Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

That was a lot of football packed into 90 minutes! Most of it was high quality and both teams deserve credit for their display. Arsenal produced breathtaking moves at times but Norwich too, showed bravery and commendable technical qualities. The scoreline flatters the Gunners a bit because the game was close for a long while but it is also a reflection of their superior quality in the decisive areas.

The first observation, and one that shaped a lot of the game, was the pleasantly surprising approach by the visitors. I’d expected them to sit back with their lines relatively close to each other for most of the game but they came out with a positive attitude and tried playing their game. Attempting over 500 passes at the Emirates is no mean feat.

The key aspect to appreciate here is that when a team sits back it’s so far away from the opposition goal that they have to rely on long balls to gain territory. But the visitors didn’t pull 8 or 9 outfield players deep into their half so they always had the chance to play out from the back.

The flip side of this is that the Gunners found a fair amount of space in front of their defence. If you look at the first goal – When Cazorla receives the ball and cuts inside, there is virtually no one blocking his path. Jack too is unmarked. Norwich had a narrow, flat back four – something they would be used to – but there wasn’t a second line in front of that. Tettey was the only one sitting in front of the back four.

Often it’s said that having a defensive midfielder with physical qualities sitting in front of the back four is the way to break down attacks, but look at that goal and you’ll agree it doesn’t work in all instances. Of course, the precision, vision, and understanding shown by Cazorla, Wilshere, and Giroud was other-worldly. It’s really the kind of goal that shows us why the so-called smaller teams come and park the bus at the Emirates. Five players are not always enough to stop such attacks. Although Hughton will probably agree that his full-back should have been tighter on Cazorla the moment the winger received the ball and his back four should have been compressing the space a little higher up the pitch.

Another very interesting observation in this game, particularly in the opening half-hour or so, was Arsenal’s pressing high up the pitch. It was sensational. As stated earlier, Norwich were brave and were trying to play their football, but the Gunners just suffocated them and turned the ball over in their own half on quite a regular basis.

Things changed after a collision that left Flamini with double vision. The Gunners seemed to lose their rhythm. Norwich were then on top for the final 10-15 minutes of the half.

Look at the difference between passes attempted and completed by both sides.

First, from kick-off till around the 32 minute mark.

Passes Comparison 0 to 33

And then, from the 33rd minute to the end of the half. Norwich’s passing accuracy was incredible. Passes comparison 33 to 47

With these, we throw in the tackles and interceptions made by Arsenal, again divided along the same time frame. Arsenal tackles first half

Of the 10 attempted tackles in the first half hour or so, 8 were around the centre circle or higher up the pitch. Only one was in that zone for the rest of the first half.

Arsenal interceptions first half

Similarly, there are no interceptions higher up the pitch after the 32nd minute till the interval.

Now, the dumbest explanation you are likely to read, and this could be a fairly popular opinion, is that Flamini is a great defensive player and his absence made the side vulnerable.

The Frenchman is a very good player and the substitution had an impact on the game but assuming any causal relationship between the unavailability of his defensive qualities and Arsenal’s slump is silly. It can be rubbished by pointing numerous instances in the recent past when the Gunners have lost control and have been pushed deep into their own half even when Flamini has been in the side along with countless comparable situations (playing well and then suddenly losing the grip or starting horribly and then recovering to dominate) over the last few years when Flamini wasn’t even in the squad.

But more importantly, the point to understand here is that any Wenger side playing well is a work of art reliant on rhythm with the players having the feel for the game in unison. The Frenchman is not good at producing functional sides where one player can be pulled out and a similar one inserted without any change to the output. That’s also why rotations don’t work so well for him but going down that road will be a major digression.

Coming back to the point at hand, Flamini’s absence disrupted Arsenal’s rhythm. The inexplicable swapping of Wilshere to the left also contributed to the chaos. The Gunners suddenly didn’t know how to build from the back and how to press higher up the pitch. Every player’s game was affected in terms of his positioning and choices made on the pitch.

Flamini wasn’t the only one pressing or winning balls back. In fact, the Frenchman only made two interceptions and no tackles in his time on the pitch, with only one interception in the opposition half. Most of the defensive work was done by the other players. For instance, look at the defensive dashboards of Cazorla and Sagna.

Cazorla first half defensive work

Sagna first half defensive work

Notice their tackles and interceptions higher up the pitch. They just couldn’t get to those areas once the team lost it’s mojo.

