The Gunners picked up three vital points after a dramatic late comeback. It was a strange sort of game – partly enjoyable with great team work and combination play, partly frustrating with terrible individual moments and defensive lapses.
Wenger made three changes. A couple of them were forced – Wilshere for Rosicky, and Vermaelen for Mertesacker – while the other seemed like a good use of squad depth – Gibbs for Monreal.
Arsenal dominated the game from the start but it took them more than half an hour to get a shot on target. Bunn only had to make two fairly comfortable saves in the opening 45.
One of the commentators on the channel that I was watching (Fox Soccer) went on and on about the need for faster passing. He also seemed to have something against Gervinho. It was not difficult to see his point. Norwich were largely able to retain their shape and often felt like the team that was controlling the game, albeit without the ball. The Ivorian, for his part, was having a particularly bad day when the decisive moments came along.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the popular view of the events of the first half. It’s not entirely incorrect – certainly, the observations are valid – but it is rather superficial. Sometimes I like to go against the grain and in this case I will. Here’s why…
In the first half, Arsenal created 8 or 9 promising moments. They had excellent possession and did a very good job of pressurizing opponents higher up the pitch. Norwich looked comfortable in defence but they had virtually nothing to offer at the other end. The visitors had zero attempts at the Arsenal goal.
We have often talked about ‘balance’ on this blog. Players have make a choice between offensive options and defensive ones all the time. The choices they make decide how a team plays. It can vary from the uber-aggressive but completely open at the back to ultra-defensive and lacking penetration at the front. At some point or the other, we have seen Arsenal in both these extremes and almost every grade in between.
What we saw in the first half was an excellent example of balance. It’s not easy to see because the most important ingredient – a goal – was missing. That was a problem of efficiency but it should not take everything away from the quality of the game played.
I recall three very good passes/crosses from the right by Sagna – Gervinho miscontrolled the first, Giroud hit the post with another, and Bunn saved from the third (Giroud should have done better). Similarly, there were three excellent moments from the left. First Gibbs, and then Gervinho, twice, couldn’t find the target despite there being sufficient bodies in the box. In one case it was terrible decision making from Gervinho and in the other two it was an issue with the players not knowing the kind of runs to make. Then there were the two glorious chances down the middle. Wilshere put too much weight on the ball in one instance while Gervinho’s first touch made a complete hash of a delectable through-ball from Cazorla. Even from a corner, Giroud was able to direct a good header towards goal that might have gone in on another day.
The point is that Arsenal created many threatening moments and conceded nothing. The balance was excellent. Just because the ball wasn’t flying towards the goal and the keeper making big saves doesn’t mean the attack wasn’t good. The final ball was lacking no doubt, but if that is rectified (there is no reason why it couldn’t be) this was about as perfect as Arsenal need to be at home against such teams. If Arsenal control games as well as they did and even find one goal, they’ll collect a lot of points while forcing teams to come out on their terms. This is where Spain excel and their success offers a roadmap to the Gunners in their search for the elusive entity called ‘balance.’
The second half was different. It was more of a Premier League game. Norwich came out with a little more belief and played a little higher up the pitch. Arsenal did not have the same rhythm as they had before the break.
Wenger’s team did have a 2-3 minute spell in which they had a couple of corners and pinned Norwich back but it was an isolated period of dominance in the opening 15-20 minutes of the second half, which seemed the most even period of the game.
Norwich got their goal from a set-piece. Whether it was a foul in the first place is debatable. The abject nature of Arsenal’s defending is not. It was interesting to note that Turner made a horizontal run while other attackers moved vertically to pull the defensive line back thereby opening space for the centre-back. The ball arrived perfectly for him. Was this a practiced routine? If so, Hughton and his staff deserve applause. It was neatly done. The Gunners looked like deer in headlights, watching the oncoming peril completely paralyzed and helpless.
If I’m not mistaken, Koscielny was marking Turner but he let him go without any effort. Were Arsenal defending zones or marking players? ‘Neither’ seems to be the answer! It’s also worth noting that there was a lot of communication between the players just before the ball was delivered. To me it says that communication cannot help if the players aren’t thinking about defending in the correct, clear, and comprehensive manner.
The game got more hectic and disorganized as time went by. Wenger introduced Walcott and Podolski for Gervinho and Wilshere. There was some action around the Norwich box with Theo working hard to create something but the quality of chances was still pretty average.
With a midfielder off the park and Podolski playing high up and virtually centrally, Norwich did find more room in the midfield but they weren’t able to make the most of it as the tempo increased. Nevertheless, they had a glorious chance to double their lead on the counter-attack when Russell Martin hit his shot straight at Fabianski from a highly promising position.
At the other end, Podolski failed to control the ball when well placed before forcing a good save from another excellent chance. At that point I had a feeling Arsenal will score the equalizer. And this season we’ve seen the Gunners often score another in quick succession.
