Defence ! Defence ! Defence ! Defence ! Yes, I’m repeating myself and will be at this rate until the end of the season, because the Arsenal defence still resembles a kite in the middle of typhoon.
On the plus side Arsenal looked instantly better in all the right ways with Freddie Ljungberg in charge and he plumped for experience in his first game in charge.
Back came the Emirates leper’s Mustafi and Xhaka, along with forgotten man Calum Chambers and the un-muggable Sead Kolasinac.
I was perhaps hoping for an ambitious tweak but instead was served virtually the same meal that Wenger and Emery had given me for the best part of the last three years but let’s not be too critical.
Arsenal looked fresher, lighter and brighter as if they had set fire to their tactical handbooks and were just playing for their own pride and pleasure. The full transformation won’t happen overnight but the signs are good that an Emery free Arsenal might enter games with the same gun ho approach of the Wenger years.
The ones that caused anxiety and palpitations during matches by abandoning caution readily in the hope of securing a cricket score.
21 minutes in and it looked like the end of the first defensive partnership of Luiz and Mustafi at Arsenal, as Pukki who scores as regularly as a monk got on the end of a brilliant through ball from McLean.
Luiz stood off admiringly waiting for divine intervention, whilst Mustafi resembled an overweight hot dog salesman who was out of his depth on the treadmill. Norwich were in front but one suspected that this game could be as high as 5-5, with neither defence looking great.
In my notes I had Mustafi & Luiz down as ‘The Chuckle Brothers’ and they continued with their confused and haphazard defensive notions all afternoon, both guilty of a ‘to me, to you’ mentality and approach.
Ljungberg will need new answers to an age old problem at Arsenal and it’s just lucky that he has no hair left to lose this season.
Anyway, Arsenal got back on terms with a penalty drama courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who else ! Zimmerman tried his best to make Özil’s cross disappear up his sleeve but the eagle eyed ref saw the ill fated magicians error.
Krul saved the first time but the ref insisted on a retake after the obvious encroachment of Norwich players. Arsenal were back on terms but it was never going to remain 1-1 because both teams were already giving gifts before Christmas.
Then 45+2 and the excellent Todd Cantwell restored the lead for Norwich thanks to the industry and energy of McLean and Hernández.
Both burrowed into the territory that Arsenal willingly surrendered, with the defence guilty of another no show and Chambers looking like a makeshift defender.
The chips were down but before we start assuming that Leno was just the victim of an extremely shoddy defence, he single handedly kept this game alive with athleticism via his extremely busy hands and legs. Norwich couldn’t seem to get the crucial goal past him even though his defence left him stranded and helpless at times.
Aubameyang was again on hand (57) to slot home for Arsenal from an Ozil corner, completely unmarked and six yards from goal. Norwich got overly excited and switched off, allowing the Gabonese striker free to plunder his second goal with ease.
In the end a draw was a fair result for Arsenal but I doubt that Norwich supporters will see it that way, because they really should have hung Arsenal out to dry. Leno has taken a fair bit stick over recent months with some questioning his ability but the German had an amazing afternoon. Danke dir !
Ljungberg will now want to get more training sessions under his belt at Arsenal and Per Mertesacker will want to bang some defensive heads together until they grasp the concept of collective defending.
One suspects the answer to the problem may be found in the ranks of Arsenal’s academy because there are few combinations left to experiment with.
Could inexperience be any worse ? Heck no ! Watching Mustafi and Luiz is like watching a clown play football in his massive red shiny boots against a monkey on stilts.
This game was a marker and the product of only two days work. Ljungberg will sit down next week with a clear head and make up to five changes for the next encounter.
If Freddie can keep the passion, get the side attacking and defending in numbers they could probably finish fifth. That’s a pessimistic opinion of course and I’d like to be held to account for that.