Now recall that Norwich were actually playing well but were thwarted by Arsenal’s pressing and you’ll see how they suddenly came to life. The game at this level works in small percentages. A 2-5 percent drop in Arsenal’s output would be enough to give the visitors the upper hand. They were able to build from the back and pushed the Gunners deep. Hughton’s side also did an excellent job of recovering the ball high up the pitch during this period, which meant Arsenal didn’t have a way out.

When the Gunners lose their rhythm or get into a muddle tactically, one tell-tale sign to look for is the lack of off-the-ball movement. You’ll see a lot of players who are static without the ball and waiting for something to happen that would tell them what to do. That kills Arsenal’s game because it’s so inherently reliant on movement. Opponents can feel confident when pushing up and pressing high because this lack of movement ensures the ball won’t be passed quickly to beat their pressure. Even the whole ‘lacking leadership’ saga has it’s roots in this but again it’s a major digression I want to avoid.

The fact that the Gunners can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the same game when their flow is disrupted remains a major concern. Against the smaller teams they have shown – as was again the case in this game, kudos – that they can defend the vital central areas even when they’re not playing well and thus minimize the number of quality chances created. Norwich only managed two shots on target during their period of domination and both were relatively easy to save hopeful punts from distance.

The second half started where the first had ended, although Wilshere had moved back to the right and Santi to the left. The first ten odd minutes belonged to Norwich. The Gunners were unable to build from the back while the visitors pushed up the pitch.

Passes comparison first 12 minutes of the second half

Something very important happened during this period though, that isn’t quite captured by that chart. Arsenal scored the second goal. It was against the run of play but it’s quickly becoming a trademark for this team. The ruthless efficiency of that move knocked most of the stuffing out of Norwich sails. Giroud with another pin-point assist. Özil with a header! It didn’t quite have the visceral quality of the first goal but it was the more valuable one in my eyes.

After the goal the tension was lifted and it led to a degree of laxness among the players and then to a soft goal conceded. That was Norwich’s only shot on target from inside the box. It did bring back some nerves but the third and fourth goals settled the game. And when you look back it’s pretty clear that even during the closely fought periods or spells when the Canaries were flying high, the difference in class in the attacking third was evidently decisive.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Made a couple of decent saves from long range shots. Positioning and decision making was good. Might have done a bit more to slow down the game when the team was struggling but that doesn’t mean he shoulders any blame for the weaker periods. Deserves to be happy with this display.

Sagna: Did a good job of joining the attack and pressing high up the pitch. Excellent at defending his flank when the team was pushed back. Crossing seemed below par except one ball that forced a desperate clearance from Turner. Good understanding with Wilshere as neither got in each other’s way.

Mertesacker: Made one vital block and several useful clearances. Passing was super reliable.  Interesting that he was 24/24 for passes in the first half but only 2/2 between 33 and 47 minutes. Went very close to scoring at the other end when his header sailed agonizingly wide late in the game. Unfortunate that his attempted clearance flew straight to Howson.

Koscielny: Was the busier of the two defenders as Snodgrass was more of a threat than Pilkington and Norwich built a lot from their right. Reliable with his positioning, choices, and physicality in duels. Got on the ball only half as much as his partner but made judicious passes when he had to.

Gibbs: Like Sagna, the Englishman too made good offensive contribution, and his was a bit more intricate than being available out wide and putting balls into the box. Created a great chance for Giroud, for example. Unlike the Frenchman though, Gibbs’ passing was not as consistent as it should be. Of course, it was harder on his side as the visitors had more players there, but he could have avoided a few unforced errors. Couldn’t close Howson down quickly enough but I don’t blame him for the goal.

The back five had a pretty solid game and did an excellent job when the team was under consistent pressure. They could have done with a bit more support for the goal because Norwich were really pushing for the equalizer.

Arteta: I recall getting annoyed at a couple of misplaced passes by the Spaniard. It happens quite often these days and every time I look back at the game it turns out that those were the only bad passes from close to a hundred attempts. Point is, he is so good and reliable with his passing that every misplaced one has a jarring effect when watching his free-flowing style. Worked hard in defence to go with his excellent controlling game. Not in a glamorous way, but he kept the vital areas pretty well protected.

Özil: Delighted to see him among the goals. What a run that was to get on the end of Giroud’s cross. How many times will Arsenal score four without an Özil assist?! It’s great to see the creative burden shared and it should encourage him to continue developing other aspects of his game like dropping deep and getting into scoring positions in the box.

Flamini: The points made above were not an attempt to take anything away from the Frenchman who had a very good game before he had to leave the field. His positioning was good as was his commitment and passing.

