Lee Dixon take a bow. The former Gunner made four predictions for the game in his betting preview and got them all right. Over 2.5 goals, Morrison to score, RvP to get a brace, and Arsenal to win.
As with most games there can be arguments that the end was nervy and it could have been another disappointing draw. Or a positive spin about the numerous gilt edged chances created that could have led to a five goal win on another day. At the end of the day though, it’s an away win after coming back from a goal down and that’s not bad, not bad at all.
I was surprised Norwich went with such a positive approach in this game. Lambert introduced an extra midfielder in place of the winger Bennett but his players were pushing forward at every opportunity. That was a suicidal strategy against Gervinho and Walcott as the hosts neither had sufficient quality to test the Arsenal defence nor sufficient pressing to close the passing angles once they lost the ball.
In the opening ten minutes Arsenal created three or four good chances from the wide areas, but, apart from the Walcott shot that was spectacularly cleared off the line, Ruddy wasn’t really troubled by the shots.
In the 16th minute, completely against the run of play, Morrison put the home side in front. It was just another simple ball over the top. Mertesacker was a bit casual as he let it bounce and wasn’t really shielding it. It was such a slow ball that Szczesny could have collected it long before Mertesacker or Morrison reached it if he’d the intent and had been reading the pass. But it seems Arsenal either ask the Keeper to come for almost everything or virtually nothing. The big German could also have headed it back to the lanky Pole. He could also have passed it towards Santos who was under no pressure. None of that happened.
Morrison attacked the ball while Pulling Mertesacker back. Considering the number and type of fouls given against Arsenal in this game it’s strange the ref didn’t blow for that. But in general one would not expect that given in a Premiership game so the German should have been stronger in the duel. Perhaps he is still getting used to this version of football. Those who primarily watch only the Premier League will probably be furious with the centre back. I am disappointed he wasn’t better prepared.
The Gunners deserve credit for not letting their heads down. Somewhat surprisingly, Norwich didn’t change their tactics after getting the lead. That meant the chances kept coming for Arsenal. Gervinho should have done better in a one-v-one but it was also a decent save and a covering clearance from a defender.
Arsenal were level ten minutes after going down. The move involved good runs from Gervinho and Walcott. Theo picked up the assist as Van Persie tapped one in despite the frivolous attempt by Gervinho in front of him that could have been distracting.
The first half didn’t see any other clear cut chances. Arsenal had a couple of good breaks that were squandered. Norwich dominated the ball in the final fifteen minutes of the half but failed to create any chances. The visitors looked fairly comfortable in defence against a mediocre attack.
Interestingly, at half-time Paul Lambert took off a defensive midfielder, Fox, and introduced an attacking player, Bennett. He’d probably realized his side were conceding enough chances anyway and weren’t really offering any threat up front.
In the 50th minute a great run from Vermaelen on the counter led to a free header for Gervinho which went tamely to the Keeper. A minute later Pilkington fired a free-kick straight at Szczesny. Ramsey then hit the side netting after another quality Walcott cross before Gervinho wasted another one-v-one. He rounded Ruddy fairly well but scuffed his shot allowing the Keeper to get a hand on it. The rebound fell to the winger who bungled the passing opportunity with two teammates open in front of goal.
That chance was created by a deft Van Persie through-ball. Norwich were missing the extra defensive midfielder and were more exposed in the central area in the second period.
The winner came in the 59th minute. Ramsey won a 50-50 on the halfway line against a Norwich defender who was stepping up. The Welshman fell, probably fouled, as he was running into space. Song pounced on the ball after leaping over Ramsey. The Cameroonian had a clear pass to Gervinho through but decided against it. Thank God. It proved to be the decisive moment of the game as his ball to Van Persie led to a delectable chip over Ruddy.
After the goal Arsenal eased off and invited pressure to set up a nervy finish.
Norwich’s best chance came in the 65th minute when a cross from Bennett found Pilkington but the former Huddersfield winger couldn’t direct it towards goal.
