Snapshot Based Analysis Of The Norwich City Goal

On Saturday, Arsenal conceded another ridiculous goal. Thankfully, It didn’t affect the outcome but brought back painful memories of other howlers in the recent past. Now the easy option is to blame Mertesacker and move on. There is no denying the fact that the German should have shown greater strength and could have passed the ball towards Santos or headed it back to Szczesny if he so intended. Bulk of the blame falls on the big man and he will have to learn to use his size to resist such opportunistic fouling that is almost always deemed legal in the Premier League.

Having said that, I believe there is more to this goal than just Mertesacker’s mistake. Let’s take a look at the sequence of events. The background was that Arsenal won a corner in the 15th minute and the defenders had gone forward. It was wasted and resulted in a goal-kick.

When Ruddy kicked it forward, Mertesacker won it unchallenged and headed it back into the Norwich half. A few headers were exchanged before Tierney hoofed it forward.

The first snapshot shows the German’s header. The bold red line below Song marks the area where I believe Arsenal’s high line would have been at the time the long ball was played from the back (moments after this snap was taken). It is just behind the centre circle, so around 12 yards inside Arsenal’s half. The yellow oval marks Morrison.

Mertesacker heads the goal-kick

The second snap shows Tierney kicking the ball from at least 20 yards inside the Norwich half. Considering the fact that Mertesacker and Morrison duelled just inside the Arsenal penalty box, this ball must have traveled 55-60 yards if not more.

An interesting aside is that Arsenal have put decent pressure on the ball. In the past it has been said that the Gunners didn’t press well while playing a high line but in this case that does not seem like a valid complaint. So it would seem that even though a key issue has been addressed, the goal could not be prevented. It must be noted that due to the pressing, this wasn’t a measured ball over the top but more of a hopeful punt under pressure.

Tierney long ball | Arsenal pressing fairly well

The third image is the most interesting one. I could not get a less blurry one, apologies for that. But based on the previous images (or you can check the replays) the players’ positions are clear. Mertesacker is marked by the Red oval while Morrison is in the Yellow one.

It seems safe to assume the players would have covered a couple of yards since the ball was kicked and the camera panned around. This provides a rough idea of their starting positions, which should be somewhere along the line marked below Song in the first image.

Morrison & Mertesacker chasing the ball

From here on we don’t need any more snapshots as the events were fairly clear.

Apart from the Mertesacker mistakes discussed above, one could ask why Szczesny didn’t come for the ball. When the ball was 20 yards inside the opposition half, he must surely have been a few yards out of his line. That means he’d have to travel around 15-18 yards to get to the ball while facing all the play.

In contrast, Morrison probably sprinted close to 30 meters from his position wide on the touchline about a dozen yards inside the Arsenal half. He ran at an angle and came in from behind and across the German defender. Mertesacker too would have had to cover 25 yards or so. Based on this evidence it can be surmised that Szczesny could have been closer to the ball than the attackers. Why then should the goalkeeper not take charge of the situation?

Don’t get me wrong, the point is not to blame Szczesny. That is a pointless exercise. The idea is to discuss the events and consider various possibilities. From that point of view I believe valid questions can be asked of the Keeper’s role in this scenario.

Regular readers would recall in the past I have observed that Arsenal’s keepers looked worse than they actually were because they were asked to come for almost everything. Szczesny has been relieved of that burden and the defenders have taken more responsibility over the last couple of seasons. But even then there have been a few incidents when the young Pole came out and botched it. Could it be that he now has strict instructions to stay on or near his line?

I have a feeling the coaches and the players haven’t been able to form a clear decision making process for such events. Of course, it’s not easy and remains a judgement call for the Keeper to make but training should hone his instincts. Recent events and disasters of past might have forced this policy of asking the Keeper to stay back even in cases where coming out would be the better choice.

Without knowing the details of what goes on behind the scenes in training, it’s hard to definitively say whether it’s a training issue or an individual’s lack of judgment. Considering the numerous bloopers that we have seen in recent years with a similar theme but involving different players resulting in various freakish goals, the balance tilts towards a coaching problem.

