Norwich City: Some Monday reflections

Another week and Arsenal are still sitting on top of the league table; I’m starting to get used to saying that phrase. With each week those who predict the downfall of the Gunners are slowly coming round to the idea that Arsenal are a team to be taken seriously. The performances are being churned out, the results are coming through and the points are adding to the table. The high and good feeling amongst those concerned with the Arsenal is becoming sustainable, the belief is growing and whisper it quietly but this could be the year it all comes together and Arsenal can reap the benefits from years of penny pinching all in the name of a long term goal of silverware to complement the beautiful stadium.

Now the weekend is over I am sure everybody has had the chance to digest ‘that’ goal, I will just share with you some of my thoughts from Arsenal’s victory over Norwich City.

Goal of season contender

Oh yes, the goal, and what a fantastic goal it was. It was a privilege to be lucky enough to witness the goal right in front of me. My personal choice of position within the Emirates is amongst my brethren in the North Bank but on Saturday I was positioned neatly in the Clock End. Luckily for me that is where the amazing goal occurred. The move itself was so neat and tidy, the precision of the flicks were ones of such beauty that the goal was so swiftly executed it left the Arsenal fans (and the poor Norwich folk, Not!) still computing what they had witnessed. It really required a second look at the replay on the giant screens to actual confirm that really did happen. The stadium was united in applauding the ‘take a bow son’ moment. It really was a technically perfect team goal, the type of opportunity you associate with Arsenal apart from the bit when the ball hits the back of the net. It’s nice when it all comes off especially being there to witness it.

goal of season celebration

Atmosphere/Norwich banter

Despite the wonderful score line and quality goals experienced on Saturday the initial atmosphere in the stadium was quite flat at times. I know Arsenal fans unfairly get the tag of being home to the library but the Emirates does know how to raise the roof when the fans are up for it. I guess the level of excitement is parallel to the quality and/or history of the opponents. Norwich games don’t really carry any bad blood but their fans are one of my favourites to visit the Emirates. The banter is always top notch and I have fond memories of their visits last season and the season before. Grant Holt is gone so they can’t chant his name; we are over Robin Van Persie so they couldn’t rib us about missing him anymore. Instead all they could focus on was the library chants. All be it they were stunned into silence from Wilshere’s goal but soon found their voices when they pulled a goal back in the second half. Thankfully Aaron Ramsey had enough of their voices and shut them up for good with his goal and assist late in the half. The Arsenal fans did find their voices more in the second half but I could put the pin drop moments down to my next observation…

Lack of the Walcott/Ox factor

The problem if you can call it a problem is the efficiency in Arsenal’s play without the outlet of the pace of Theo Walcott is the reduction of bums of seats moments.  The play is neat and tidy, even our goal of the season contender was so efficient I don’t think the fans got off their seats until the ball was already in the back of the net. The sight of Walcott tearing down the wing latching onto a through ball has been missed since his absence. Even with Cazorla back in the team only Walcott and to an extend Oxlade-Chamberlain offer the chance to stretch teams down the right hand side. Those moments get the fans jumping up in anticipation of a chance to score a goal; it adds something to the Arsenal performance. Not that the team had suffered without it. In previous seasons the loss of Walcott would be a heavy loss that harmed the team’s performances now there is so much quality and options in the Arsenal midfield that Arsene can try different combinations and still produce desired results. Arsenal may have to contend with more patient build up play in games but no one is complaining.

Dortmund are up next on Tuesday and the only hanging point is the potential loss of Mathieu Flamini from that game due to his concussion suffered against Norwich. His absence will be a big loss such is his impact made this season but we have able cover in midfield to cope.

Last point to mention is the fact I was lucky enough to get hold of Szczney’s goalie gloves after the game on Saturday when he threw them into the crowd; certainly a nice memento as the game will always be remembered for that goal which was scored in it and I now have a part of that game with me.

Szczesny glove

Enjoy your day people.

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3 points are all that matters for Arsenal

Sitting in the premier league table above Tottenham Hotspur is a good feeling, one that has been taken for granted over the years by Arsenal fans but the general importance of the feat has never been underestimated. They have slowly chipped away at their north London rivals and with the win over Norwich have now climbed above their rivals.

poldi celebrates

Getting back above Spurs was the easy part; it’s now ensuring they stay there that becomes hard. It’s in their hands so there can be no complaints if at the end of the season fortunes change.

The game yesterday was one of high interest to me; based on my experience last year in the 3-3 draw with the Canaries I was quite desperate to get some sort of redemption with a victory.

Seated close to the Norwich fans it was a chance to go back and forth with the banter; despite a first half of wasted chances and no shots on goal for the visitors they still made a vocal presence in the stadium. The game last season was similar to yesterdays in the sense that top four and champion’s league qualification was very much undecided and Norwich had a chance to throw a spanner in the works.

The Norwich fans were not shy in ribbing the Arsenal faithful with chants of Thursday Night Channel five. Quite outdated considering the Europa football is screened on the ITV channels however it was nice to get the opportunity to throw those chants right back down their throats.

