If ever there was a weekend which typified the seasons of both Arsenal and Norwich, then this was it. Flashes of brilliance mixed with ridiculous defending painted a perfect picture of Arsenal’s season, whilst a somewhat ‘typical’ Tottenham Hotspur failed to turn up at Villa Park when they could have taken advantage over their North London rivals.
We’ll start with Arsenal. A defeat to the tune of eight goals conceded versus Manchester United is measured up with five goals scored against Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, seven against Blackburn Rovers and a stunning 3-0 home victory against AC Milan in the Champions League. Throw in a 1-0 victory over Manchester City and all looks promising, right? Wrong. Such glorious wins have been contradicted by humilating defeats to Wigan Athletic, Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Swansea City and a frustrating 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates Stadium.
It’s been a consistent theme throughout the season that Arsenal mix spells of brilliance with showings of absolute horror and it was never more evident than in their home fixture against Norwich over the weekend.
With 67 seconds played, Tomas Rosicky passed to Yossi Benayoun on the edge of the area nearest the left wing. Benayoun cut in from the left and unleashed an unstoppable curling effort past a helpless John Ruddy. It was a great basis from Arsenal to work from, one goal up against a team with nothing to play for. Ideally, Arsenal should have started to pin Norwich back and create even more chances.
We don’t live in an idea world and it was Norwich who seized the initiative from Benayoun’s opening goal. There were far too many gaps opening up in defence for Norwich not to exploit, it really was awful defending, but not just from Arsenal’s back four, the entire team were liable of completely switching off defensively. Alex Song, as great as he has been all season, was vacating his priorities on a regular basis and without the experience of Mikel Arteta alongside him, Aaron Ramsey again struggled in midfield, but more on the Welshman later.
It wasn’t a case of Arsenal being poor though, as such a claim would do Norwich a massive disservice. Norwich were forcing Arsenal in to being so bad and the Gunners simply could not deal with Norwich’s speed of play and remarkable, considering how badly Arsenal needed three points, Norwich looked as though they ‘wanted it’ more. I hate using that terminology for football, but it was never more applicable than at Arsenal v Norwich City on Saturday.
Norwich soon scored through Wes Hoolahan. It was an absolute shocker of a goal. Hoolahan was in too much space, shot, his effort hit Szczesny and the Pole could do nothing more than watch as a fairly limp effort from Hoolahan bounced off of his body and into the net. What a shocker to concede.
Norwich then took the lead fifteen minutes later. Norwich caught Arsenal cold on the break, finding themselves in a three on two situation. Grant Holt was allowed too much room, dummied his first shot, then released the trigger, Holt’s shot cannoning off of Gibbs’ foot and looping over Szczesny. Yet another poor goal to concede and Norwich were forcing Arsenal into a catalogue of errors. How Norwich didn’t find themselves 4-1 up by half-time I will never know, Paul Lambert must have been livid.
After a great deal of pressure in the first half, mixed with a few more scares from Norwich, (Paul Lambert must have been close to exploding when Simeon Jackson rolled his shot to Szczesny in a one-on-one situation) Arsenal equalised through Robin Van Persie in the 72nd minute. Alex Song did his usual chip-pass over the opposition defence and Van Persie put his shot across goal and into John Ruddy’s bottom right-hand corner.
Eight minutes later, Van Persie beat the offside rule to slide a shot underneath Ruddy to make it 3-2 with just ten minutes left to play.
Surely, a top three side should be seeing out a match at 3-2 with ten minutes left to play? Arsenal a team renouned for their passing football, so why not play by the numbers and hold possession? It was mystifying that Arsenal continued to play risky football in an effort to score again and soon enough, Alex Song tried a speculative pass which didn’t quite work and again, Norwich hit Arsenal on the break and scored via Steve Morison, who looks unrecognisable now he has a head of hair.
The whistle blew ten minutes later. Robin Van Persie should have been awarded a penalty having been denied by Kyle Naughton somewhat illegally, but should Arsenal have been depending on a last-gasp penalty to get themselves out of jail from what was a terrible performance? No, Arsenal should have scored two and three early on, capitalising on Benayoun’s early goal. Instead, Arsenal folded under the pressure.
