Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich: A win, some protests, and the reaction

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I suppose we need to look at this one a little differently this morning. A 1-0 win over Norwich provided three very welcome points, but obviously there were other things going on too. So, let’s do it in sections.

THE MATCH

Not much to write home about in terms of our performance. Lots of the ball, not much incision. Playing with the handbrake on, to coin a phrase that’s never been used before. Then another handbrake on top just in case. And some chocks under the wheels. And so on.

The first half was particularly poor. But for Petr Cech we might have been behind as he made two good saves from Nathan Redmond. Norwich certainly had the better chances, and we didn’t even have a shot on target. Up front Olivier Giroud struggled again – to the point where as much as I need us to find an upgrade this summer, I feel sorry for him.

Even his balance appears to be gone. He’s in a terrible run of form, the worst of his career no doubt, and we know this isn’t really representative of him. He remains our leading scorer this season.

An early change was required in the second half when Per Mertesacker pulled a hamstring and that’s probably the season done for him now. That was followed quite quickly by another, Danny Welbeck in the 55th minute (not the 71st – see, change!), for Alex Iwobi. It was a decision met by some boos from the crowd who felt Giroud should have made way, but it worked.

Bellerin crossed from the right, Giroud rose to nod it down to Welbeck who fired in a shot into the bottom corner. A good goal, and the Frenchman cupped his ear during the celebrations to see if fans had anything to say about that particular piece of play. Then later on he fell over. I wonder if his beard is so big it’s weighing him down or something.

We never really looked like extending the lead, although Elneny forced Ruddy into a good save and Ozil fired one over, so it was about whether or not we could hold out. We could. Gabriel made one fantastic tackle in the box, but for the most part Norwich didn’t threaten. In the end, 1-0, three points, and that’s that.

There’s no doubt the fact that there’s only a top four place to play for, and the current struggles impacted the performance, but it was dismal fare really. As Arsene Wenger said afterwards:

I believe as well we had not the stylish performance that could raise people off their seats.

Which leads us to …

THE PROTEST

On 12 minutes some people held up their signs. Some other people remonstrated with them. Then the crowd sang ‘We love you Arsenal we do’, followed by a chorus of ‘One Arsene Wenger’. To say the whole thing felt flat is an understatement.

All the same, I don’t think it’s healthy or constructive to dismiss the overriding sentiment behind the protest. As Tim Stillman and I discussed on the Arsecast on Friday (listen here – or from about 34’50 if you want the relevant section), if you spend a lot of time online you can end up thinking that Twitter conversations are a mirror of real life. What we saw yesterday was that there’s a great big world outside the 140 character bubble who pay little or no heed to what happens inside it.

However, I have no doubt that there were many people inside the stadium who would like a new manager but who simply wanted no part of the protest. Only they can tell you why that is. Perhaps it’s because they view the 90 minutes as sacrosanct, perhaps it’s respect for Arsene Wenger, perhaps it’s not wanting to associated with some of the murkier elements of this protest movement, and their point of view ought to be respected.

Those who protest have insisted they have a right for their voices to be heard, and they were afforded that yesterday. The same should apply to those who choose not to protest or those who don’t agree with it for whatever reasons they may have. They don’t not love the club because they don’t protest. They don’t simply accept ‘mediocrity’ because they refuse to wave an A4 piece of paper.

I do wonder where it goes from here though. Is this going to be a thing at every game, home and away now? Or has the point been made? Some people want change, some people still support the manager. Do we accept that and live with it, or does there have to be some kind of Arsenal civil war? My fear is that it will develop into the latter, but with just two games left this season, and hopefully a summer that renews hope and optimism via the transfer market, we can have something akin to a fresh start next season.

THE REACTION

Arsene Wenger was asked about his reaction to the protests, and if he had a message for those who displayed the signs. His response:

That we respect the opinion of everybody, and that we give absolutely the best. I’ve shown my commitment to this club. I care for the club and the fans.

I’m really sorry that I cannot make them all happy, of course, but we’ll continue to work hard to achieve it.

Beyond that, we don’t know what impact it might have. Will it see the club and the manager react in a positive way, by really strengthening the squad this summer and building a team that can compete domestically and in Europe next season? Given the Wenger is going to be the man in charge next season, is this not the best we can hope for under the circumstances?

We know he’s a famously stubborn man though, he believes in his methods and even yesterday’s selection of Giroud over Welbeck – despite the goalscorer admitting on Sky afterwards he’s still a bit short of match fitness – felt a little like Wenger doing things his way just because he can.

So look, the proof of this particular pudding, undercooked as it might have been in places, won’t be seen for some time yet.

As for the rest, well today Leicester have the chance to be crowned champions at Old Trafford. I remember when that was us. I loved it. And I hope they do it today because frustrating as our season has been, it’d be a remarkable story, an incredible thing, and a reminder that for all we think we know about football, it’s a game that can still surprise and delight us.

Till tomorrow.

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