Based on yesterday’s game here are some points of note:

Wilshere was rusty.

The loss of Jack Wilshere was a big blow to the Arsenal team; he returned from his long term injury and eventually found his rhythm to become a key cog of the Arsenal midfield. Despite the team’s good record during his recent absence his return to first team duty can definitely be seen as a psychological boost to the team. Eyebrows may have been raised that he returned straight back into the starting eleven but considering last week’s two goal hero Tomas Rosicky was unavailable Arsene Wenger’s hand had been forced. Wilshere displayed rustiness in his game, although not awful he was way off his influential best, the Arsenal game was becoming stale as Norwich were relishing their backs to the wall defending and so Jack was sacrificed to inject new impetus into the Arsenal play.

Gervinho had one of those days.

It is inevitable that Gervinho will never convince all Arsenal fans of his worth. You never know which performance you will get from the forward and until consistency is added to his game he will split fans opinion. One thing he is even when at his most frustrating worst is he is a threat, his pace stretches teams and especially with the loss of Theo Walcott to injury he has played a part in the recent run of form for the team. We may have a laugh and a joke or moan at the times he messes up but he has pace and a box of tricks (that all be it has a success rate of 1 in 10) that when it comes off is a great tool. Yesterday wasn’t his day but his starting place was earned by his contribution in the previous two games, he may still play a big part in Arsenals quest for fourth place.

Defence was well despite conceding.

Yes a goal was conceded against the run of play but the partnership of Koscielny and the returning Tomas Vermaelen played well. That Norwich’s first shot on goal wasn’t until they actually scored was testament to how the Canaries attack was kept under control. As is the Arsenal default game plan they prefer to concede when under complete control however the goal was from a set play. I’m not sure who exactly was picking up Turner but that set play required a team effort to ensure all men were picked up and unlike the goal conceded against Blackburn in the FA Cup which was a complete cock-up there was fault but not entirely attributed to the centre back pairing.

I believe Vermaelen had a good game, he was determined in the tackle and dealt with the threat of Grant Holt. Although Per Mertesacker is likely to return to the starting line up after serving his suspension it was encouraging that the Arsenal captain had an event free performance. He has set a platform he needs to build on to win back the confidence of the fans and the manager.

It was a penalty.

"it's not fair, they are time-wasting..."

“it’s not fair, they are time-wasting…”

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this non topic, the Norwich fans are bitter as you would expect from any opposition team who concedes a penalty but it was a clear pull on the shirt of Giroud from the Norwich player. Doesn’t matter who saw it a foul is a foul end of.

Enjoy your day people.

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Is Lower League gap closing? F.A. Cup reflection

Well I have to say what a crazy weekend it has been in the FA Cup; shocks a plenty as so-called giants have succumb to the tenacity and spirit of lower league teams. The best thing about the weekend has to be that despite our wobble we managed to dispatch our opponents in Brighton. Arsenal managed to pass their test and avoid being one of the premiership teams to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whistle is blown; game is won and successful passage into the next round achieved; no shameful exit and no unwanted replay on the agenda. It seems a long time since we were able to glide under the radar unnoticed and I quite like it that way.

Now our focus turns to Wednesday against Liverpool, the fans are happy and now it’s down to Arsene Wenger to ensure that the weekend’s events do not spawn any complacency. Liverpool will be down but it can certainly act as a motivation for them to right their wrongs with an instant response against us. Arsenal need to want it more than Liverpool and that means we need to turn that spring in our step into a determined and focused stamp of intent.

It’s a bit too early for a pre-match review of the Liverpool game on Wednesday so I will turn my attentions back to the giant killing of the weekend. It certainly raises the question of whether the gap in quality from the elite in the premiership is becoming shortened against lower placed teams.

In Arsene’s long stint as manager he managed to hold onto a record of never losing to lower league opposition in cup football. That was broken eventually against Burnley a few years ago when he fielded a young team in a quarter-final of the Carling Cup. Even then it was shrugged off because of the team selected; fast forward to this season and the loss on penalties to Bradford in the Capital One Cup. On this occasion we selected the strongest team we possibly could in that tie, no kids were anywhere near the starting eleven or the bench and yet we managed to go out of the competition.

bradford fc Jack Wilshere

Bradford fans celebrate around Jack


We may not have been outplayed by Bradford and it did seem it was one of those days where nothing seemed to work for the team but at the end of the day given the standing of both clubs in their respective leagues there should have only been one outcome. We went out and will always look back on that moment with embarrassment and as a permanent reality check in our clubs history.

Now you look at that result and say Bradford played the game of their lives and should enjoy the moment before being brought back down to earth in the Semi’s against Aston Villa. Yes Villa was at the time going through one of their worst runs of form in recent years but they had two legs to get it right. How wrong were we? Bradford took the game to Aston Villa, refused to bow down to Premier league opposition and deservedly earned their place in the League Cup Final against Swansea City.

