After a boring international break, we slumped to an away defeat in a game we really should have been looking to take three points from. It’s a somewhat familiar Arsenal story but today it was somewhat different: we suffered from a terrible lack of chances.
Nobody likes to see Arsenal miss a load of chances and then lose, but at least when you do that, you can pin the blame on your strikers having an off day, and go into the next game knowing what you want to see changed. Today almost all our players were poor going forward: Gervinho was utter, utter garbage, Giroud couldn’t influence the game, and even the usually sparkling Cazorla uncharacteristically misplaced his passes and lacked the inspired through-balls which we’re so used to seeing from him.
The game started in cagey fashion as you might expect; Norwich were resilient and a bit cautious when it came to attacking, and we were just as nervy with our passing. Away from home you don’t perhaps expect the same slickness as you do at the Emirates, but we should aim to make up for that by being more direct and to be frank, we didn’t. After 20 minutes, with both sides having tried a couple of rangefinders and not much else, Alexander Tettey took a shot from outside the box, Mannone parried it but to an unsafe position, and walking Greggs advert Grant Holt pounced on the rebound. It was at much the same juncture in the game as the goal we conceded against West Ham, but we hadn’t looked anywhere near as threatening as we had in the first half at Upton Park. Mannone perhaps could have done better with the shot, and our midfield could have done better at closing Tettey down initially. Frankly, the goal was symptomatic of a performance which was lacking somewhat in quality from all sides of the pitch.
There was still time for us to contrive to almost concede another goal, when our marking went a bit Squillaci from a corner and their centre back, Michael Turner, really should have doubled the home lead, but headed narrowly wide. We went into half time having created nothing of note, especially in response to the Norwich goal. If we dug deep after going behind at Upton Park, today the team stood around and stared at the ground, waiting for someone to pick up the proverbial digging instrument.
You might have hoped for a good response after half time, but the team didn’t look very inspired. Admittedly, the passing was a little more precise, but we still failed to create a chance. Most of the problems seemed to stem from the over-cautious nature of our attacking play; rather than make a good run, players were too content to play the easy ball. Ramsey played the central midfield position upon which we would usually rely for some driving runs through the centre of the park, but the Welshman was less eager to do this than say, Diaby, and slowed down the play far too often. Even Gervinho, who usually drives to the byline and cuts the ball back across the area with a frankly religious zeal, was far too content to simply lay the ball back to Ramsey or Cazorla, who then had no runners to feed with a through ball. Our team was excellently vertical against West Ham when it needed to be, moving the ball from end to end with a pleasing pinball-like speed and precision, but that element was sorely lacking from the play today.
It was clear that something needed to change – the team had to become more direct or lose – and Wenger opted to unleash the Ox at a slightly earlier point than his usual 67th minute “Designated Substitution Time”. This seemed like a good plan, as Ox is always a runner willing to make something happen, but the hopes of Arsenal fans were dashed against the rocks of an injury that the winger picked up with only the first of his trademark bursts. Whether it was a case of not warming up properly or just bad luck, our most important sub was sidelined once again within 10 minutes for Arshavin. Though I still believe the little Russian can offer something to the team, it wasn’t there today; Norwich continued to defend stoutly and frustrate our attackers.
Norwich performed admirably and with a great deal of appetite, showing that they are keen to shake off the sibilant “second season syndrome” tag that has been somewhat unfairly attached to them. Despite their solid defensive plan and impressive work rate, they didn’t create anything more than us going forward really; a couple of defensive slips allowed them a half chance or two, but our defenders recovered in time to prevent the situation worsening. However, we’ve really got to look at our own performance rather than that of our opponents, and if you want to win trophies, you want to be good enough to beat your opponents, especially those of Norwich’s calibre, no matter how much effort they put in.
With still no sniff of a goal (a Cazorla free kick was comfortably saved), Arsene opted to use his third sub to chuck on the 17-year-old Serge Gnabry for the last 10 minutes. Though the youngster looked bright and quick-footed with a nice turn of pace, and laid on perhaps the best attacking pass of a meagre bunch (a through ball to Gervinho that was alertly snuffed out by a Norwich defender before the Ivorian could shoot), this was not the type of game where you ask a 17-year-old to step in. If we are comfortably beating QPR at the Emirates next week and Wenger chooses to bring on Gnabry, then that’s obviously fine, but you would expect more from the starting lineup against Norwich before you turn to a player who’s only just old enough to have a professional contract. There was no real sign of Jack Wilshere, and I don’t think Arsene really thought about bringing him in; he likely only travelled to make up the numbers with Coquelin injured, and Arsene will likely look for a comfortable situation, like the one imagined above, before he tries to ease Jack back into the side.
The final whistle went, and the word on the lips of most was “lacklustre”. After our loss against Chelsea, I wanted the team to get nine points from the next three games – West Ham away, Norwich away and QPR at home – and that will, unfortunately, not be met. It is hard to point specific fingers, and though as fans we went into the game expecting a win, the team underperformed and ultimately didn’t deliver. Perhaps they, too, took a little too much for granted. In the end, we can look to return to winning ways in the league against QPR next weekend, but some improvement will be needed before we face Schalke in midweek.
My Man of the Match: Arteta – best of a bad bunch and occasionally looked to create by running with the ball from his deep position, but was often lacking in attacking outlets. Had a decent shot on target near the end.
Anti-Man of the Match: Gervinho – a performance that didn’t so much have a frustrating side as a whole frustrating octagon. The Ivorian looked sadly unimaginative and lacking in bravery, and it was a wonder that he stayed on the field when Arsene chose to make his subs.