Ramsey: I thought he started slowly and suffered a bit when the team didn’t quite have the right flow. Didn’t see much of the ball (Attempted only 4 passes and received 3) in the 10 odd minutes of the first half after he came on for Flamini. Grew into the game in the second half and played a big part in re-establishing Arsenal’s control. His goal would have received a lot more air time had the first goal not caught everyone’s fancy. The close control, composure, confidence, and change of direction were simply excellent.

Wilshere: Great work in the build-up followed by an amazingly cool finish. Also got a good assist for Ramsey’s goal. Struggled when he was on the left wing. Looking back he’ll probably feel there’s room for improvement in his play (precision, choices, etc) in the final third. I still find it hard to see him as a finished product, which does make him a genuinely scary prospect for the future. Such games are great for his development and the right wing could be the platform for calibrating the finer details of his attacking game.

Cazorla: Played a vital part in the build up to the first goal. Did a good job of winning the ball back higher up the pitch. Didn’t feel like he was at his best, which again bodes well for upcoming games when he’ll hit full flow.

Rosicky: Brought more energy and dynamism to the side after Cazorla tired. I did get a feeling he was cruising a bit and didn’t quite hit top gear.

When the Arsenal midfield clicks as a unit, the world notices. And when they don’t, virtually any team can dominate the Gunners. We saw both sides in this game but their quality in the attacking third was a class apart, and they made up for the weak moments through sheer determination. Well mostly, because there should have been another midfielder tracking Howson for that goal.

Giroud: Özil would have been proud of the precision of his assists. The Gunners will get a lot of joy if they can get balls to his feet and bodies closer to him in the attacking areas. Work rate was again top class. Almost scored, that was a great save by Ruddy.

Bendtner: Had the least time on the pitch of all the players but I liked the vibes that I got from his movement and body language. It just felt like he was ready to knuckle down and do what was needed to play a constructive part in the squad. Other things will come.

With the midfield as dominant and decisive as it is and given the way Arsenal play, the lone striker won’t always get too many chances to score (these will be spread around). So they need to put in a shift and contribute in other ways. Giroud is on the right path to becoming a complete all-round striker and Bendtner has certain unique qualities to offer of his own if he can match his competitors work ethic.

Wenger: Some of the moves in this game must be the kind of thing that makes all the hard hours worthwhile. It’s the stuff he can see in training, the kind of details that make him believe in the players and back them to the hilt. Can he find a way to bring this out more often while controlling the slumps? As said earlier in the article, these slumps could prove costly against better teams.


16 Responses to Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Excellent post as always Desi 🙂

  2. Govind T.C says:

    Didn’t manage to watch the game, but your analysis of this one is more in-depth than most of your other articles. Will read it again once I’ve watched the game.

  3. Mickey Finn says:

    Brillian analysis. Was one of the dumb ones. How can we counter disruption techniques is a great question. Especially with EPL referreeing.

  4. Diablo says:

    Good informative post, you have gained a reader here! Good job!

  5. Wallace says:

    fascinating as always. and good point re Bendtner. liked the way he linked the play rather than being greedy and going for personal glory.

  6. gooner14 says:

    Desi, once again, thank you for your unbiased analysis of the game. While everyone is mesmerized with this being some sort of ultimate performance (which I don’t disagree), I am glad you are still pointing out where we need to improve. Your analysis is very mature, I really hope one day you become a live pundit. Your grasp on Flamini’s role has really made me reconsider my previous notions of the “Arsenal DMF/Holding MF”, and how it eerily highlights the importance of G. Silva’s position back in the day when we were indeed, one harmonious unit.

  7. Rang says:

    Excellent analysis as usual. Despite the final score, this game is classic in many aspects. All your points I can simply agree with but there’s one topic I’d love to join in: Bendtner.

    The moment he entered the pitch I was instantly impressed by the comradeship & sincerity shown between Giroud and him. From the looks, he’s also in top shape compares to pre-season pics. His roughly 15 mins on the pitch was flawless, plus one decent goal attempt and even initiated the fourth goal.

    We might have to wait until the next cup match to really see what he has to offer playing full game again but his performance here is very promising for a backup striker. I really hope he’d make us proud this time around.

  8. Amruts says:

    Agree and disagree with the slump phase attributed to Flamini’s absence. One aspect where Flamini is very good is , his positioning. He always is blocking a potential run. We have two players in that category. Mertesacker & Flamini. It is true we have had slumps even without Flamini. But for me , these have reduced since he is around. I cannot remember the exact game. He exchanged a couple of passes with Rosicky. Passed and moved into a position to make himself available. It is these small things which make a huge difference.