And since we are talking about this goal, it’s worth mentioning that when Mertesacker got near the ball Vermaelen could be seen gesturing towards Szczesny to stay back. The Belgian himself slowed down and didn’t stay in line with the German. One could also argue that if Vermaelen had anticipated a mistake (like many fans did!) he could have continued his sprint back and got in a position to tackle Morrison or get between the striker and the goal.

Again don’t mistake this as an effort to blame Vermaelen. In fairness, he probably thought there was no danger and eased off. That should have been the case if Mertesacker dealt with the situation.

So in conclusion, I do agree with most people who primarily hold the German responsible for the goal. But when there are three or four defenders around the ball and the solitary attacker manages to score such a goal, further questions need to be asked. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into redeveloping the team but such events do shake the confidence. Can anyone say when next or how often similar  errors will frustrate all Gooners (including the manager and the players)?

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19 Responses to Snapshot Based Analysis Of The Norwich City Goal

  1. Don says:

    Situations like that can occur. It was a benign situation. Mertesacker should have done better. He was fouled though- if he were the striker and Morison the centre back we all would have screamed penalty.

  2. Davi says:

    It was funny watching the replay on tv. Alan Smith says “that’s not a foul” at a moment where you can clearly see Morrison’s hands around Mertesacker’s shoulders. It’s genius comic timing. When I was watching it, I initially agreed with him that it wasn’t a foul, but on the replay, I just had to laugh.
    With these incidents, it really bothers me how people excuse the foul by saying he should have been stronger. People seem to think the foul is somehow justified because the defender was not strong enough to continue playing, despite being fouled. I would agree that the incident should highlight something to mertesacker, and he should adjust his thinking in future to prevent such incidents occurring (ie, so that referee mistakes cost us less), but that doesn’t mean he should be blamed for being fouled, and consequently conceding a goal.
    I do want to praise the referee for a later incident where he booked Holt for diving. Holt attempted the exact thing that Lucas did to eboue at the end of last season (running into the defender and falling to the floor), but in this case, the referee was wise to it, and rightly booked him. These incidents have cost us in the past as well, (Carlton Cole, for example, is a serial offender), but thankfully this time the ref was wise to what was going on.

  3. zachs says:

    I think goalkeepers come out when they sense there is imminent danger of conceding and that they can reach the ball on time. In this case there was no imminent danger. Sczesny, like everyone else thought Per was in control of the situation

  4. Timmy says:

    I don’t seem to understand why people will choose to blame Per for that goal simply because he couldn’t just see any reason why a striker will haul him down with the referee and lineman looking like lukozade. Under normal circumstance like this scenario, the only thing in the head of Per and on rushing TV5 is to play according to instruction: ‘try as much as possible to keep the ball in the run of play’ and when you watch Per keenly, the only thing he was trying to do is use his body to shield the ball and at the same time position his body to use his right foot to place a pass to Santos.
    One lesson though that Per must have learnt is “never trust premiership referees”

  5. zaragooner says:

    it was a critical analysis desi, damage has been done and i don’t expect you to come up with this post. anyway, it was a great analysis. Vermaelen in his interview said that he knows the most important aspect in the game of a centre-back is decision making. hence, i still believe that it was a poor decision-making lead us to the Norwich goal. Vermaelen let mertesacker alone to handle one on one situation with Morison, which i believe he, at least should tried to help him there. Szcsesny also thought the same thing. I still think if he came out and save the ball, maybe we won’t concede a goal. Mertesacker, look struggling with Morison to win the ball and he also failed to chest it back to Szczesny. Thus i say, again it was poor decision making. For me, let alone his mistake, our big Giant is definitely learn something in this game but i still believe he’s not alone at fault for the goal.

  6. walter says:

    These things happen to all central defenders at times. It happened to Vidic, Terry, Adams, Keown, …
    What was more important was the fact that Mertesacker stood up after this incident and got on with his job and made not more mistakes after that.

