Wes Hoolahan makes Norwich City tick, insists boss Chris Hughton
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Norwich City's Premier League home win over Arsenal proved a watershed moment for Chris Hughton. The Canaries' boss is adamant another is not beyond his side at the Emirates.
Hughton felt a landmark 1-0 Carrow Road win in October highlighted all the finest qualities of his squad.
'That was a turning point of our season,' he said. 'It might have been the first time we put Wes (Hoolahan) in that central position, where predominantly we had started with two up front. It just needs that spark. There was a great atmosphere at Carrow Road. I felt we got into the game and then there was a stage where you felt we were playing well enough to get something. We looked solid enough and you need a little bit of fortune, which we probably got from Alex Tettey's initial shot.
'I don't see anyone going to the Emirates in the form they are and getting something without having to play well. We will have to be a threat ourselves. There aren't too many who will expect us to get something at Arsenal. We know that, but I definitely have a group of lads who want to give a good account of themselves.'
Hoolahan was also an influential figure in last season's 3-3 league draw and Hughton insists those on parade that day can still feed off the positive vibes.
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'I think you grasp onto anything you can,' he said. 'You have to enjoy these type of occasions. You go to the Emirates and you have to expect Arsenal will have possession of the ball because that is how they want to play. You have to try and nullify that and stop the ball into areas that can hurt you. You can't spend 90-odd minutes of the game defending. We have to have a good percentage of that ball ourselves and be a threat.
'It will be a big challenge. Whether it is this or any other stage of the season, Norwich City going to the Emirates would go as underdogs. I have been around long enough to know this is a tough one.'
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Hoolahan may have struggled to leave a lasting impression on Norwich's recent battles, but Hughton is delighted with the Irishman's output during his first campaign at the helm.
'I think Wes has played a lot of games this season,' he said. 'One thing about Wes, and I have even found this in games he has played, is that in a period where he might not have done so much and I might be thinking about bringing him off and making a change, he'll then have a 10 minute spell where he ups it and starts to influence the game again. I think Wes is very much that type of player.
'If I look at this season overall I think he has been consistent and he has been good for us. With that type of player comes more influential moments than others, but he is a player who can get on the ball for us – whether it is to allow us to get into dangerous areas to have a strike on goal or just to control the balance of the game, to get hold of it and give us a momentum in the game. He can do that for us. He can have his down moments, but so can everybody.'
Hughton also had a sharp answer for the theorists who feel Hoolahan may thrive facing the more technically-gifted high-end Premier League opponents rather than the combative rivals who seek to marginalise the Dubliner.
'You have to get the ball off the better teams first,' he said. 'Generally they tend to have more of it in these games, but Wes is probably a better player than I thought he was when I came here.
'You could say that about a lot of the players and I don't want it to sound like I didn't think too much of them before I came here, because I knew how well they had done last season.
'You just don't know how good they are until you work with them week in, week out. It is a really good group of players here. Clubs like ourselves have to be based not just on ability, but also spirit and how hard they are willing to work and how good they are as a group of lads.'