Norwich City full-back Sam Byram says that Arsenal should not be underestimated ahead of the game between the two sides this weekend, despite their recent dip in form.
“You look at the players Arsenal have got in their squad, especially the front three, and you definitely can’t underestimate them, even if they are having a dip in form,” he said. “Anytime you’re playing one of the big clubs, you’re always up for it.
“It’s a home game and we’re coming off the back of a good win, so everything that could be in our favour is. The chemistry and atmosphere around the place are up there with the best I’ve seen this season.
“Arsenal are in a bit of a dip and there’s a lot in the media about the manager and uncertainty around him, so if there was ever a good time to play them it would be now. Everyone is looking forward to it.”
Byram has shown real versatility this season, slotting in at right-back for Max Aarons and, more recently, replacing the injured Jamal Lewis at left-back against Everton. Understandably, Byram was pleased with his performance at Goodison Park.
“I thought I did alright,” he confessed. “Although it’s the same position, on the opposite side your positional play is reversed. The whole back four as a unit defended well and it felt quite natural playing there, so I was pleased.
“My weak foot is getting better. I’ve been doing a lot more practice with us not having a great deal of cover down the left side. I’ve been doing extra sessions with the coaches after training to improve it, so if I’m ever needed then it’s easier for me to play there. It’s getting better.
“I played on the right wing at Leeds United and in the hole a few times. I played centre-back a couple of times when I was younger, so I’d like to say I’m pretty versatile. My favoured position is full-back but I’m more than happy to play anywhere if it helps the team.
“I haven’t done a Kyle Walker quite yet, but I wouldn’t mind a game in goal! Just for his height, Zimbo would probably take that responsibility though!”
Despite the competition for places, Byram insists that there is no ill feeling among the City defenders, regardless of who’s picked to play by Daniel Farke.
“I’m not far away from them age wise, but all the young lads are really close in the group,” he said. “Jamal’s a nice guy and we talk a lot. He’s a natural left-back, I filled in for the last game. Everyone wants to play and it’s up to the manager to make his choice on who plays.
“There’s no bad blood between anyone. Everyone’s cheering each other on, and we want the team to stay up. Whoever plays, everyone’s behind them to do their best.”
Adjusting to life in the Premier League has been as much a challenge for Byram as it has for the rest of the squad, as the 26-year-old spent the majority of his career previously playing in the Championship for Leeds United. Asked to elaborate on the challenge of making the step up to the top-flight, Byram noted the variety of Premier League opponents as one of the main obstacles.
"We're slowly gelling together. Hopefully we can put a run together through Winter."
“The quality of players in the top half of the Premier League is a much higher standard and the pace of the game is too,” he added. “I found as a full-back in the Championship, a lot of the wingers are athletic but maybe less skilful. In the Premier League, every week you’re up against someone who’s got both.
“The movement of the strikers is a lot more advanced too. I’d say there are similarities with the teams at the bottom of the Premier League with teams like Leeds and West Brom, who are doing well, but you’re not playing them every week, so you have to adapt to who you’re playing.
“Every team is different. One week we played Man City and the next week it was Burnley, who are completely different. It’s a different league to adapt to which is maybe why a few of the games haven’t gone our way but I feel like we’re slowly gelling together and can hopefully put a run together through Winter.”
A wonderful time of year
Speaking of Winter, December into the New Year represents a busy festive schedule for City, who play eight fixtures from December 1 to January 1, with three of them in midweek.
“December is a good time to climb up the table if we can,” Byram said. “If you look from position 20 to 12 or 13, there’s not a great deal between it, so if you can put a couple of wins together you can soon shuffle your way away from the relegation zone, which is what we want to do.
“In terms of squad rotation, there are a lot of players back fit now. It’s very tough physically and mentally to play that many games in a condensed period, especially at this level. For players who haven’t played as many minutes, it’s probably the time where squad rotation is going to play the biggest part, so that’s good for morale around the place.
“The boss has said to us that he always tries to be analytical about things and take the emotion out of it to see where we can improve and what we can do better. It’s predominantly the same group of players last year as this year.
"It's a really nice city, I've done lots of exploring!"
“Last year, all the lads were used to winning every single week, momentum being with them and spirits being high, so to now be in a period where we’re not going to win every week, it’s something that a few of the lads aren’t used to. We’re a third of the way in now and it’s been understood that it’s a tough league and we can’t win every week. We just need to keep plugging away and picking up points where we can.”
The Carrow Road atmosphere will be pivotal to that quest, with Byram accepting that the team have a responsibility to help get the crowd going.
“How we play and the tempo we set affects the crowd. When they’re cheering us on, it helps us out, so it’s down to us and them to create another good atmosphere like it was against Man City. It’s always nice to play at home, so everyone is really excited.”
A fine city
While most of City’s players have been adjusting to the Premier League on the pitch, Byram has also had to settle into life off of it, having moved to Norwich in the summer. Encouragingly, despite being some distance away from his family, Byram has found it easy to call this fine city home.
“I really like Norwich. I was a bit dubious at first having never been over here. It’s far from back home. My girlfriend is in London and works quite a lot, so in terms of family and friends I’m quite far away, but it’s a great group of lads and staff here. I found a nice house in the centre of town, so I don’t think anything could have gone better.
“I’m always wandering into the city when we get some time off. There are lots of nice coffee shops and restaurants. It’s been raining a bit the past few weeks which has kept me inside, but other than that I’ve done lots of exploring. It’s a really nice city.
“There’s a restaurant called The Wildebeest which is about 15-20 minutes from the town centre. It’s a small, posh pub and the food is really nice. There are nice people there too, so that’s probably my favourite!”