I doubt many will be in a mood to read too many words after that performance. What else can one say after even Arsene Wenger puts excuses to one side and says, “We were well below par today.”
There were no real surprises in the game. Norwich set out to defend – they ended the game with 28 percent possession – and did a virtually impeccable job of keeping things compact in front of their goal. Arsenal had what Wenger called, “illusionary domination.”
The Gunners have struggled against deep-lying teams that deny them space in front of the goal all through the season. The forward players just haven’t been able to combine effectively to produce high-quality chances on a consistent basis. This game was just more of the same.
Some people have correctly observed that Arsenal lacked the right tempo or speed of passing. But it should be mentioned that tempo just doesn’t materialize out of thin air. Quick, purposeful passing in the final third relies intrinsically on exceptional off-the-ball movement and instinctive understanding between players.
Losing is never enjoyable but it can be excused if the team creates enough chances, hits the bar, suffers from refereeing blunders, or in any way shows that it deserved something. In this game there just wasn’t anything.
If at all, Norwich were probably guilty of wasting the better chances and the scoreline flattered the Gunners! It’s very important to note the fact that the hosts wasted a number of very high quality opportunities (they were dangerous moments even if they didn’t force a big save) because it again illustrates the point that all teams have to create multiple threats at the opponents goal in order to score one or two goals. Arsenal just haven’t done that often enough and this game was the worst of the season thus far.
The goal that Arsenal conceded at the other end was again a result of multiple errors. I have mentioned the risk of dropping so deep in front of one’s own goal, essentially ceding territory and inviting pressure. That’s like doing half the opponents work for them. Of course, Norwich did that all through the game but they came prepared for that and that ability is vital to their survival. But the Gunners are used to attacking and are prone to concentration or structural errors when dropping so deep.
You can’t allow an opponent to shoot from that range without any kind of pressure. The goalkeeper just has to do better than palming the ball back in front of goal and he has to quickly get in position to make the second save. The back four also have to hold a very steady line when dropping deep. In this instance the full-backs, Santos in particular, seemed too deep and played the goalscorer onside.
Too many mistakes, one gifted goal. What else is new?!
I did like the fact that Arsenal tried harder in the second half. Towards the end the Gunners did manage to create some openings even if they weren’t enough. There were some plays that can be worked on to develop alternate attacking options.
For instance, late in the game there were a couple of high balls played towards Giroud who cushioned it into the path of a teammate. Gervinho headed one towards goal while Gnabry fluffed his shot. The Gunners can do better if they find a way to use the Frenchman’s abilities to their advantage through precise aerial chips rather than hopeful, aimless crosses.
Anyway, these aren’t new issues so I don’t want to dwell on them. There are obvious limitations in the current squad and the system being developed this season. Some teams have found a way to neutralize Arsenal and expose various chinks at the back. We just have to see whether the Gunners can raise their game soon enough…
Mannone: Poor for the goal, had very little to do otherwise.
Jenkinson: Another hardworking shift from the youngster. Crosses and link play in the final third was disappointing but he did OK in the central and defensive third. Needs to take care of the ball better though.
Mertesacker: Not sure if he can be blamed for a slow reaction to Holt as the striker had a yard or two on him. Did slip up once around the centre line that allowed Holt a run towards goal but was otherwise fairly steady. Don’t know if anyone can claim he was great at “organizing” the defence.
Vermaelen: Struggled against Holt from long balls. Did a decent job of defending on the ground. Can’t really be blamed for the goal. Did give away the ball once around the centre line that led to a dangerous situation. Couldn’t contribute in the opposition box.
Santos: Poor positioning in the build-up to the goal, wasn’t able to offer as much of an attacking threat as Gibbs does but that is also linked to time spent on the pitch so it seems a tad early to criticize him for that.
The back five weren’t up against an extraordinary attack and much better is needed.
Arteta: He was given the task of getting in front of Holt for long balls. Thought he did alright although one or two of his headers did go behind to an attacking player. Other than that it was another superb game from the Spaniard. Was clearly trying to drive the team forward in the second half and was responsible for a shot on target, for finding Giroud with a chipped pass that led to a chance, and some other semi-creative moments that Arsenal produced. But at the end of the day I felt he’s having to do too much.
Cazorla: Had many excellent individual moments, like the time he just let the ball roll to get into space behind Johnson. Was able to hold possession under pressure and was constantly looking to create something in the final third but his understanding with the front three wasn’t up to scratch and he was often let down by his teammates. Set-pieces were poor.
Ramsey: Disappointing game from the Welshman. Once again it seemed he was trying to do too much instead of keeping it simple and quick. Such attempts also took him high up the pitch often which forced Cazorla deeper. In short, can’t fault his effort but he didn’t play in a way that would have made the system work efficiently.
The midfield wasn’t efficient or incisive with the ball. They didn’t do a good enough job of closing down space for the shot that led to the goal.
Gervinho: Has been disappointing on the right even more than he’s been frustrating through the middle. The fact that he’s still starting over Oxlade-Chamberlain, or anyone else, seems a worrying indictment of Arsenal’s lack of depth. Off-the-ball movement was predictable, ran into dead ends or crowds with the ball. Did get to the by-line on one or two occasions but that’s just not enough at this level. Wasted a great opening that Gnabry created with a precise through-ball.
Giroud: Looked good when the ball came to him in or around the box but that didn’t happen often enough. Wasted a couple of promising moments through ambitious attempts like the overhead kick in the 52nd minute or the mis-kick in the 83rd minute when he had time. Has to come to the ball more often when it’s not coming to him. Has to develop a precise first touch to link play in tight areas.
Podolski: He seems to become ineffective when the opponents block central areas where he likes to drift into. Doesn’t offer a serious threat from the wider positions. Did have an early shot that flashed wide, Arsenal have to find a way to get him into scoring positions more often as he’s the most natural goalscorer in the side.
All the three forwards have their own set of limitations and in some games all of those are exposed at the same time to make Arsenal look toothless.
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain made one ambitious run before picking up an inury. Arshavin was trying but he’s been out of first-team action for too long and is not at his best on the right flank. Was glad to see Gnabry get his Premier League debut and he did play one delightful through-ball for Gervinho but his introduction does make me wonder about the depth that Arsenal have.
Wenger: He knows this just isn’t good enough. Question is, how soon can he get the team back on track?Follow @goonerdesi