    But one thing though, we need to find a way to hold on to the ball for a bit longer and keep it clean. We are giving away too many balls in the middle of the park.

    Would be interesting to see , if Wenger continues with Arteta & Flamini , given that Ramsey & Wilshere are scoring goals now.

    • Cupsui says:

      Amruts…i totally agree with what you say about Flamini and desi i am glad you gave the frenchman some props for it in his “player wrap” – his positioning.

      This is something the stats don’t pick up. But it was something i (for some reason i don’t really know) decided to focus on during the first half hour. I guess cause there has been a lot of talk of Flamini’s good play. But truely his defensive positioning (and that of arteta – combined they were unbeatable) was perfect. covering the defence and moving left right forward and back at exactly the right moment gave us amazing stability and his passing out was simple but very effective in getting the ball to the more creative in space was key. Well done. I would probably rest him anyway against dortmund because his role seems (IMHO) more crucial to the EPL and play a more technical line-up:

      arteta – ramsey – ozil
      Jack – Giroud – Santi (maybe even rosicky in there somewhere)

      Last point on Jack, desi (and this relates to last game’s comment) the pressed him immediately again and jack loved it…in his element. Shimmying, holding the ball up and driving past players. Its something to watch, if teams learn to play off him in the future and if they do how he learns to adjust. But he had a great game here.

      Great game overall…QUE FUTBOL!!

  9. I almost always check this page once every 6 hours after the match. Amazing eye for detail and unbiased analysis. Somebody get Wenger and Co to read this analysis.

  10. Goon sailing says:

    The midfield “slumps” digression would be interesting to read… Are you going to post something on that? Is it about chemistry/balance? Energy? Leadership? Size? Speed? Arsenal have quite a small midfield and can get pushed and bullied.. They also have no traditional winger to provide wide outlets.. And they rely heavily on the full backs for width. Fullbacks are going to get tired after the first 30 minutes. The balance Arsenal had vs. Tottenham was good..

  11. Tee Song says:

    The period where Norwich “sprang to life” was probably partially a result of the re-jigging of the team forced upon us by Flamini’s substitution but I think it was also a case of Arsenal deliberately moving their defensive block a little deeper. We’ve already seen this season that when we get the early lead, the team will often sit deeper and allow the opposition possession. Plus, the opposing team has to push forward more aggressively once they fall behind. We’ve gotten better at defending deeply and as the opposition pushes forward, it gives us the space behind to counter. During the period when Norwich had greater possession and were outpassing us, they had seven shots, five from outside the box and the other two which were only a yard inside. Other than Fer’s well struck effort, none of them were difficult for Sczesny to deal with and even Fer’s shot was one which I would expect a good goalkeeper to keep out. We, in that same timeframe, produced the two best opportunities off counterattacks–Giroud forcing a truly world class save from Ruddy when Gibbs dispossessed a Norwich player in their defensive third and drove into the penalty area and crossed and of course the Özil’s header. So to my eyes, we defended well, showed patience, and limited their shooting opportunities to long range efforts and then sucker punched them with quality counterattacks.

    It seems as if the team always felt like they could shift into a higher gear. Once they scored, we outpassed them 171 to 68, outshot them eight to three, and forced Ruddy to make four difficult saves before Ramsey finally broke their resistance with his spectacular effort. Now I understand that it can be dangerous for a team to believe that they can hold something in reserve and we might have a game in which we can’t find that extra gear. At the same time I think it reflects the confidence the team has at the moment.

  12. Bayonne Jean says:

    I’m happy to see someone (other than me) focus on Ozil’s first goal as a real highlight of this match, and critical to the Arsenal fortunes going forward. That one was truly emblematic of a “Wenger” team goal against the run of play, and most importantly, one that is repeatable in other matches. For all the beauty of the first goal, let’s face it, it was so “off the chart” that it’s not one that’s going to happen again anytime soon. More subtly, it might tempt the players to try to repeat or top it, which can have a subtle deleterious effect on the overall attack. And Ramsey’s goal, though more memorable, was a product of individual skill. To rely on hoping for that to happen on a regular basis can also have a negative impact.

    Again, Desi, a great analysis. Will you be doing a BVB pregame?

