Sunday, 21 October 2012

Lacklustre Arsenal Lose 1-0 To Norwich

With the international break over it was back to the business of real football for the Arsenal players yesterday. An evening kick off away to a Norwich team which hadn't won any of their first seven games looked like an ideal way for them to keep up with the Premier League pacemakers. Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City had all won earlier in the day and three points were needed to put Arsenal into the top four.

The team was as expected with Per Mertesacker lining up in central defence alongside Thomas Vermaelen.
Andre Santos filled in for the injured Kieran Gibbs at left back, and Olivier Giroud led the attack after his impressive display against West Ham.

The opening exchanges were promising with Arsenal have the better of them and looking likely to cause Norwich some real problems. The team weren't at their best but I felt confident they would pick up the pace and take all three points.

In typical Arsenal style they conceded with Norwich's first decent attempt on goal after 19 minutes. Alex Tettley let fly with a long range effort which Vito Mannone could only parry back across the goal and Grant Holt was on hand to score from the rebound. Arsenal certainly didn't cover themselves in glory in their attempts to stop Norwich scoring.

In the first place Tettley was given far too much time to get his shot off as nobody bothered to close him down. It was a good shot from Tettley but Mannone should have done better with it. If he couldn't hold it he should have pushed it away from the goal.

A better goalkeeper would have managed to put the ball away from danger but Mannone couldn't. It has to be remembered he is Arsenal's third choice keeper and as such he hasn't performed too badly so far. The injuries to the two keepers ahead of him in the pecking order mean he has to play at the moment, but he isn't quite good enough at this level.

I had mentioned in my preview that Norwich make chances against any team they play and they would make them against Arsenal too. Arsenal had the players to outclass and out score them and the concession of a goal didn't change that. Even without Mannone's mistake Arsenal would have only taken a point and that wasn't what was required.

For the rest of the first half Arsenal struggled to find any real cohesion, as Norwich set themselves up to defend their lead. There was little movement off the ball and the wide players were unable to get behind the Norwich defence. Something needed to change at half time and I hoped to see Arsenal step up the pace in the second half.

Unfortunately all they had to show was more of the same and it didn't look good as the clock ticked relentlessly towards 90 minutes. A couple of chances were created towards the very end, but John Ruddy saved a Mikael Arteta drive and Gervinho waited too long before having his shot blocked after he was played in.

It's hard to single out individual players as the team as a whole didn't perform. Yet again they were unable to break down a massed defence similar to what happened in the first two league games of the season. When a team works so hard to prevent Arsenal making chances it seems Arsenal don't have that player who can make something happen on his own.

The wide roles were filled by Lukas Podolski and Gervinho, but neither of them are wingers in the true sense. I think Arsenal need to find a player who can take defenders on and make things happen on his own. There aren't too many players like that around, but one would certainly make a difference on a day like yesterday.

The Arsenal players seemed almost lethargic at times and it looked to me like they underestimated Norwich. There are no easy games in the Premier League and the first thing every team needs to do is win the battle to play their football. Arsenal just weren't up for that battle and it's something which has to be addressed.

Arsenal have the joint best defence in the league after eight games, but they have failed to score in three of those games. Both Chelsea and Liverpool were able to concede against Norwich and still win comfortably. Whether it was a matter of the wrong attitude or inability to break down a packed defence it simply wasn't good enough.

There's a very busy fixture list ahead of the Arsenal team and they cannot afford to play like that again. They play Schalke on Wednesday night in a game where three points are a necessity. They will have to perform an awful lot better than they did against Norwich to beat Schalke.

Next Saturday sees a home Premier League game against QPR and it's another must win game. I will be at that game as I make my first pilgrimage of the season and I hope to see an awful lot more from Arsenal.

They are now 10 points behind the leaders after eight games and if that gap gets any bigger the chances of challenging for the title will almost be gone. The fact that the players couldn't raise their game in the second half was worrying and the fact that the manager couldn't get them to do so was worrying also. This was the first performance of the season that I was utterly disappointed with and I can only hope it will be the last such performance. If there are too many more of them it could be a long hard season for the team and the fans too.

I was lucky enough to meet up with some other Arsenal fans I have met through Twitter to watch yesterday's match. We met in the Dublin branch of the Arsenal supporters club and we had a great time despite the result. Hopefully there will be a few more chances for us to meet up and the team can put on a better show for us on those occasions.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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