Norwich 1-0 Arsenal: Feeble, flat, forgettable

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We waited two weeks for that? Bring back the Interlull, I say.

Normally after a game there’s all kinds of stuff to talk about, angles you can take, analyses to be made, but it’s difficult this morning. Firstly, because Arsenal did very little in yesterday’s game that’s worth talking about again, and secondly … erm … well, I think firstly pretty much covers it.

It was a day when we just didn’t click, didn’t find any kind of rhythm and never really appeared capable of creating chances. And look, those days happen to all teams, and it is, in fairness, the first time it’s happened to us this season. If we were somewhat nullified by Chelsea a couple of weeks ago, we did it to ourselves yesterday. The team looked flat and lethargic, the lack of movement was noticeable from the start. Arsenal’s players were static far too often, never made any space for the man on the ball and thus made it easy for Norwich to defend against us.

The home side worked hard enough, as you’d expect, but they are a team we should have been able to cope with. That we didn’t from the start is worrying enough, that we were simply unable to lift it in the second half is even more concerning. We’ve all seen these games –  Arsenal fall behind but in the last half an hour step it up and bombard the opposition goal. I could be wrong but I think our first shot in anger on target was in the 87th minute when Ruddy saved Mikel Arteta’s low drive. There was no slice of good fortune, no moment of genius to get us back into it, and Norwich could have scored more but for Grant Holt’s decision making which was, thankfully, rubbish.

As for their goal, well, it was avoidable. Tettey was not closed down quickly enough in midfield, allowing him to get the shot off, and secondly, and I know the ball was swerving a bit, Vito Mannone should have done better. The ball squirmed sideways into the path of Holt and even he couldn’t miss from there. For me, the bottom line is a top class keeper would have dealt with that shot. Either held onto it – something even the not very good Ruddy was able to do late in the game – or push it away from goal and not back into the path of the onrushing attacker.

He’s honest and he tries hard but those small moments are exactly why Arsene Wenger would have let Mannone go this summer. Those small moments are why you need a top class goalkeeper if you want to win, or even challenge, for the league title. It’s so important on days when a team fails to perform that you don’t give away a silly goal and defensively, and from the point of view of the goalkeeper, that was a silly goal to concede. Very serious consideration needs to be given to our goalkeeping situation now, a January purchase ought to be a priority because even if Szczesny returns and cements his place as number 1, we need more reliable back-up at the very least.

It was a reminder of the worst kind of post-Interlull performance yesterday. We had them in the past, we have them now, but we cannot blame the international break. United, Chelsea and Man City all won yesterday – all three came from behind to win too – and they’ve been similarly afflicted by the Interlull. Sure, there’s some mitigation when you face a team which has one player away and should be fresher, but in that case you would expect, or at least hope, the quality of our players and football would make the difference. Not yesterday.

It was as flat and dismal a performance as I can remember and the day took its toll too on the injury list. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on, made a great burst down the right, and got a kick for his troubles which meant he had to be replaced by Andrei Arshavin. Arsene then threw on 17 year old Serge Gnabry for his debut and while we all love to see young talent given a chance at the club, the reality is that on a day when we needed something special, something to lift us, we were relying on two teenagers. As talented as they are they don’t yet have the experience and ability to graft out a result the way more senior players do.

The manager said of the decision not to use Jack Wilshere:

We have to be conscious he has not played for 14 months. I would have brought him on if the game had allowed it today but it was too intense. He will play on Monday with the Reserves and then we will see where we go from there. He needs games.

I understand the caution about Wilshere but why have him on the bench at all if he’s not ready? I get that we could have thrown him on for twenty minutes if we were winning comfortably, but that’s rather presumptuous. If anything, Wilshere’s game is more suited for a day like yesterday when you need somebody brave, somebody with energy and drive, but clearly Arsene felt he wasn’t fit enough for that. So while his presence for a nice bit of PR before the game it was, for all intents and purposes, just that and useless from a footballing point of view.

Overall, a disappointing, frustrating day and it’s tough to understand why we couldn’t get going or cause any kind of problems for a team who hadn’t won a league game until yesterday. It doesn’t take much these days to pick at the old wounds. Once again we stumble against a team we should have too much for. Arsene says we lacked the sharpness (*sigh*), that perhaps we underestimated the opposition (*double sigh*) and that he hopes the result is a shock to the system.

I hope it is too because more days like that and this season will start to prove extremely tough going indeed. Let’s hope it’s a one-off (from this season’s point of view at least), and that we can regain our form and rhythm in midweek, but there’s a air of familiarity about this one that’s hard to shake off.

Till tomorrow.


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