Norwich head coach Dean Smith is uncertain just what side he will be able to send out against Arsenal on Boxing Day – but is not about to throw the towel in on the battle for Premier League survival.
The Canaries saw their game at West Ham called off last weekend as the club battles a coronavirus outbreak, and Smith revealed fresh concerns over more cases within the squad heading into the hectic festive schedule.
Smith also has injury problems to deal with, confirming defensive midfielder Mathias Normann will be sidelined for the foreseeable future following surgery on a pelvic problem and forward Milot Rashica now not expected to be available until New Year’s Day at the earliest.
While that news will have provided little Christmas spirit coming on the back of three straight league defeats, Smith maintains focus remains on getting the best out of whatever players he can call upon over the coming days.
“We are not sure (how many will miss Boxing Day yet) because we have to have a PCR (test) within 48 hours of the game and that is our last point to find out who is going to be missing and who is going to be available,” Smith said.
“We will train today (Christmas Eve) and train again tomorrow (Christmas Day) morning and have a look at the numbers we have got.
“We all know that there is a tradition with the festive scheduling and it is difficult normally, but it is nigh on impossible to ask players to play twice in 48 hours. At the moment, I don’t know how we are going to do it.”
Norwich had requested for their home game against Aston Villa to be called off because of depleted numbers, Smith’s patched-up team going on to lose 2-0 against his former club.
While the new manager bounce might have flattened somewhat, Norwich remain within striking distance of safety, albeit with the bottom four all having played a different amount of games.
Smith feels there is still plenty of cause for optimism as he looks to haul the Canaries off the foot of the table heading into 2022.
“The games that we have played before that (Villa defeat) have been really good. Our performance levels have been up there,” said Smith, who replaced Daniel Farke in November.
“If we can reach those levels, then we will win football games.
“You have got three outstanding teams at the top at the moment, who seem to be the ones who are not getting beat at all.
“The others at the bottom, and certainly ourselves, can look above and see that it is beatable teams. Our performance against Manchester United proved to us that we could be a match against anyone.”
Arsenal were themselves bottom after losing their opening three league games, but have hit form in recent weeks, climbing to fourth in the table and reaching the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
Smith said: “I am really pleased for Mikel Arteta and how he has turned the season around.
“Even though they were losing games at the start of the season, you could see what they were trying to do.
“Now they have got momentum and that can take you an awful long way.
“We are coming up against an animal at the moment that is playing really well and we have to make sure we are at our best.”