After two weeks of nothing, the “interlull” came to an abrupt end this weekend. Well, the resumption of Premier League hostilities felt like it came around very quickly to me. And, going by the “performance” our boys put in at Norwich on Saturday evening, the same can be said of them. I’m sure that, like me, you’re still so bummed out by Saturday evening’s display at Norwich, you have no particular desire to ready anything about the match. Fair enough. But the life of even a part time blogger isn’t just about glory. Which is probably obvious to you, seven years after the last trophy was parked in our cabinet. So, here we are, on an excessively grey north London day, to pick over the carcass of a performance so poor even Oliver Twist would have been horrified by it.
The weekend had started so promisingly too. Friday afternoon saw the news that Jack Wilshere would be part of Arsenal’s matchday squad for the first time since the end of the 2010/11 season. Just to put that into context, well… two things. One, Jack has yet to partner up with midfield mainstay Mikel Arteta. Two, the length of time that has elapsed has led to football watchers questioning the evidence their own eyes provided them and asking the question “Was Jack really that good?”. To which the obvious answer is, “Yes, yes he was.” The question should now be, can he be that good again? We hope the answer wil be, “Yes, yes he can.” Anyway, we will see the answer for ourselves over the coming weeks and months, so let’s not dwell on it here.
Suffice to say, that with our midfield maestro closing in a return to first team action and a trip to winless Norwich on the agenda, we were all looking forward to Saturday night’s game and a healthy increase to the “GD” column. Cast your minds back, we were. That feeling of optimism lasted about 5 minutes. It’s a curious thing with Arsenal under Arsene, but you can generally tell what kind of 90 minutes you’re in for very quickly. And, with Norwich denying Arsenal time and space to get their game going, it didn’t look good. At all.
You will recall that Arsenal went into the international break following a 3-1 win at West Ham. This was a win acheived despite going a goal down after twenty minutes. The only similarity with that performance is the time we conceded the opening, and only goal, of the game. As is becoming customary, it came from Norwich’s first attack of the game. Also customary was the goalkeeping howler that led to it. Vito Mannone had, let’s face it, been well protected in the opening weeks of the season. As he has become slightly more exposed, the errors have crept in. He was at least partially culpable for Chelsea’s winning goal, the opening goal at Manchester City and any number of parries back into the danger area could easily have resulted in a goal. That particular chicken came home to roost this weekend, when he parried a 35 yard effort into the centre of the goal. Grant Holt, who would have been offside had fatty Santos been awake, reacted a bit faster than Per Mertesacker and slid the ball home.
For all the possession we had, we never looked like doing anything with it. And we never did. The “inelegant and inefficient” Gervinho was too busy running down his usual blind alleyways, one particular airshot said more about his game than any two yard tap in could. Podolski was anonymous, Ramsey ponderous. What struck me was how the energy of Keiran Gibbs was missed down our left flank.
What also struck me was, and yes I know we have injuries, the paucity of options on the bench. At one end of his Arsenal career, the hitherto untrustworthy Arshavin; at the other end, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry. No centre forward, no real nuclear option waiting to detonate from the bench. Well, not unless you consider Wilshere nuclear. Which, I suppose we might do, given a few weeks. I’m not blind to the fact that this is just one result and just three points dropped. But, bigger picture, for all the goodwill that the team have built up this season under difficult circumstances, we have won just three of eight matches and stand a sobering 9th in the league table. I don’t understand how a club like Arsenal can go into a league match without a recognised centre forward on the bench (not for the first time in recent years) and a goalkeeper who, quite plainly, isn’t up to it on the pitch. Although perhaps, having suffered through Manuel Almunia’s time at the club, perhaps that bit isn’t so surprising.
It would be wrong, however, to scapegoat the Italian, who is- all said and done- doing his best and was by no means alone in his ineptitude on Saturday evening. It’s not his fault Szczesny is injured, or that Fabianski is apparently made of glass. If the Arsenal manager does entertain serious notions of at least challenging for the league title, it’s difficult to see how it’s going to happen without spending “some fucking money”.
I guess it’s ironic that as we reflect on yet another Arsenal performance where the players thought they just had to turn up to collect the three points, so much of this post is about mistakes being repeated again and again and again and again…
It’s the Champions League on Wednesday night, we’re going to have to step it up. Considerably.
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