We have all learned over the years that supporting Arsenal is a roller-coaster ride, but last night’s unexpected woeful performance against the Canaries was nevertheless a painful stab in our Gooner hearts.
Away games after long inter-lull periods are often tricky for the top teams, as they have many internationals who only return late mid-week – often tired and carrying knocks – whereas the smaller teams tend to have lots of time to prepare for their home game with more or less the entire squad.
But of course, this cannot be a valid excuse, as we should expect Wenger and Bould to both make the right call on who is fit enough to play and make sure the team will start the game with the right game plan, focus and motivation.
As a team Arsenal failed miserably last night: the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts.
I would struggle, though, if I had to pick a player who did not work hard enough yesterday. Individual work rates did not seem to be the problem – but as a team, something was missing. We never looked focussed or cohesive throughout the game. In fact, we looked rusty, toothless and disjointed all over the pitch, and totally deserved to lose.
It is utterly disappointing that Arsenal were not better prepared mentally for this game, and I tend to blame Wenger and Bould for this.
Last night I started to sense we were not going to win this game, as early as five minutes after Arsenal conceded Holt’s goal. It was against the run of play, but, unfortunately, we have become vulnerable again to conceding this sort of goals (ManCity, Chelsea x2, West Ham, and now low-on-confidence Norwich).
Conceding that goal should have told the whole team they needed to fight once again to somehow take the three points back home to London – as we did so well against West Ham in our last PL game – but we never lifted our game enough to achieve it.
In a nutshell: Arsenal were never focussed and ‘together’ enough to win last night’s game.
Not only were our wings thrust-less, we also lacked panache and energy to find a way through the Norwich yellow and green hedges in the middle of the pitch. There was simply not enough movement with or without the ball to trouble the Norwich busses, which was very disappointing to watch.
A very disappointing performance and a very disappointing result, but most of all I am disappointed in Wenger and Bould. Sending out a team that lacks focus and is disjointed all over the park is simply not good enough.
Some perspective is needed, though. It is so easy to jump to big conclusions about how rubbish everything is at Arsenal right now. But a team that beat Liverpool and West Ham away and played fantastic football against ManCity only a few weeks ago, still has plenty of credit left. It is now about how we respond to that unacceptable performance at Carrow Road in the next few games.
The players have a role to play, but I have little doubt that most if not all the players in our first team squad are genuine hard workers who give their all. We also have plenty of very good footballers and there is good strength in depth.
The changes we need to see are mainly the responsibility of Wenger and Bould. We need better tactical and mental preparation for games, and we need to become a lot better at absorbing forced changes to our formation. Two and a half month into the season, we should not suffer so much from injuries to the likes of Szczesny, Diaby and Gibbs: good management is about making the right substitutions without the system of our football being adversely affected.
Arsene and Steve: over to you.