Now we look at the results pulled off by the likes of Leeds, Oldham and Luton Town. When the fourth round draw was made you would be forgiven for assuming you would see Tottenham, Liverpool and Norwich in the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup. One upset out of the three at a push but for all three to finish in favour of the underdog is quite a feat. Each of those teams deservedly won their games and the fans of those premiership teams cannot begrudge them their moment.

Leeds celebrate

Leeds celebrate against Spurs


Is the gap closing on the elite because of a raise in standard of lower league teams or is the so-called quality of the elite teams that are going out to these lower league teams reducing. I will include Arsenal in this question because of the Bradford result; you could probably say it’s a mixture of both factors. We certainly would not expect such results in the days of Vieira and Henry and even the most positive of Arsenal fans would admit our standard has declined over recent years; the lack of silverware is evidence enough.

Lower league teams have stepped up their quality over the years, gone are the days where every league below the premiership resorted to long ball football. As more and more young managers influenced by the workings of their successful managers from their playing days bring to their new jobs all the techniques they learned it becomes a lot evident when you watch lower league games in action. You will still get the odd long ball teams but there is a growing number of more and more passing teams that play good football in the championship and lower divisions.

oldham celebrate

Oldham celebrate Liverpool scalp


One other massive factor I would highlight from the recent giant killing is the psychological focus that is maintained by the underdog teams. They fight like it is their life depended on it and when watching the games you can see that they want it that bit more than their more privileged opponents. Complacency is a big failing in the so-called big teams and the managers struggle to motivate their players to give 100% when they know they are playing smaller teams.

It has reached the point where a top-tier team has to psychologically prepare for a game against Luton town the same way they would against Barcelona. It’s easier said than done and that is one of the failings that stun some of these top teams. It isn’t a case of just turning up and expecting the opposition to be star struck by your attendance.

That is exactly why the next round for Arsenal against Blackburn cannot be taken lightly; we know them well from their time in the premiership but given their standing now we will have to expect demand a fully focused performance.

It is our last realistic chance of silverware this season (the Champions League though not impossible will be a tough task) and the Bradford result should be motivation enough to not take this game for granted.

Enjoy your day people.

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Norwich revenge fails – AFC

Well that was not part of the plan. Operation get revenge on Norwich fell flat on its face. Yesterday I mentioned how we had unfinished business with the canaries and a win was minimum expected from the game. As in true Arsenal fashion the games we expect to win are the ones we save our worst performances for.

Due to traffic problems I was unable to catch any of the first half of the game, maybe that was a blessing in disguise because if the second half is anything g to go by I witnessed a flat, toothless  forgettable performance by our boys.

All the pre match talk was about the inclusion of Jack Wilshere in the first team squad for yesterday’s game. At the time it was exciting to think we will have Jack back but also worrying that a return too early was not needed. Based on our current form we were performing well in midfield and had a number of options to select, we were not desperate for his return. By the end of yesterday’s game our abundant stock of midfielders had shrivelled to emergency levels and the sight of Jack on the field would have been a welcome sight.

With the loss of Theo Walcott from the international break Alex Oxlade –Chamberlain has now decided to keep Theo company in the treatment room after limping off from the game with a knock just 8 minutes after coming onto the field. The once frozen out Arshavin will now find himself vital to the team. It’s amazing how quickly fortunes can change, our injury list is growing at a faster rate than expected and now we find ourselves in a situation where the next team will be picked by default because there are no other options.

I really struggle to find any positives from yesterday’s game, we really were that bad. Norwich really should have scored a couple more goals. The fact that we finished the game at only one nil is flattering to us. Gervinho who was so impressive when Wenger took the chance and played the Ivorian in a central striking role seems to have forgotten what to do when played on the flanks. With Olivier Giroud given the striking role Gervinho’s influence has diminished out wide. Wenger needs to address how to can reignite Gervinho or move him back to the middle.  Giroud didn’t do enough in my opinion but looking at our bench yesterday there was no alternative option for the striker, maybe the sight of Chamakh on the bench (instead of Jack if there was no intention to use him) would have instilled more urgency in the Frenchman’s game. Santi was quiet as the Norwich team focused on nullifying his threat. That won’t be the first and last time he will receive extra attention, but we need more than one man to be on his game to win. The whole team played poorly and have a lot to prove in our next game against Shalke.

After the game when asked about the reasons for the defeat Arsene Wenger said:

“I felt we lacked a bit of sharpness. We tried to get into the game after 20 minutes. But we missed what makes the success at the top level – that is complete focus”

I agree the focus was missing in attack and defence; the international break surely did not help our cause due to fatigue and the injuries to players. I suppose all the other teams in the league experience the same situation, some clubs more than others so maybe I can’t use that as an excuse.

Just like the rest of you I will have to shrug off this defeat and look forward to the next game. Call it a wakeup call, an immediate response is on the agenda and hopefully Shalke will feel the full brunt of a wounded ego.

Try to enjoy your day people.

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