Arsene’s zipper has been the perfect analogy for most of Arsenal’s season. Anytime he’s had issues with it on the sidelines, our team has seemingly also struggled on the pitch. Arsenal was rubbish for 90% of today’s match, even going down a goal in the 56th minute on yet another set piece. It took us until the 78th minute to show any urgency and from there, our substitutes led the way in bringing Arsenal to a hard fought 3-1 victory.
Before I continue with the match report, I’d like to point out that I’ve reached a point where I sympathize with Arsene when choosing his starting line-up. If he does not rotate, fans blame him for exposing our players to greater risk of injury; and if he does rotate, fans blame him for altering a winning formula and starting players who are clearly off-form. So which is it?
Going back to today’s match, Arsene introduced three new players into the starting line-up: Vermaelen for BFG, with Jack replacing the injured Rosicky, and Gibbs in place of Nacho.
Arsenal’s first half was reminiscent to the first half of the season, highlighted by turnovers, heavy touches, slower than normal build-up play and complacency. We were victims of committing 20+ turnovers in the first half alone, which comes to no surprise when you consider that we went into the 2nd half at 0-0 stalemate.
Our best opportunity to score in the first half came from a beautiful long ball from Santi who found a streaking Gervinho. Unfortunately, Gervinho played a heavy touch around goalkeeper Mark Bunn and ended up almost going out of bounds before attempting a shot on goal. There were no other significant scoring chances in the first half, as our attack looked disjointed in the final third and lacked real purpose. On a positive note, our defense was reliable and composed in dealing with the few threats Norwich posed going forward.
The second half began exactly as the first half ended – stationary and with players misplacing passes. The game looked like it could end in a stalemate with neither team displaying any urgency or looking like a threat to score. However, in the 56th minute, Gibbs committed an unnecessary foul and clipped the heel of Kamara near the edge of our own 18-yard box. Yet another set piece did us in, as we failed to mark Michael Turner and he converted a free header from Snodgrass’ kick to give Norwich the 1-0 lead.
Arsene immediately responded by bringing Theo and Podolski into the game but neither player were able to make a difference.
Theo did make a nice run to beat some Norwich defenders as soon as he came on, but the play was ruined by a poor first touch by Podolski. Norwich then began to take the game to Arsenal, moving the ball down field and picking up dangerous free kicks in our own half. Fortunately, they were not able to capitalize on their chances.
In the 78th minute, Arsenal finally looked like they would level the game, when Giroud calmly chested down a ball to a wide-open Podolski. However, the well-struck shot was deflected by Bunn’s fingertips before rattling off the cross bar. Finally, Arsene had seen enough and made his last available substitution by bringing Ox into the match. Shortly after, Ramsey outworked Snodgrass to give Arsenal a corner, which eventually led to Giroud being pulled down in Norwich’s penalty box.
The assistant referee immediately called for a penalty kick and Arteta calmly slotted away the gift of an opportunity to bring us even. The penalty was a breath of fresh air for Arsenal and they never looked back, dominating the final 10 minutes of the match. Some link-up play between Santi and Ox shortly after, led to a one-two with Podolski, before Ox fed the ball across the goal line for an easy tap-in that Giroud slotted away.
If that was not enough, Arsenal poured it on after Giroud flicked on Fabianski’s goal kick to an offside Theo, who eventually passed it to Podolski for a beautiful finish in the bottom right-hand corner of goal.
On another day, against a better opposition, Arsenal likely would not have gotten away with today’s performance. We were very fortunate to escape with the three points, and relying on a penalty kick for momentum is evidence that Arsenal were lethargic, stationary and lacking creativity and purpose in their attack.
Before I begin on the player ratings, I’d like to explain how I arrive at the score a player receives. For me, a 7 represents that a player has sufficiently done what has been asked of him and not much more. An 8 signifies that the player has contributed more than the average player, but that either his performance has room for improvement or I’ve seen better games from him lately. A 9 or higher is reserved for outstanding performances and is usually accompanied by tangible statistics on the score sheet. Ignore previous ratings from past articles, as I’ll look to be consistent from here on out in the new rating system.
Fabianski (7.0) – Fab made a couple outstanding saves after we leveled the game and he did everything we could have asked for from a starting goalie. It was unfortunate that he conceded a goal, since the foul was unnecessary in the first place and the marking let him down.
Gibss (5.0) – Kieran was underwhelming for me today. I expected to see some of his lively runs down the left flank and to show the boss that he deserves to be in the starting line-up. Instead, he committed the foul that eventually led to Norwich’s goal and he completely butchered two crosses where we actually outnumbered Norwich’s defenders in the box. Perhaps it was the lack of meaningful game time and being off-form that led to his poor performance today, but either way, I did not think Gibbs played well.
