said he didn't know what he was doing,' he said. 'It's amazing that. After so many years he doesn't know what he is doing. That is pathetic. What has he been there for? Fifteen years. Brilliant that. You lose one of your best players going in (Cec) Fabregas and he rebuilds it.
'Even when Arsenal were having a bad time at the start of the season I never bought into this idea they can't play the game. The turnover of players down the years and the teams they have had and they still play the same way.'
Only current pacesetters Manchester City have scored more on the road in the Premier League this season. Lambert is well aware Norwich's recent defensive charity has to end after conceding six in games against Blackburn and Aston Villa prior to the international break.
'It always is (a concern). If you ask the lads it would be the same for them,' he said. 'You have to create, but you also know you have to keep the back door shut. It's not a concern that I am weighed down by it, because, like I said, we are always in the game. It's a concern to an extent. Some of the goals have been bad defensive errors. That is plain to see, but there has also been good play from certain teams. Sometimes you can't stop goals because you are playing against top players. Some of the goals have been our fault. We have to eradicate the errors.'
'For us (the break) came at the right time. I think after the defeat at Aston Villa it was a good time. I can understand people saying the opposite, but for us it was a chance to recharge and hopefully we'll be ready. We had one or two knocks after the Villa game so it allowed those lads to recover.'
Bradley Johnson (concussion) and Russell Martin (ankle) are both available for selection. Lambert yesterday confirmed central defensive duo Zak Whitbread and Dani Ayala are both back in light training.
The forecast for Elliott Ward is less positive, with the former Coventry defender potentially facing further treatment on the knee problem that has sidelined him all season. However, Lambert has no plans to prioritise that particular area of his squad in the New Year transfer window.
'Wardy has a little bit of problem at the minute that we are trying to get to the bottom off,' he said. 'It's taking a lot longer than I actually thought when it originally happened, so that is a concern. I think there is one more thing we might have to look at it before that (procedure) becomes a possibility if he doesn't come through it. Zak is training, Dani is training so they are not too far from coming back. It's not one of the positions that I feel might need strengthening because if we get them back then hopefully we'll be okay.'
Lambert also insisted the time had been right for back-up striker Chris Martin to go out on loan to Crystal Palace until early January. The Beccles-bred striker has had limited opportunities to impress during City's Premier League campaign.
'I just think Chrissy needed games. He has been finding it hard to get into the squad at the minute,' said Lambert. 'As I have said before his finishing is very, very good. He just needs games to get his career going a little bit which is why I decided to let him go. At this minute, I'm not planning to let anybody else go out.'