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Norwich Vs Arsenal Preview: Smith Has Covid Selection Worries

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Team news, stats and prediction ahead of Norwich vs Arsenal in the Premier League on Boxing Day; kick-off 3pm.

Team news

Norwich head coach Dean Smith is again dealing with coronavirus concerns ahead of the Premier League match against Arsenal on Boxing Day.

The club are waiting on PCR results to determine who will be available, having seen the previous game at West Ham called off because of depleted numbers.

Forward Milot Rashica (groin) is not yet back in contention, while defensive midfielder Mathias Normann is set for an extended spell on the sidelines following pelvic surgery. Captain Grant Hanley (shoulder), defenders Christoph Zimmermann (ankle) and Andrew Omobamidele (back) are all still out.

Arsenal are expected to be without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a fifth consecutive match following his recent internal disciplinary action.

The forward has already been stripped of the captaincy and boss Mikel Arteta was non-committal when asked about the availability of the Gabon international on Wednesday, who is set to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations next month.

Sead Kolasinac (ankle) is also absent for the Gunners while Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers and Albert Sambi Lokonga have all tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days.

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Follow Norwich vs Arsenal in our dedicated live match blog. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel from 5.15pm on Boxing Day.

Last time out…

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win at Leeds in the Premier League

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win over Norwich in the Premier League

Jones Knows prediction

Norwich have failed to score against Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal this season, losing all of those matches to nil. There’s no need to overcomplicate matters for this fixture, so backing another win to nil for Arsenal at 5/4 with Sky Bet looks a smart play.

Since the Ben White, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsdale axis was formed, Arsenal have not conceded a goal before the 38th minute in those 14 fixtures. It’s providing Mikel Arteta with a fantastic platform to work with and results are going their way.

Arsenal’s record under Arteta against relegation-threatened teams also should instil plenty of confidence in a comfortable away day win without conceding. The Gunners beat all the relegated teams away from home without conceding last season to an aggregate score of 8-0 and have already seen off Burnley, Newcastle, Watford and Norwich while keeping clean sheets this season.

SCORE PREDICTION: 0-2

BETTING ANGLE: Arsenal to win to nil (5/4 with Sky Bet)

Opta stats

Norwich have played more Premier League games on Boxing Day without ever winning than any other side in the competition (7 – D1 L6). The Canaries have also scored just one goal in their seven such games, with Gary Hooper netting against Fulham in 2013-14.
Arsenal have lost just two of their 23 Premier League games on Boxing Day (W14 D7), going down 3-2 at Coventry in 1999-00 and 4-0 at Southampton in 2015-16.
Norwich are at the foot of the table with 10 points – only three teams bottom of the Premier League table at the start of Boxing Day have avoided relegation: West Bromwich Albion in 2004-05, Sunderland 2013-14 and Leicester in 2014-15.
Norwich have failed to score in a league-high 11 different Premier League games this season. Meanwhile, in top-flight history, no side has ever scored fewer goals before Christmas than the eight the Canaries have netted this term.
52% of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season have been netted by players aged 21 or under (14/27), with only Leeds in 1999-00 (65%) having a higher such ratio within a single Premier League campaign (excluding own goals).

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Harlequins Claim Top-two Seeding; Leinster Smash Bath

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Champions Cup R4; Friday: Quins 36-33 Castres; Saturday: Bath 7-64 Leinster, Ulster vs Clermont (5.30pm), Scarlets vs Bristol (5.30pm); Glasgow vs La Rochelle (8pm); Sunday: Sale vs Ospreys (1pm), Stade Francais vs Connacht (1pm), Munster vs Wasps (3.15pm), Montpellier vs Exeter (5.30pm)

Last Updated: 22/01/22 3:51pm

Leinster booked safe passage to the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 following a crushing win at Bath

We recap the latest Heineken Champions Cup action as Harlequins booked a top-two seed via a controversial win, while Leinster smashed Bath to qualify for the Round of 16…

Friday: Harlequins 36-33 Castres

Alex Dombrandt completed a controversial hat-trick deep into stoppage time as Harlequins snatched a 36-33 Heineken Champions Cup victory over Castres at the Stoop.