Vermaelen & Koscielny (7.0) – Aside from the goal we conceded, I thought Verm played a solid game and actually bailed us out of trouble on two occasions with a couple of nice sliding challenges. Kos also had an assertive sliding challenge to disrupt a Norwich counter to win us back possession. They were both invisible for the most part, which is what you want from a defender. However, their slow passing in our half didn’t inspire any urgency in our attack, but neither turned the ball over either.
Sagna (6.0) – Sagna was brilliant defensively, stopping all of Norwich’s attacks, while also trying to contribute offensively with a nice cross to Giroud who unfortunately hit the crossbar after he met it with his head. However, Sagna was at fault for allowing Turner to score, since Turner got away from him on the free kick, giving him the free header.
Arteta (7.5) – Arteta was instrumental in inspiring the squad to fight back after going down 1-0. He was composed all game and played the right balls to our players, while immediately pressuring the Norwich players whenever we lost possession. Considering the circus surrounding the penalty call and the Norwich players getting in his face before he took the spot kick, Arteta ignored it all and calmly slotted the goal that brought us even.
Ramsey (6.5) – In the first half, Ramsey was all over the pitch, joining in the attack and running back to help defend. He seems to have more of a spring in his step lately and is building the confidence to attempt some high risk, high reward moves (heel flicks, over the top passes etc.). However, several of these plays led to turnovers and he committed 4-5 alone this game. I was still quite pleased with him in the first half and his rating would have been slightly higher had he not completely faded in the second half.
Wilshere (4.5) – Was there a more disappointing player on the pitch today? I was thrilled to see Jack back in the starting line-up since he is my favorite player, but I questioned Arsene’s decision to start him after he had just returned from another injury lay-off. As the game progressed, it was clear that AW made a mistake, as Jack was rusty and his body language displayed that he was not mentally prepared for the game. He was not the inspirational leader we saw earlier this season and he gave no shape or purpose to our attack. Instead, he committed 7 turnovers and looked out of place. Hopefully, this game is just a one off and Jack can return to being the footballer we all know he is capable of being.
Gervinho (4.5) – While there may not have been a more disappointing player on the pitch than Jack today, Gervinho was equally as unimpressive. He committed 7 turnovers in the final third and had tunnel vision when entering the opponents’ 18-yard box. It was as if the performances from the past two games had completely eluded him and he was back to being the old Gervinho – no creativity, not taking defenders on, heavy touches and not finding his teammates in obvious scoring positions. Hopefully, he can regain the confidence he showed previous to today’s game and become an effective player for us down the final stretch.
Giroud (7.0) – He was instrumental in winning us the penalty kick, his flick-on to Theo in what eventually became the third goal was brilliant and he ended up tapping in the game winner. It was also impressive to see him calmly chest down the ball right to Poldi in the opposition’s 18-yard box. However, those positive moments were all achieved in the final 10 minutes of the game and do not excuse his performance up until that point. He was more or less invisible before that, aside from his 7-8 turnovers, and much like the rest of the team, was ineffective. I’ve found his decision making to be remarkably slow lately and looking for the spectacular play that he is usually incapable of making by nature, causes him to get stripped of the ball or play a poor ball.
Cazorla (7.0) – Santi was the only player with any creativity in the first half and played two very nice balls to Gervinho, who was unfortunately not able to convert or create a goal on either pass. Still, I was hoping for more from him after how influential he had been in our last couple home games. Instead, he drifted in and out of the game and never truly inspired the squad or made an impact (especially the 2nd half). The more worrying fact is that Santi and Jack have not been effective when both are inserted into the starting line-up. One player tends to over shadow the other and we lose a significant source of secondary creativity in the process. Hopefully, they can form a productive partnership and eventually take the league by storm, as they are amongst the most talented players in the EPL.
Walcott (6.0), Podolski & Oxlade-Chamberlain (8.0) – Of the three substitutes, it was clear that the latter two had the biggest influence on the match. Upon stepping onto the pitch, Poldi immediately found himself in scoring positions and struck a volley that almost brought us even. His finish in the 91st minute was an absolute cracker and capped off a magnificent cameo appearance. However, it wasn’t until Ox joined the action in the 79th minute that our team truly took the game to Norwich and threatened in attack. His combination play with Santi and Poldi was outstanding and his assist on the crucial game winner sealed the three points for us. Theo started off his substitute appearance with lots of energy and registered an assist on Podolski’s goal, but did little else.
At the end of the day, three points is three points and despite Arsenal’s performance for the first 85 minutes of the match, we should all be happy with the final outcome. Going forward, hopefully we will not have to rely on another penalty kick to motivate the squad, since the penalty call could have easily been disregarded on another day. The win effectively put us above that other North London team and into a Champions League spot. Onwards and Upwards! COYG!
What did you think of yesterday’s game?
Written By: Highbury Harmony