View From The North Bank: Norwich 1 Arsenal 2
November is usually a terrible month for Arsenal. We’ve become used to making promising starts only to stumble when the yellow ball comes out. So far this month, it’s been different. Not only are we in the midst of bucking the usual early winter trend but we’ve also compensated for our worst start in recent memory. We are now in touching distance of the top three.
This trip to Norfolk was reasonably comfortable apart from the problems we presented ourselves (sound familiar?). By the time Norwich took the lead, more of which in a moment, we could conceivably have been 3-0 up.
By half time a conservative estimate could’ve still had us four or five goals to the good. Walcott was denied by some Anglian Acrobatics whilst even Van Persie looked a little rusty. On balance though it was probably Gervinho who was the biggest culprit.
The Ivory Coast international’s movement and incisive dribbling are both a significant benefit to our attacking play – and his relationship with Van Persie has already won us a few points. However, his finishing has let him down more than once since his arrival. The old cliché which says that the time to worry is when the chances dry up is probably true, but as the season draws on and games hinge on fewer chances, it will be important for Gervinho to start converting more efficiently.
Our profligacy in front of goal set the stage for what came next. A hopeful ball over the top should’ve been comfortably headed back to Szczesny by Mertesacker. As the ball bounced away from him he still had the opportunity to stoop and cushion it back. Both of these choices were passed up which even then left him with the final option of a simple sideways pass to Andre Santos – or even hooked out of harm’s way. This lack of decisiveness was seized upon by Steve Morison. The Welsh International put Mertesacker under pressure, bundled him off the ball and slotted past a helpless and visibly frustrated Szecesny.
There were a few grumbles on the touchline that Mertesacker might’ve been fouled. I’m not so sure he was and even so, when you’ve invited the pressure by defending so clumsily, arguing that you were fouled looks a bit like clutching at straws.
There’s no defending (pardon the pun) Big Per’s mistake in this instance but I would stop short of criticising him wholesale. Despite a generally solid defensive performance, in which the home team only managed two shots on target, the focus of TV pundits was on how shaky we looked. Alan Smudger Smith, who believe it or not once played for Arsenal, chose to highlight a situation where a ball was played into our box and latched onto by Grant Holt. Rather than taking control of the ball Holt backed into Mertesacker and then crumbled looking for a penalty. Holt was rightly booked yet Smith chose to remark on how unconvincing the German looked. Mertesacker did absolutely nothing wrong in that situation but still, when have the facts got in the way of a good story?
Mertesacker has done OK for us since moving from the Bundesliga. He’s taking some time to fit into English Football but that is to be expected. He adds experience, great positioning in open play and a calm head. As it stands we have three solid centre halves and a much tighter unit than we’ve had for a while.
Despite this mishap it only took us 11 minutes to get back on terms. Theo Walcott – who is arguably in the best period of form of his Arsenal career – skipped past his full back and centred for RVP. This goal may have been even easier than the one he notched at home to West Brom!
As has become customary it was the skipper who put us in the lead as he took advantage of an Alex Song through ball and lifted deftly over Ruddy. It perhaps says a lot about Van Persie’s reliability in front of goal but, even with the missed chances, it always felt that we had enough in the tank to get the result. It wasn’t an easy victory but we definitely had a few more gears to go through. It’s not often you can say that after an international break!
The post transfer window Arsenal are still playing neat and tidy passing football but there is an added control to the game. Wenger said himself that we’re perhaps a bit more circumspect when we have to be. This is no bad thing, I’ve already got enough grey hairs from watching defenders maraud forward when they should be defending a lead.
Talking of Le Boss, most stories post-Saturday had been of the interview he gave to L’Equipe rather than another three points on the board. This would seem to be nothing more than a storm in a tea cup. The common sense interpretation is that Wenger loves Arsenal and the only way he would consider leaving is if he felt he was no longer good for the club. The best time to judge that is the end of the season. In tabloid speak that translates to “Wenger Questions Arsenal Future”. Look at it rationally and his comments are no more than you’d expect. Should we fail to make the top four I think we’d all look around, Wenger and the board included, at what our options were. Wenger said nothing more than that. There’s nothing to see here.
A series of good results carries on and I think we can confidently say we’ve passed on the title of “Crisis Club” to our good friends in West London. Not so long ago we were scrapping out relegation six pointers with Swansea and Bolton whilst we looked longingly at money bags Chelsea making a confident start to the campaign. This is proof if ever it were needed that the Football media is driven by short-term agendas to sell papers and advertising space.
We are now on level terms with Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool and within striking distance of Newcastle. The hard work continues and after weeks of quietly doing our job we now have a platform to build upon. The players and coaching staff should take credit for that but the really hard work starts now. Fourth place, as always, is an absolute minimum but it actually looks achievable now.
Keep The Faith.