  7. GF60 says:

    Extract from a mail I sent to some Gooner mates on Saturday afternoon.

    There are times when only a 4 letter word is suited for the occasion. This occurred in the 16th minute, and my neighbor who lives about 40 yards down wind phoned to ask if a crap of 3 cubits was needed or would 2 suffice. Cheeky sod. But then he’s a closet Fulham supporter and we know what they’re like.

    But the reality was that we, who should have been at least 3 or 4 up by then, were one down and wondering what the hell had happened.

    Well Per making a mighty cock up was what had happened but one wonders if it might be fun to be a fly on the wall when Per and Ches discuss the state of the nation on Monday. If an embargo on Ches’ forays out of the box has been imposed, perhaps it was a week too early?


  8. Northstandexcile says:

    O for God’s sake it was one goal against, what is more worrying is what if VP gets injured, who the hell will score the goals.

  9. KlausPoppe says:

    Per is a great defender and with his inclusion in the squad the backline looks more assured, however in this ocassion I reckon Per is at fault here. To be a successful defender in the PL no non-sense defending is key just like Vidic and Verminator. He shouldn’t of put himself in the situation where the goal is left in the ref’s call. We know it and he knows it looking at his disgust with his mistake in the replays. He’s only been at the club for 2 months and once he adapts completely (110% certain) he’ll become our rock alongside Verm in the back.

  10. Messi's dad says:

    Hi Desi, good analysis.

    My 5 cents coming up (apologies for a long long post – bullet point conclusion at the end!)

    Rewatching the whole sequence of events again, with the perfect vision of hindsight:

    From the moment Tierney hoofs it up, if we look at the trajectory of the ball:

    1st bounce: The ball first lands and bounces high up in no man’s land, some 6-8 yards from the penalty box. From the video, the ball seems to have landed too far out from the penalty box for Szczesny to charge out, especially since all 3 defenders were much closer to the ball such that Szczesny could have reasonably left it to one of them to deal with it.

    Kos is immediately bypassed, as the ball lands behind him and Morrison has slipped between him and Per (some may fault Kos here). Given (a) the bounce of the ball (which ends up closest to Per), and (b) the lack of supporting Norwich players close by, combined with the presence of Per and TV5 closer to the ball, Kos reasonably (to me) must’ve expected Per at least to deal with the ball, and drops off the chase.

    Just before the 2nd bounce:

    Per is moving closest to the ball, with Morrison rapidly closing in – no one seems to have warned Per of this. To me, with Morrison in Per’s blind spot, and irrespective of the fact that Per could have and should have anticipated Morrison’s approach, one of Kos, TV5 or Szczesny should have screamed a warning to Per. It is at this moment that TV5 gestures and appears to be either directing (a) Per to head the ball back to Szczesny, or (b) Szczesny to stay on the line – clearly, he has not anticipated Morrison’s speed or the danger he poses.

    I give some credit to Morrison here, doing basic striker’s harassment very well, very decisively and very swiftly.

    2nd bounce: Unless any of the 3 defenders were charging back at full speed fully intending to hoof it away all along, none of them would have been able to connect with the ball decently to clear the ball (much less head the ball back) before the 2nd bounce. This means that for anyone (other than Szczesny) to have dealt with the ball, it would’ve to be after the 2nd bounce, and indeed it is only after this bounce that Per reaches and is in “control” of the ball.

    Mid-bounce: With the ball just at the apex of the bounce, around Per’s chest height, Morrison grabs Per’s shoulders, swings his right leg in front of Per to block any attempted clearance, Per falls backwards. The 3rd bounce is irrelevant, as the ball is in Morrison’s control and TV5 does not manage to reach him in time.

    Having relooked this split-second moment dozens of times, it now appears clear to me that Morrison has fouled Per –
    (1) Morrison clearly, and illegitimately, uses his hands to yank Per backward and pivot around him. (You can see both Morrison’s arms around Per’s neck at one point, just before Per falls.) He does not rely on his hips /shoulders or legs to brush off Per.
    (2) Per is not knocked sideways or forwards, as may be the case following a legitimate hip barge-challenge, but falls backwards, against the direction he is running. Sufficient force must have been applied in order for 6ft plus Per to fall against the direction he was running, for this to happen. Strong headwind? Per decided now was the time to jump backwards?