The Canaries had sustained spells of possession but Szczesny didn’t have a save to make. From one of the balls hoofed into the box, Holt jumped back into Mertesacker, perhaps aware of ref’s history with dodgy penalties. In all fairness, it must be noted that Dowd made a very good call and gave the free-kick to Arsenal.
I doubt anyone will say it wasn’t nerve-wracking. The players lost their composure and made a number of poor passes and tackles. They had enough opportunities to score the third (fourth and fifth). One would also demand better intelligence when the opponents are pushing forward in search of the equalizer. Rotating the ball, drawing fouls, not giving the ball away when a couple of midfielders and the attackers are in the final third, playing safe but confident football is expected from a team that wants to win the big titles. Arsenal tried that and succeed in patches. A lot more is needed. This wasn’t a very good effort. But it was another effective one.
This is Arsenal’s first 5 game winning run in the League since March 2010.
Szczesny: Should he have read the ball over the top and collected it? It’s hard to say. I have seen it done but it could also lead to other mix-ups. Didn’t have much to do otherwise.
Koscielny: Fairly solid on the right. Some of his long passes were fantastic. Didn’t get as tight on Pilkington as a right back should have in the 65th minute. No other major issues. Wasn’t very adventurous and that was a wise choice.
Mertesacker: Leave the goal out and it wasn’t a poor game from the German. But how can one leave it out. Technically adept defenders from other leagues do struggle with this aspect of the English game. The coaches have to guide him and prepare him better. He too must learn fast.
Vermaelen: Colossal. Very dominant in the air and in his area of the pitch. Made a couple of useful forward bursts. Sprayed the ball intelligently.
Santos: Conceded a few cheap fouls. Didn’t go forward as often as other games but it wasn’t needed. Might have struggled against better quality wingers with that seemingly lethargic effort.
The back four weren’t really stretched but had to endure spells of pressure, especially in the second half. It seemed to me that Arsenal were keeping at least one wide player forward and that reduced numbers in defence while presenting counter-attacking opportunities.
Most of the aerial balls were dealt with comfortably. The nerves were more from memories of the past than mistakes by the defenders.
Song: Was exceptional in the opening hour. Physically strong, good passing, picked up a quality assist, and provided good cover to the defence. Gave the ball away on three or four occasions in the final half-hour when simpler passes and better composure were needed.
Ramsey: Some of his passes were top quality but also made a few sloppy ones. Wasn’t very comfortable under pressure. Got into excellent positions but didn’t get the ball at least thrice.
Arteta: Wasn’t as solid with his control and distribution as we’ve come to expect. Still a decent enough game. Took up good positions defensively.
The midfield wasn’t needed in the attacking areas that often as the forwards got a great deal of space. But I thought the trio could have done more with their passing. They also got in each other’s ways on a number of occasions. This display wasn’t at the level of some of the recent ones from their point of view.
Walcott: Close second in the MotM race. Created a number of quality chances, got the better of the defender regularly, good assist for the first goal, also tracked back when needed.
RvP: Missed a few chances early on but his quality shone through. MotM for the quality of his second finish, movement, and exceptional decision making in the attacking area. His work rate was commendable as ever. It was good to see De Kapitein dropping back to defend whenever Ramsey was caught upfield with the wingers.
Gervinho: Once again the frustrating part of his game tarnished the exciting one. Made a number of excellent runs, was getting into very good positions, some of his passes were good, but overall the finishing and final ball left a lot to be desired.
The wide players will rarely get so much space in games. They have to deliver better end product, mostly Gervinho. It’s harsh to call Arsenal a one man team but without Van Persie’s quality this game could have had a very disappointing result.
Subs: Benayoun knocked the ball around a bit. Djourou didn’t get much time.
Wenger: Picked Koscielny over Djourou. Probably wanted to go with the best players available. But will he be able to play all of them in every game? Could Norwich have been defeated with a couple of fringe players involved?
The current run continues but focus must shift to a sterner test in the crucial midweek Champions League game.
In a day or so I will look for interesting stats from this game for an article on Epl Index. For those interested, the link to that will be available on my twitter feed when the post is published.