View From The North Bank: Arsenal 3 Norwich 3

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An awful first half – after making the perfect start – put paid to the three points we needed to keep our Champions League destiny in our own hands.

So often this season Arsenal have trudged through the first half of matches – like the talented, cocky boxer dropping his guard once too often. Yesterday it cost us dear.

To Norwich City’s credit they played out of their canary coats, despite being a goal down after a minute. They desperately wanted another scalp here and did whatever they could to disrupt and discourage – you can’t blame them for that, but yet again you can blame the referee – that sort of behaviour from away teams is not entertained at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the Etihad.

I’m all for referees keeping their cards in their pockets at times – and was grateful that Anthony Taylor did so after a rash second bookable by Ramsey was overlooked (although Hoolahan was also lucky not to receive two cards throughout his time on the pitch) – yet time and again, the same cynical challenges were overlooked.

I don’t though count the incident causing Bacary Sagna’s broken ankle (again, how is our luck?) as I felt that was innocuous, but childish antics like knocking the ball away from a players hand at a throw in, kicking the ball away from a free-kick, standing on defenders toes (Holt), pushing players into touch and continuous talking to the ref (Holt again – the new Kevin Davies?) should be nipped in the bud early. Mr. Taylor had absolutely no control of the game.

That said, we only have ourselves to blame for three more soft goals conceded. The first Szczesny could’ve thrown his cap on. That error played on the Pole’s mind for the rest of the game, with indecision a (negative) feature of his play and his kicking being even more woeful than normal. This kind of erratic ness, as we know too well, causes panic at the back. This was evident in abundance, minus the indefatigable Laurent Koscielny.

The second goal was not too dissimilar from the opening Sp*rs goal against us, whereby a break away left two on two and the block on the shot was not in our favour. And the third – despite being an emphatic finish, should’ve been defended had Song filled the gap vacated by the over-ambitious Gibbs.

Song had one of those games where he does the difficult things well (another fine assist for Van Persie) yet the simple facets of the game vacate his brain. Gibbs and Sagna get caught in behind so often as the midfield isn’t disciplined enough to provide cover – a main reason why Wenger is coveting the likes of Yann M’Vila and Javi Martinez.

To his credit, in the first half on a couple of occasions Gibbs waved Ramsey back when caught upfield and the Welshman had the nous to cover in: Far too often Song hunts the ball when covering is required.

The frailty of Arsenal’s midfield can be put down to the absence of Arteta (we still haven’t won a game without him) yet he too has been caught upfield on, albeit rare occasions (QPR to name one example). It’s an issue that Wenger realises is a big weakness.

Despite defensive lapses, again we had the chances to win comfortably. Poor finishing, great blocks and fine goalkeeping (Van Persie, Song and Gibbs all denied at point blank range by brave keeping) kept us at bay. Benayoun should’ve added to his excellent opener with a sitter of a header – and how we didn’t get one of the two clear cut penalty shouts I will never know.

The second, where Van Persie was shoved over by Naughton (on loan from Sp*rs which grates even more) I will never know. Inexplicable. A professional foul to boot.

Gervinho was a constant threat second half which was a positive – as was the performance of Coquelin.

I won’t bother to dissect the Twitter graveyard. You’re either good or shit on Twitter. Had we taken more of our chances and been given one of two stonewall pens, we’d all be looking forward to The Hawthorns with rose tinted glasses.

The truth is when we’re bad, we’re bad. But, we have shown time and agin this season the strength to get back into games. You can’t coach that. What you can do is strengthen on weaknesses which I believe Arsenal will do this summer. Dead wood out; solid, sturdy wood in. The problem is of course that to attract high calibre players, Champions League football is a must.

A deeply frustrating afternoon having clawed our way back into the lead from 2-1 down, and not the way that Pat Rice – a diligent defender in his day – would’ve wanted to bow out on on home turf. Oh the irony. But then, that’s Arsenal. Doing it the hard way.

We are now Aston Villa fans for the day. That in itself is thoroughly depressing. We need something that we’ve been missing all season: some luck. Let it be a lady!