Dombrandt touched down with an outstretched arm in the 85th minute – the final act of play, with replays seeming to show the ball short – to preserve Quins’ perfect record in the group stage.

An unpredictable clash saw the lead regularly change hands but it was the Top 14’s third-placed team who appeared to be finishing stronger until a late rally from the Gallagher Premiership champions led by Dombrandt.

Alex Dombrandt’s controversial late try saw Harlequins beat Castres on Friday night

The ending was rough on Castres, with Scottish referee Mike Adamson missing two forward Quins passes by Marcus Smith, and were unrewarded for a seemingly legitimate turnover with the clock in the red.

To compound things, TMO Brian MacNeice then awarded Dombrandt’s try despite the on-field call being ‘no try’ and images seeming to suggest the No 8 was short and then knocked the ball on.

The victory was significant for Harlequins as it guaranteed them second place in Pool B and home advantage for the second leg of the Round of 16 and for the quarter-finals too, while Castres were dumped out where victory would have seen them through.

Saturday: Bath 7-64 Leinster

Leinster marched on in the European Champions Cup with a 64-7 demolition of a Bath side whose wretched run of form and injuries continued with another head injury to England flanker Sam Underhill.

Jimmy O’Brien crossed four times as the Irish province finished their Pool A fixtures with 15 points and a points difference of +136 – despite forfeiting their second game in Montpellier 28-0 due to Covid issues.

76 | FOUR for Jimmy. Yes, FOUR!#BATvLEI #HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/T4WCjoPtQZ

— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby)

January 22, 2022

Leinster, who ran in 10 tries, fielded eight of the Ireland starters who toppled the All Blacks, including captain Johnny Sexton, but Bath began brightly.

They scored the rest of their tries through Josh van der Flier, Jordan Larmour, Ciaran Frawley, Andrew Porter, Hugo Keenan and Dan Sheehan.

Flanker Josh van der flier scored one of 10 Leinster tries at the Rec

Three games cancelled due to Covid-19: Toulouse 0-28 Cardiff, Leicester Tigers 28-0 Bordeaux-Begles, Racing 92 28-0 Northampton Saints

Unfortunately, three games in Round 4 were lost to Covid-19 enforced cancellations.

Despite defending champions Toulouse naming a squad of 23 to face Cardiff, Covid cases at the club into the double figures caused the EPCR to call off the match and award Cardiff – yet to win a game this season in Europe – a 28-0 bonus-point win which may yet see the Welsh side into the round of 16.

Toulouse suffered a 28-0 Covid loss to Cardiff, as the EPCR cancelled their Pool B clash

Toulouse responded angrily, with president Didier Lacroix saying the club would take legal action after the enforced cancellation, terming it a “total lack of respect” and adding: “We cannot let this injustice pass.

“It’s not just one case, many clubs have already been wronged and it is time for this to stop. We are talking about the credibility of this competition.”

A second game fell by the wayside when Bordeaux discovered positive cases in their camp on Friday just before they were due to travel to England to face Leicester, forcing them to pull out and the Tigers awarded a bonus-point 28-0 win.

That second Covid cancellation ensured Leicester could not be caught at the top of Pool B, handing them home advantage until the final should they make it that far.

Northampton Saints pulled out of their game vs Racing 92 in a third Champions Cup cancellation

A third cancellation arrived on Saturday when Northampton disclosed cases which saw their trip to Paris to play Racing 92 called off, and the French outfit handed a 28-0 win which assures them of top spot in Pool A – despite playing just two games – and, like Leicester, home advantage until the final should they progress.

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Shishkin Denies Energumene in Clarence House Classic

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Shishkin and Nico De Boinville powered past Energumene in the final 50 yards to claim a famous Clarence House Chase victory in an Ascot clash for the ages.