  13. Right Cross says:

    The big issue for me was formation.
    We started with a 4-2-3-1 but when Flamini went off we became a 4-1-4-1. This of coarse increased our attacking capabilities especially with Ramsey driving forward. However it created an enormous amount of space between the lines which fortunately Norwich exploited for only 1 goal.
    Wenger has got some decisions to make for big games. If Flamini and Aterta are fit it makes it easy but if one is out and wingers remain unavailable then he’s going to have to rethink.
    Ramsey is in too good of form to be asked to merely hold, and deserves either a box to box role or to play the 10 role. Some formational rethinking is clearly needed.
    Thanks Desi.

  14. santori says:

    On watching the game again, agree with you that Flamini’s departure did not mean our slump was a result of his absence.

    He way laid a number of passes when he was on the pitch.

    In fact IMHO, I do feel that playing both Arteta and Flamini is a bit of over articulation on our part, particularly since the opponents (with all due respect) were not that strong.

    I prefer Flamini’s no nonsense aggressive approach for most PL opposition where I feel Arteta’s more cultured approach is better for the more technical teams and the CL.

    However also felt that when Flamini left, the midfield took for granted the cover that both Arteta and Flamini were providing and did not close down quite as efficiently.

    I’m not sure it was a case of confusion with regard positioning more than likely, they did not appreciate the energy and work rate both Arteta and Flamini together were putting out and were more focused on trying to go forward. ironically, it meant they were on the back foot more.

    IMO, one of either Ramsey or Jack should have been closer to Arteta.

    My preference if for Jack to sit deeper releasing ramsey in a more forward role.

    (as amply demonstrated with the first goal), Jack is one of the few players who will go at the opponent’s defenses driving from deep.

    Diaby is the other player whom we know to be sadly unavailable on all too frequent a basis.

    Ramsey makes a case for himself in some ways with his vastly improved dribbling skills. It was almost as if he was channeling the great Zizou with the Frenchman inexplicably catatonic in a corner office somewhere in the Bernebau for the duration of time the Welsh Wizard was playing. What Black arts are at work me wonders…

    I think Jack next to Arteta offers some solidity (defensively) but also allows a front midfield trio of Santi-Ozil-Ramsey to thrive supported and afford the flexibility of swapping flanks or taking turns behind Giroud.

    Whilst Arteta’s passing is mostly immaculate, don’t feel his energy levels are fully up to par yet (having recently returned to team) and in any ways matching Flamini (defensively)

    That said, I think he controls the game well.

    This team is playing some telepathic footy and it is encouraging to see the teamwork.In particular, elated to see ozil quite obviously settled and scoring. Santi-Ozil partnership was a bonus I did not expect to happen being Ozil was involved in Internationals and bearing in mind mid-week clash tomorrow.

    Also encouraging is Jack’s form. He offers us vertical dynamism with his surging runs. Always suspected Ramsey had a latent capability to shoot from distance which will add to our armoury but the new found dribbling skills was surprising. What is he on?

    Giroud’s lay offs were superb and the team looks to be getting into a good understanding with each other. If we can sustain 90 minutes at top level as you mentioned, this team will continue vast improvements.

    And on that note so will BOTH Ramsey and Jack. Pundits have been quick to laud this as Ramsey’s season of his life. Well, he’s only 22 and will only get better. So will Jack at 21.

    Attitude shown by team (Bendtner duely noted) will only serve to spur on further improvements IMO.

    the best thing is even when we conceded the goal, this season, it did not feel like we would struggle to find ammunition in the armoury to knock in more.

    I think our opponents are starting to get a little scared.

  15. santori says:

    One solution for us currently in midfield may be to set up Ramsey and jack in an inverted triangle ahead of Arteta :

    ……………………………..giroud…………………………..
    ..Santi……………………………………………………Ozil
    ………………..Jack…………………..Ramsey………….
    …………………………….arteta…………………………..

    This way, either one will be able to hold a little behind and assist Arteta when required. both are clearly better operating closer through the middle.

    Sans Walcott and Chamberlain, we lack speed merchants (Gnabry granted). Ozil played wide man offering us an advance outlet against Norwich to good effect. Both Santi and Ozil can cut into the hole behind giroud with either fullback pushing up to support the wide area when need be.

    This formation offers great flexibility particularly since the midfield are accomplish swapping across the line to some extent now, but also provides some concrete cover necessary for arteta to close down early higher up or if not to cover breaks with more bodies.

    Again as I mentioned, I feel both Arteta and Flamini can be an over articulation useful only in certain scenarios.

    hwta is key at the moment is we have amazing lattitude and flexibilty with regard positioning in midfield which affords an element of unpredictability working in our favour. But it can also lead to confusion which should work out in due course with fine tuning.

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