Reaction: Norwich City (H)

The Ox celebrates creating the winning goal.

The Ox celebrates creating the winning goal. (Credit: Flickr – Stuart MacFarlane)

Arsenal notched their seventh win in eight games with a 3-1 home victory under controversial conditions. The team played poorly for most of the game before being stung into action as Norwich scored with their first shot on target. The scrappy match saw 3 of the 4 goals marred by controversy which I will dig in later. Arsenal’s weaknesses showed but Wenger’s decision to overload the offense worked out in the end. The team now sits at third place one point ahead of Chelsea and Tottenham having played a game more than former.

 

 

Close Deja Vu

The Norwich defeat earlier this season was one of the worst displays I’ve seen from Arsenal. While today’s performance did not follow the horrendous script of the game at Carrow Road, there was a notable drop in quality across the midfield. Wilshere was slotted in to replace Rosicky and the move backfired. Wilshere looked out of sorts because he was not match ready. There were some flicks and he did get past one or two but he was quickly short of breath and was a missing peg in the midfield. While this made us less potent, Norwich was not necessarily pressing well and we had enough to push for a lead.

 

Final passes were consistently short. It became somewhat of a norm that our passes were direct prods to Norwich defenders.

 

We relied on the wings to cut in. When that occurred  final passes were consistently short. It became somewhat of a norm that our passes were direct prods to Norwich defenders. Gervinho was chief among the offenders, Ramsey, Giroud and even Cazorla did the same. Wilshere’s passing was sharp but he was rarely involved in play.

We should have been at least 1-0 up in the first half when Gervinho managed to take a tremendous 7 foot first touch to beat the keeper and land himself at the byline with an open goal. He had no where to shoot and Giroud was not fast enough to be provided a pass.

We paid for that in the second half. Our pressure on their end began to wither as Norwich started making stronger counter attacks. Their first goal came under controversial refereeing. Gibbs was judged to have fouled at the edge of the box. Replays showed that it was not a foul but well, referees are human. A good free kick was taken and converted. There will be shouts about how the scorer was unmarked but lets be frank, freekicks at the edge of the box are always dangerous and these are set plays that earn the most goals. Just because Arsenal is not good at making freekicks count does not mean other teams rely on mistakes to score. It was a scramble with many shirts piled in and the ball went in. 1-0 Norwich. Oh, that sinking feeling.

Norwich made their first shot on target count.

Norwich made their first shot on target count.

 

 

Turnaround

Wenger’s response was instantaneous. How I wish he reacted in this manner earlier earlier in the season. He sent Theo and Podolski on for the disappointing Gervinho and Wilshere. However, our team was still hindered by poor passing success rates and Norwich’s incentive to close up shop.

Most fans will forget how Podolski completely failed at trapping the ball twice when in front of goal. Those first touches he made were worst than any Gervinho did all game. When he managed to finally get it right, his rasping shot was tipped to the bar and bounced out. This is one of those days, isn’t it?

Just as events leading up to the first goal were controversial, so was Arsenal’s equalizer. A corner was awarded to the Gunners when Giroud’s flick went horribly wrong and was rolling out. The ball was chased down by both teams which resulted in the corner. Replays suggest it was not a corner. The corner was delivered and it was, as expected, cleared but the linesman flagged for a penalty. While the referee had no clear view of the incident and so did TV viewers, Giroud was having his shirt wrenched in a manner that caused him to fall. I initially thought the penalty was unjust but replays showed that there was over-the-top man handling when challenging for the cross. It is a penalty but the corner leading to it was a wrong call that Norwich will rightly be seething about.

 

It is a penalty but the corner leading to it was a wrong call that Norwich will rightly be seething about.

 

With their tails up, Arsenal pushed forward with newfound confidence. Cazorla began pulling strings centrally a manner in which the barely match fit Wilshere failed to. The game opened up and Norwich launched counter attacks of their own, some of which were very dangerous. Fabianski made two good saves in this period. With Cazorla bossing the central channel, he played a perfect pass to the Ox who had replaced Sagna as the final sub. AOC broke to the byline after a neat one two with Podolski. His short cross was bundled in by a combination of Giroud and Bassong. The goal was initially marked an own goal before being awarded to Giroud. The fans didn’t care, 2-1 up and it was looking very unlikely just seven minutes ago.