The penalty decision was debatable but also the right one, if that makes any sense. The annoying commentator I mentioned earlier seemed to make the point that it was a foul but since the ref didn’t give it the assistant on the far side had no business making the call! Mike Jones allowed a lot of fouls to go unpunished and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he’d let that one slide as well. From that point of view Norwich do have a case but it’s a thin one.
Arteta’s body language always makes me jittery when he’s taking the penalty. It was almost saved but had enough power to go in despite Bunn getting something on it.
The Gunners took the lead with a good penetrating run from Oxlade-Chamberlain that involved a quick one-two with Podolski before Giroud tapped it in.
Norwich almost equalized as Wenger’s defence again failed to deal with a long ball. Howson was very well placed but could only hit it at Fabianksi. Podolski made it three with a neat finish through a bunch of bodies after Giroud’s flick-on from a long ball found Walcott (was off-side) who picked up another assist.
The football in the second half wasn’t very good. But it had more excitement and all the decisive moments.
Fabianski: Made a couple of good saves. Deserves credit for positioning and for handling the balls well. Couldn’t have done much for the Norwich goal.
Sagna: Had some physical duels throughout the game and came out on top in most of them. Some of his crosses were disappointing but he did create two very good chances for Giroud. Picked up a booking with a necessary professional foul after Snodgrass had put him in trouble. Good game from the full-back.
Koscielny: Had a fairly comfortable first half. Why did he let Turner go? It was his weak header that gave Howson a great chance towards the end. Not a terrible day but he’s had better.
Vermaelen: Could he have attacked the ball or at least given Turner a challenge? Was it in his zone? Did a decent job of mopping up behind Gibbs. It seemed like a fairly routine day at the office for the Captain.
Gibbs: Got into some very good positions in attacking areas but didn’t always find the final ball. Didn’t have much to do defensively but the free-kick for the goal came from his foul (it might not have been one but the defender could have done better in this situation.) There were a number of high balls floated towards his side of the pitch and he wasn’t able to win many of them. Will probably have to take a few tips from Sagna on that. Overall a fairly respectable effort from the Englishman.
The defenders had virtually nothing to do in the first half. Norwich didn’t go long to Holt as often as I’d have expected them to, and when the ball did find its way to him the central defenders made sure he couldn’t turn or influence the game in a meaningful way. There was some uncertainty against aerial long balls and the goal that was conceded was rather shoddy. But that’s more of a long standing issue that has never been fully addressed rather than any problem with a specific individual or two.
Arteta: Had to score that penalty and did well under pressure even if it wasn’t perfectly in the corner. A couple of attempted long passes didn’t quite come off this time but most of his regular passing was like clockwork. Decent defensive shift but he wasn’t really stretched.
Wilshere: Probably the only player who had a really disappointing game. There were many mistakes and he did not look physically fit/ready.
Ramsey: Work rate in the first half was excellent and I like the way he keeps getting into forward spaces without ignoring defensive responsibilities. Often did an excellent job of chasing the ball and closing down forward passes high up the pitch. He is still missing his old knack of creating and finishing in the attacking areas but I doubt that will come so soon. Right now it seems more about starting regularly and performing steadily, which he’s doing well. Again showed his versatility by moving to full-back late in the game.
Cazorla: Was at the heart of many of the creative moves that Arsenal produced, particularly in the first half. But he hasn’t clicked with Wilshere at the level one would expect and this game was no different. Does seem to enjoy playing with Podolski and sharing quick one-touch passes. Almost got a goal at the end but it ended up turning into an over elaborate move.
The midfield showed almost all the attributes of a well-balanced side. The inefficiency in attack was mostly down to the forwards and to a very small extent to the full-backs.
Gervinho: Probably a day he’d like to forget soon. Technical limitations came to the fore quite often and decision making was also found wanting at times. Could easily have had a goal and two assists with better execution and choices. But we know his weaknesses and such games are to be expected.
Giroud: Wenger made some comments about his game that I didn’t quite understand. I thought Giroud had a decent game throughout and was only decisive late in the second half due to other factors rather than his own play. For instance, in the first half he showed a deft touch to put Wilshere in a position where he could play Ramsey through. He met that ball on the move. Should have done better with Sagna’s low cross/pass but he did again meet it on the move and in a good position. The penalty incident and the bundled-in goal in the second half were not exactly down to any changes to his style of play. He did benefit from having Podolski up close with him and it’s a partnership that can develop very well.
Substitutes: Oxlade-Chamberlain made the decisive run, Podolski got a goal and played a part in the second goal, Walcott picked up an assist and had a few other threatening moments. All of them made an impact.
Wenger: Defence must still be a concern for him. Would have been happy with the contribution of the substitutes. It’s interesting that Arsenal are 18 For – 2 Against in the final 15 minutes (76-90+) of games, which is the best record in the League in that crucial time period. Wonder how many fans still think AW doesn’t know how to make substitutions!Follow @goonerdesi