Norwich City 2 – 2 Arsenal
I said before kick-off that Freddie got a “free pass” for this one. Little did I know that he intended to turn it into a hospital pass with his team selection.
In the end, a point was a fair result with neither side interested in defending and guilty of wasting good opportunities for a winner.
Before kick-off, if you had asked Freddie what opposition he wanted to face then a team reluctant to press us when we have the ball probably topped the list. Thank you to Norwich City for being so obliging; we really didn’t deserve it.
The opening phase of the match saw more activity from the XI than Emery saw in most of his reign. It was almost as if the players became “protagonists”. Passing was quick and we played out of defence well on occasion; we looked interested in doing a good job. But looks can be deceiving.
We almost saw the ultimate banter moment when Shkodran Mustafi’s header was cleared off the line; the first goal of Freddie’s reign from the previously hapless German? Jokes.
Normal business, however, was shortly restored. Before then though, Chambers shot was blocked after a howler from Lacazette. The striker shot wide from close-range after Willock’s Ramsey-esque run, interchange and shot fell into his path.
But with almost their first attack, Norwich scored. After twenty minutes of almost-complete dominance, Norwich won the ball in their defensive third. A couple of passes through the midfield to Pukki.
Defensively, neither Luiz or Mustafi took control, allowing Pukki to turn and shoot. Inevitably, it deflected in off Mustafi. The change of head coach hasn’t brought a change in luck for the hapless German. Soon enough, the familiar sight of Mustafi on his arse with a forward running into space became commonplace.
More of the Same
Freddie’s high-risk defensive strategy didn’t work and with the personnel on show, was never likely to. Twenty minutes in, we were to find out whether the confidence of the opening twenty minutes has any substance.
Surprisingly, luck went Arsenal’s way.
Ozil floated a free-kick in, Luiz and Zimmerman tangled with a hand flailing. No doubt of the penalty award but the kick itself? Relatively straight and well-saved. Thank god for VAR; encroachment meaning a retake. Into the corner, Arsenal level seven minutes after the Norwich goal with just ninety seconds played.
There were several moments which merited a second yellow card for the Dutch goalkeeper. None more so than the embarrassing ‘Let’s be having you’ to the home fans, who were duly silenced with Aubameyang’s well-placed second spot-kick.
Again, Arsenal dominated for twenty minutes. Again, a ball won in Norwich’s defensive third was quickly turned into a devastating counter-attack, with Todd Cantwell scoring with a well-placed shot. Defensively, it was woeful. No-one covered for the buccaneering Chambers and Norwich exploited that space effectively.
Ljungberg has plenty of work to do with the midfield and the attack in terms of their defensive work. No-one closed down Hernandez when he was in possession on the flank and no-one tracked Cantwell.
These are fundamental issues to be resolved when you ask the full-backs to push on and support the attack. Even more so when our defenders are suspect most of the time which makes the unwillingness of the others to track back all the more baffling.
If anyone thought that changing the coach would bring an immediate dividend received a rude awakening. This is a squad which requires major surgery, as well as work on the training pitches.
Now The Work Really Begins
Judgement Day comes quickly in football. Freddie has four days to the visit of Brighton and while aspects of yesterday’s performance showed reasons for dimmed optimism, the majority of the faults were already well known. Maybe it is a step forward that we didn’t manage to find any new ways to lose a game?
Equally, it isn’t all down to the coaching. OK, it’s bizarre that Mustafi started ahead of Holding but maybe Freddie had to get that one out of his system early. Nonetheless, the rest of the players need to take a long, hard look at themselves and question whether they are good enough for this level.
Certainly, Ozil outside of the set-pieces for the goals was noticeable by his absence. We’ve long known that he isn’t a player who grabs a game by the scruff of its neck but was non-existent elsewhere. And there is an element of questionable selection at play here. Why play someone easily marginalised out on the wing?
To pick on two players is unfair but honestly, there is a wider issue to be dealt with. Our competitiveness is weak. Tactics influence that, as does confidence but even at a basic level, we are not intense.
Our athletic ability seems weak compared to the other teams in the top four with lethargic defensive running and large gaps in midfield when we’re out of position. We don’t concentrate hard enough for long enough and lack the physical ability to make up for the mistakes we make.
Some of those issues may improve over time but I don’t see it happening this season. We might finish the season in the Europa League places but the Champions League is gone. And I’m quite relaxed about that.
This squad isn’t good enough for that competition and one of the gripes I had about it is our lack of competitiveness. We’d fare even worse with this squad and be lucky to claim the Europa League spot in most groups.
We’ve known for some time that the next few transfer windows would be vital for the club. It’s time to get a new boss in to oversee a radical overhaul of the squad. Ship out the majority, keeping a core few for consistency in the XI to bed everyone in.
That requires Raul & co to get it right in the managerial appointment and nobody should be confident that will happen.
This is a telling time for the club because we don’t have the luxury of almost limitless funds in the way United does. They can afford to lurch from one expensive disaster to another without blinking a financial eye. We can’t and just as we had to operate smarter in the summer transfer window, now we’ve got to work better in the managerial stakes.