Podolski fires the third from the edge.

Podolski fires the third from the edge. (Credit: Flickr – Stuart MacFarlane)

Podolski managed to grab the final goal as a long ball from the Arsenal defence was flicked on to Theo’s path by Giroud. This is the third controversial goal. Walcott was offside when the ball left Giroud but the flag stayed down. To be fair to Arsenal, that was not a game breaking decision. Theo did not take advantage of the break and Norwich was given sufficient time  to pull back as Theo dinked the ball back and forth before finding Podolski who was outside the box. Podolski was given time to make a turn before firing low into the right corner. 3-1. Three points. A temporal third place. In a space of ten minutes, terror turned to joy. The Arsenal roulette keeps on turning.

 

 

Weaknesses

While it is easy to ride on this last gasp comeback, it would be foolish to forgot how poor the team was passing. There were many parallels to the WBA game. Norwich attempted to block off the central channel but did not do so as effectively as WBA. However, we lacked the sharpness required when attacking which Gervinho and Rosicky managed to put together against WBA. In short, the quality of both teams could not compare to the match before.

The difference was being productive from crosses. While it worked out for us in the first goal against WBA, we failed to make any count in this game. Instead of crossing, we tried dribbling in from the flanks but the final passes were horrible. Over time, the team got nullified and Norwich showed Arsenal in their first shot on target what Arsenal failed to do after 6 corners and a few dangerously positioned freekicks. The ball was well delivered to the edge of the six yard box and the scramble saw them hit the back of our net.

 

Norwich showed Arsenal in their first shot on target what Arsenal failed to do after 6 corners and a few dangerously positioned freekicks.

 

Our corners befuddles me. The first few corners we take is always aimed for the near post. This regularity and predictability does not make sense but that was something viable when Per was in charge of flicking it back from the near post. Per didn’t play today and we still went for the near post even though none of our players were there. It took 3 repeated corners for us to begin sending balls to the middle of the box. Why did we take so long? Why do we love the near post predictability? I hope someone asks Wenger about this.

 

 

Wilshere

Wilshere: Didn't look match fit.

Wilshere: Didn’t look match fit. (Credit: Flickr – Stuart MacFarlane)

It is not surprising that Wilshere made the team since Rosicky was out. Many were calling for Podolski to be returned to LF and Cazorla moved back to CAM. This did not happen. Unverified reports say that Podolski is nursing a long term non critical injury. He can do a substitute’s appearance but will not last the whole match. These reports go on to say that he will have surgery after the season ends.

Whether that is true or not, Cazorla was kept at LF for a reason and a barely ready Wilshere was sent straight into the starting eleven. This was a bad call by Wenger.

 

 

Ramsey

The young Welshman had a terrific game. Ramsey chased down every ball and covered every inch of the pitch. He was on the flanks when needed and quickly retreated in defence when the team faced a counter attack. While most of the team showed a patchy performance today, Ramsey was one of the few (Fabianski, Sagna) that performed well from start to end. My man of the match.

 

 

Overload

While Wenger made questionable decisions early on, his substitutes were exactly what we needed and replaced the players that were looking out of sorts. Sometimes, it takes the end of a season and a close battle for CL places to see Wenger take such daring moves. He basically threw every attacking player he had in response to Norwich’s opening goal.

 

Wenger’s substitutes were exactly what we needed and replaced players that were looking out of sorts.

 

This allowed us to overload the box with Podolski playing as a second ST to Giroud. With Theo cutting in and Cazorla settling back to the CAM role, things finally clicked. I hope to see more of these earlier in a season. A packed defense will require an overloaded attack unless you have a player in the mould of Messi.

 

 

Another Thrilling Win

This was a controversial game. Norwich’s opener, events leading to Arsenal’s penalty and Theo’s offside position in creating Arsenal’s third are all questionable decisions. The thrilling nature of the comeback did mean that our poor play for the first 70+ minutes could be forgotten. I hope the team passes a lot better in the next match. Most importantly, this will keep morale high and places pressure on Chelsea and Tottenham.

Arsenal are on a fine run. It could have ended against WBA and it could have ended today. Desire to finish with three points saw the team through and third place is now within reach. Everton is next on the plate and will be our second toughest opponent as the season closes. We will need another three points if we want to end this season on a high.
 

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