There have been a few rumblings in the blogosphere that Arsene Wenger should be sacked, Stan Kroenke should go with him and that Robin Van Persie should be allowed the opportunity to leave so as to realise his own ambitions. I disagree with all of that a thousand times over.
Though this season hasn’t been ideal for Arsenal, they are third, (by fortune after Sunday’s results, admittedly) despite having to compete against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle for third and fourth, with second and first already occupied by both Manchester clubs. That a team in transition for large parts of the season is third is an achievement in itself, that Arsenal are where they are is great considering what they’ve had to contend with.
However. That third spot could be so much more if Arsenal’s summer had have been dealt with in a better manner. Cesc Fabregas should have left at the start of the transfer window, as should Samir Nasri, rather than late on with little time remaining to sign players and bed them in. At the end of last season, Arsene Wenger stated he’d do all his transfer dealings early on. Instead, Arsenal were scrambling about trying to sign Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta in the final hours of the transfer window. It was poorly managed and that starts with management from the top. Arsene Wenger should have dealt with what was faced before him in a much better fashion.
In Wenger’s defence, he did say that he could write a book on what happened last summer, indicating that he had never faced anything quite like that before, but I disagree with sacking a manager who has made the most out of a terrible situation.
To reiterate, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal as a whole made an absolute meal out of last summer, but the important thing is that they have managed to salvage third place, providing Arsenal beat West Brom next Saturday. It is then Arsene Wenger’s job to build on this squad and strengthen, ready for a better fight next season and it is then that we should judge him, not now. One thing for certain, is that Aaron Ramsey needs an experienced creative midfielder ahead of him to take the pressure off of his lightweight shoulders. Ramsey is a good played, so good he’s captain of his country, but never in a million years should he have been made such a pivotal figure of this year’s campaign.
With Arsenal having slipped up, it allowed the opportunity for their North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, to beat Aston Villa and overtake Arsenal, claiming third with just one game left to go.
Tottenham Hotspur have had a season of two halves. During the first half of this season, Spurs were playing the best football in the Premier League and winning match after match. At one stage, pundits were talking of Spurs winning the title. Of course, that was done with a fanciful rush of blood to the head, but all the same, Spurs has as much a mathematical chance as anyone, so why not dream?
Somewhere along the way, Spurs have been derailed in their quest for Champions League football and a finish above Arsenal, and it’s a catalogue of errors that has thrown Spurs off their tracks this season.
First of all, Spurs had a triumvirate of Jermaine Defore, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roman Pavlyuchenko for their strike force when they started this season. Rule Pavlyuchenko out of that as not fitting in at Spurs, nor did Harry Redknapp like him, and Spurs’ strike force is whittled down to just two players. Spurs were heavily linked with a number of strikers throughout the summer, notably Leandro Damiao, a player who was linked with a move to Spurs Lodge for months.
In midfield; Niko Kranjcar, Tom Huddlestone, Danny Rose and Jake Livermore make up Spurs’ immediate back-up to their first choice midfield, with nothing else after that. Beyond Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, where is the width and pace which was so key to Spurs’ early-season form? Beyond Modric where does the creativity lie? Don’t even start with Rafael Van Der Vaart, he’s more a finisher of moves than architect.
It’s a similar story in defence that Spurs have precious little back-up.
A very good starting XI has been lucky with injuries. There hasn’t really been a period during the season weher Spurs have had two, three or four players out at one time and that has been a massive fortune for Spurs, but has managed to creep up on them in that fatigue has played a factor.
Adebayor, Modric, Bale and all of the rest looked physically hammered and again on Sunday, Spurs looked lethargic against the worst Aston Villa side I have seen for a long time.
To be honest, if Aston Villa hadn’t have had a deflected, speculative shot go in, then I don’t believe for a second that they would have scored yesterday, however they did and it was Spurs’ job to score two goals and overtake Arsenal.
An Emmanuel Adebayor penalty aside, which he converted, I didn’t see Spurs scoring. There were lots of shots from Spurs, but there were never any clear-cut chances available to Spurs.
I Spurs had bought players in the summer, could the current situation have been avoided? When you see the likes of Gareth Bale and Emmanuel Adebayor barely moving, you have to say that it’s a valid question.
Right, that’s your lot from me today, I’ve rattled on for long enough!
Enjoy your Bank Holiday and I’ll see you tomorrow.