With results like this, it is often difficult to determine where to draw the line in terms of praising the winning side and criticising the defeated team. The truth, rather obviously, lies somewhere in between. Norwich upped their game to produce their best performance of the season, whilst Arsenal failed to click into gear.
Norwich should be awarded plenty of credit for earning their first victory of the season and it is hard to argue that it was deserved. The advantage of having few regular international players is that the breaks in the domestic calendar offer an uninterrupted opportunity to work with the squad. The team was unrecognisable from that which was torn apart against Liverpool, so kudos must be given to Chris Hughton and his coaching staff for the significantly improved display.
Their game plan was hardly revelatory, but that does not mean it is easy to execute and the home side did so extremely well. They sat deep and operated narrowly as a unit whilst pressing all over the pitch. So, nothing new at all but it still needs to be carried out effectively. A quick look at the home side’s clearances and interceptions give a clear indication of their defensive plans, with most being in the central third and in or around the penalty area.
Often that approach is undone by a moment of poor concentration or an individual mistake but neither occurred. Norwich defended well throughout and didn’t gift the visitors a way back into the game. At the other end they caused problems and, although he should probably have taken a second, Grant Holt took his chance well.
A quick word on that goal. It was in truth a series of errors from the Gunners which had until recently seemingly been ironed out of the team. Alex Tettey was afforded too much room to strike from outside the area, Vito Mannone should have parried that away from goal rather than right in front of him, Andre Santos had switched off and not stepped up and Per Mertesacker was slow to react (although I think he is the least guilty party out of those named). It was a poor goal to concede all around and Arsène Wenger will no doubt have been disappointed with the nature of it.
Obviously Norwich had to rely on Arsenal not performing to their best and this was definitely the case. It is often wheeled out that to frustrate Arsenal you simply need to stop the two excellent Spaniards in midfield but I do not necessarily subscribe to that idea. Mikel Arteta was again probably the visitor’s best player while Santi Cazorla was still bright despite not quite producing his moment of magic. Arteta was again dominant and completed 99 of 106 passes, while Cazorla was seemingly involved in most of Arsenal’ good moments. As an aside, who doesn’t like to see a footballer taking corners with both feet? Cazorla two-footedness is just brilliant to watch.
Instead it was the front three that were truly stifled and failed to perform. Lukas Podolski was unlucky to be removed early in the second half, as he seemed the most dangerous of the three, but Olivier Giroud was not at his best whilst Gervinho was just downright poor. The attacking pattern followed a very similar one to that which we saw at Upton Park for the first hour, until the introduction of Theo Walcott changed the dynamics of the attacking trio.
It’s difficult to escape the conclusion from both games that Gervinho and Giroud are not compatible together in this Arsenal system, and it should simply be a straight choice between the two for the central position. The Ivorian struggles to operate from the right-hand side, unwilling to either cut in onto his left foot or go past his man on the outside and trust his crossing ability. It was only when he switched to the left late on that he seemed to cause the Norwich defenders any type of problems and even then he should have done better.
Given the fluidity of the Arsenal front three and the nature of their style of play, it would be highly surprising if Wenger ordered him to hug the touchline. Yet that is what he did, receiving almost all of his passes in extremely wide areas where he is unable to do any damage. Given that he is so uncomfortable there, you would expect to see him drift and receive the ball in central areas often as he did against Southampton when starting in the middle, but he seemed to lack the confidence to do this.
It is most likely that Wenger would have preferred to utilise both Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the closing half hour, but the former is recovering from his injury against San Marino while the latter seemed to tweak his knee during his first surging run and was replaced. It was only when Serge Gnabry was introduced that Arsenal looked their brightest, with his trickery and willingness to drift inside a stark contrast to what Gervinho offered before him.
It should also be noted that the return to fitness of Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere cannot come soon enough for the Gunners. Whilst I think some of the criticism which Aaron Ramsey has received over the last 12 months has been unfair, he does stand out when next to the two Spaniards. He too often chooses the wrong pass and his hesitancy can slow the speed of the attack up. With the imminent return of aforementioned two and possibly Tomas Rosicky, a loan move to a Premier League team may be the best option to help bring back his confidence and form.
Norwich deserved their first league victory of the season and this should hopefully give them a base to push on from and pick up more points. Arsenal will be frustrated with the defeat but they are not the first side to suffer a disappointing result early in the season. Despite yesterday’s performance, the team has improved since last season and I would expect this to be a blip rather than a sign of any great problems.