    If the roles were reversed when such a challenge is made, you can bet ur house that the ref would blow for a foul and a penalty (recall the ridiculous penalty conceded by Kos against Newcastle last season – “hands on attacker” foul).

    – 1 of Kos, TV5 (especially TV5) or Szczesny should have hollered at Per to clear
    – Per could have dealt with the ball on the rise immediately after the 2nd bounce
    – Morrison clearly fouled Per

    With the luxury of hindsight, we can somewhat unfairly fault Per for not dealing with the ball on the rise, in the interval between the bounce and the apex of the 2nd bounce. We can more reasonably fault the rest for not warning him of Morrison (if they did not do so), and fault Per for not anticipating the speed and approach of Morrison (this is where I think, and hope, he will try to improve).

  11. Nii says:

    Thats a very good observation

  12. Finnish Hit says:

    Interesting analysis as usual, Desi Gunner.

    I think both CB’s and SZCZ made a human error in evaluating the risk of the ball, because it was “just lumped away without any measurable intention”. Maybe they were a bit in a comfort zone because of the way the game was being played at the other end. Hopefully lessons are learned – certainly Mertesacker showed his own disappointment.

    I would also think SZCZ was either given orders or made the decision himself to stay back in the first half, because of the direct sunshine. You can see how bad it was from the long shadows of your first picture.

  13. critic says:

    If chesney had came out to claim the ball it the goal could have wiped the confidence of two players.
    A prime example for that is alumnia and squillaci from last season’s WBA game.
    It was per’s fault this term, he could have kicked it sideways or headed towards chesney. But if see the replay again ball didn’t bounced to the liking of per and hence he was caught in two minds.

    Your zeal to analyse everything is good but this time i am afraid u have over analysed a simple mistake.

  14. cupsui says:

    A clear reason Woj didn’t come screaming out is that he probably couldn’t see the ball…it was right in the sun at that moment…can’t believe nobody has picked this up yet. it would have been almost impossible for him to judge and he did the right thing, but yes he shoulda yelled more. I normally hate the refs letting off fouls against arsenal but this was no foul on merte he needed to be more aware, he too had arms flalling so its a 50-50 for me and morisson got the advantage. no complaints. Per will learn and hopefully keep improving. I think this was the best reffed game i have seen in the prem in some time and i had very very poor opinion of dowd before this game (newc last season).
    Great to see spirit again and coming from 2 goals down.

    • cupsui says:

      *coming from a goal down…2win…sometimes my fingers write w/o my brain

    • Finnish Hit says:

      “it was right in the sun at that moment…can’t believe nobody has picked this up yet.”

      Erm, just a couple of replies above yours: “I would also think SZCZ was either given orders or made the decision himself to stay back in the first half, because of the direct sunshine. You can see how bad it was from the long shadows of your first picture.” 😉

      But I thought the same as you, strange that it hasn’t been commented on. Maybe I remembered it because I was instinctly concerned of the sun from the first minute… I guess I thought thought Norwich would play samallerdyceball…

      • GF60 says:

        Ches is a pro and as he wasn’t wearing a peaked cap, obviously he didn’t see the sun as a problem. At least that’s what I hope. Would not be fun to consider that like his manager, he didn’t see it.

  15. santori says:

    A bit disingenuous…Per is solely responsible.

    The keeper did the right thing in not coming out as the situation SHULD have been under full control of the defender.

    1) It should not have been allowed to bounce.

    2) He should have cleared it if he was concern with not being able to head the ball back to keeper or pass it back with sufficient space for the keeper to manouver(even given Szzc’s talents on the ball)

    3) He should have enough size on him to shield the ball from Morrison (regardless of how ‘agricultural’ the striker is).

    Mistake is the defender’s. end of story. He will learn from it (As KOsceilny has). Move on.

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