View From The North Bank: Norwich 1 Arsenal 0
When ESPN previewed this game the assembled wisdom of Martin Keown, John Barnes and Craig Burley couldn’t see any other result than a comfortable victory for Arsenal. Despite what has been, on the whole, a decent start for us I had to disagree with the panel. This was just the sort of game that Arsenal regularly make a meal of.
After home defeat to Chelsea I gave this team the benefit of the doubt. On that afternoon we hadn’t been outclassed nor lost due to a lack of desire. We’d played below potential and fallen foul of a couple of sloppy moments. These things can happen when teams near the top of the table meet. I was disappointed but I could live with it.
This was entirely different. This was an Arsenal team that lacked the requisite commitment to succeed in any Premier League match.
I don’t want to cast undue aspersions against Norwich but they aren’t a particularly good side. Carrow Road isn’t an intimidating place to play. Chris Hughton, although a reasonably affable kind of man, is no great tactician. This was a game that Arsenal should approach professionally and claim the three points with the minimum of fuss.
The fact that Norwich had started this campaign poorly seemed to be taken a little too literally by Arsenal on Saturday. Our game plan appeared to revolve around the idea that if we kept the ball we’d eventually create chances. Norwich, who will have spent all week honing its solid banks of four, would have been rubbing their hands together at the sight of Arsenal gently stroking the ball from side to side in front of them.
It was just as pedestrian when we didn’t have the ball: The pressing was slow and dutiful. Time and again we closed down with the intensity of a Sunday morning stroll; there was no desire to actually get the ball back quickly and high up the pitch.
The goal we conceded was all too predictable. As Tettey emerged from midfield there was insufficient pressure on the ball and I immediately imagined a right footed screamer into the roof of the net – the kind of goal we make a habit of conceding. The anticipated netbuster didn’t follow but the end result was just as bad. A decent shot from the lively midfielder was parried tamely by Mannone and Holt was first to react. Santos was at fault, playing Holt onside when Jenkinson, Mertesacker and Vermaelen had stepped up in unison.
It also feels a bit harsh picking on Mannone because it’s so obvious that he just isn’t up to it. He kept those clean sheets at the start of the season and dared us to believe that maybe he was a reformed character. A string of mistakes have since followed and, whilst I don’t want to shift blame from an abysmal team performance, it’s fair to say that we have lost several points already this season due to poor keeping. The decision not to add an experienced keeper in the summer looks more and more neglectful as each games passes.
The table shows we’re down to ninth, six points off second and 10 away from the top. Frankly, it hardly seems worth thinking about the points we need to make up on the leaders, and without wanting to sound ‘knee jerk’, there is more work to do than we initially felt this season.
We definitely aren’t as bad as that performance on Saturday would have you think but the very fact that we can register such a dismal display is a significant worry in itself. As much as it’s tempting to dismiss this as a simple bad day at the office that would be to deny something we do too often. Arsenal are always capable of playing like this. This was Sunderland in the FA Cup last season, it was QPR, it was Blackburn. It was Birmingham in the Carling Cup Final.
I can’t pretend to know what causes us to play like this although I suspect it’s not simply a lack of quality. All but the most fervent critic would say we have the tools to beat Norwich, the question then has to be why can’t we go out and do a consistent, professional job? It could be poor preparation, complacency or a lack of variation when our zippy passing game stays at home. It’s hard to tell as an outsider but it’s high time that Wenger and his coaching staff got to grips with an obvious problem.
I would usually end with an upbeat “it’s not all bad” type of message but to be honest, I feel pretty dispirited at the moment. The grim inevitability of losing a game like that has caught up with me. Of course, when Wednesday rolls around I’ll be excited and eager to lend my support in another important game but this morning I’ve had enough of Football and I just want to forget about it.
Keep The Faith.