The duo served up a race that lived up to the pre-race hype, with Energumene leading from the front under Paul Townend, while Shishkin sat in behind alongside First Flow.

When First Flow wilted in the final half-mile, it was left to the big two to battle it out, with Energumene seemingly having the upper hand after a peck on landing from Shishkin down the back straight.

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Nico De Boinville has hailed the connections of both Shishkin and Energumene for standing their ground in what was an epic Clarence House showdown at Ascot on Saturday

But when Shishkin and De Boinville kicked into overdrive, he was able to overcome the slight jumping errors to power past the Irish horse in the closing stages and secure a famous victory for Nicky Henderson and the Donnelly’s.

First Flow finished a tired third, with Amoola Gold never in contention back in fourth.

The two superstars look set to go to war again at Cheltenham in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Shishkin now the 4/6 favourite to come out on top.

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Speaking after the race, a delighted De Boinville said: “It’s bang up there. It’s not so much about the prizes you win but how you win them.

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“That today with just the pace of the race there was no let up. We want champions to race against champions and it’s bang up there.

“All credit to the guv’nor for coming here. One of us could’ve ducked the other and we’ve both come to the party and showed what we can do.”

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson added: “They (Townend and De Boinville) said to each other going down the hill, ‘we are flat to the boards’. It had to be that, there was no point hiding. Energumene was going to set a good gallop and we had to keep in touch.

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“There were moments it looked as if we weren’t going as well but he stays very well, he possibly does drift a little bit.

“The great thing is they’ve both come home safe and sound. It was a great race. Willie and the guys are all great mates.

“There’s going to be rematch. I always said I hope it’s a good race today because then it won’t ruin the Champion Chase and they will be back to fight it out together.”

Earlier on the card, jockey-owner David Maxwell won a gripping renewal of the SBK Handicap Chase under Cat Tiger, who nosed out Cobolobo for the Jonjo O’Neill father-and-son combo.

Maxwell delivered his mount on the line after Cobolobo hit the final fence, and could not quite recover the momentum to get back up in a photo finish.

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David Maxwell was delighted to be riding winners at Ascot after missing out last season due to the Covid restrictions

Amateur rider Maxwell was the subject of online abuse after his ride on the same horse at Doncaster over Christmas, having lost a photo finish on that occasion when seemingly having the race in safe keeping.

“I nearly thought I’d hit the front too soon here – I could’ve taken it up after the last but he’s such a game horse,” Maxwell said.

“I thought he had it the stride before but the line looked like it wasn’t coming quickly enough. Even in defeat he would’ve run a magnificent race.

“This time last year it was pretty miserable. Amateurs weren’t able to compete and it was pretty dark days. You are getting an amateur but we are always trying our best.”

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Dan and Harry Skelton enjoyed a stunning treble on the card, with the highlight coming courtesy of Molly Ollys Wishes in the Grade Two SBK Mares’ Hurdle, staying on strongly over three miles on the testing ground.

Western Victory made the early running but could not keep up the blistering pace in the ground, with Skelton picking up the running with half a mile to run.

My Sister Sarah for Mullins and Townend stayed on well from the rear but couldn’t quite reel in the leader who won by two lengths at the finish.

Unexpected Party was an easy winner of the Holloways Handicap Hurdle earlier on the card for the in-form Skelton team.

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Harry Skelton says he had a dream run through the race as Unexpected Party landed the Holloways Handicap Hurdle with ease at Ascot on Saturday

Travelling supremely behind the leaders throughout, the gap opened up on the rail and was exploited by Harry, who pushed out the seven-year-old to win with any amount in hand, despite a final-flight jumping error.

Doctor Parnassus was an impressive winner of the opening juvenile hurdle for the same duo, putting away his more experienced rivals with relative ease.

Favourite Irish Hill disappointed for the Paul Nicholls team, with Restitution (Tom Cannon) being picked up by the eventual winner between the final two hurdles, eventually being beaten by 10 lengths.

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Shishkin Beats Energumene in Epic Ascot Showdown Recap

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