Norwich City 1 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Holt (19)
Is Arsène casting envious glances toward Manchester this morning, thinking that he would like to be in Ferguson’s shoes right now. Jealous of the only problem being a centre-back who made him look stupid over a t-shirt? Probably because if that were the case, he would not be thinking about an Arsenal performance which got the result it deserved. An Arsenal performance which was inexplicably lacking in drive, determination, vision, desire, any attributes which are present in a win, even those achieved when the team plays below expectations. Is he wondering whether or not this is the moment when Vito Mannone’s confidence is irretrievably dented?
But I suspect he has not conceded a whole season on the basis of one match.
There are whole raft of reasons for yesterday’s performance, none of which will be told to us. Instead we will pin the blame on the international break, convince ourselves that Arsenal always play badly in fixtures immediately upon returning to the club. When we realise that is not actually true, the angle is changed to away games, reducing the scope until it boils down to just one thing. On a Saturday teatime at Carrow Road in October 2012, Arsenal did not turn up and deservedly lost.
The wise will tell us that this is the sum of the squad. Vermaelen is the worst captain that the manager could have chosen, BFG just means that Mertesacker is slow and useless, the list goes on. Strangely enough, these same players were being lauded just days ago for being a vast improvement on last season’s model. The team are apparently six points worse off than their less able predecessors, an entirely vacuous argument that ignores the vagaries of the fixture list. If you substitute West Ham for Blackburn, Arsenal are two points down on corresponding fixtures. Use Wolves if you want five points because Bolton just gives you a gap of four. They are pointless comparisons to make at this moment in time. At any moment in time is the reality since the champions or teams above and below you rarely achieve the same total points as the season before.
This is a defeat that hurts for many reasons. The squad had been playing well this season. Even when they didn’t, they had been able to carve out results for the most part. That never looked like happening. The biggest problem is the waiting during internationals, the looking forward to the return of the club matches. When a performance like yesterday happens, the hurt is even more. When the established players do not show up, the cuts are deeper.
Defeat came from a goalkeeping error. Compounded by defensive errors. Mannone should have held the long range effort from Tettey. At worst he should have parried it to safety, to a position where he could spring to smother any follow-up. He definitely should not have parried it back into the centre of the goal, that is a cardinal sin of goalkeeping. But as much as that was to blame for the goal, why was the original shot allowed to happen? Why did no-one close down Tettey when he had the ball? And why, when strikers are taught to follow every shot into the goal, do defenders react slower than the attacker in those situations. Mannone was at fault but not the only one, a point we should not forget in the unrelenting search for a scapegoat to blame.
Post-match, Arsène noted,
I felt we lacked a bit of sharpness. We tried to get into the game after 20 minutes. But we missed what makes the success at the top level – that is complete focus. And they were sharper than us.
That just isn’t good enough. Not for Arsenal. I cannot believe that this was a surprise to the manager, that nobody picked up on the whole squad being out of sorts. Surely some signs were there that the players were too relaxed, too confident, planning next summer’s holidays? Did they really fall apart as soon as they crossed the white line ready for kick-off?
Having a Champions League match so soon after a disappointing defeat is both good and bad. The players have the opportunity to erase the performance very quickly but another poor match in quick succession might reasonably be considered the start of the run. At the moment, yesterday was an isolated incident. The manager and coaching staff have two days of training to ensure that it does not escalate into something more.