Arsenal went to Carrow Road as clear favourites against a Norwich team that were yet to win a game this season in the Premier League. In the build-up to the game, there was much talk about Jack Wilshere’s inclusion in the travelling squad, however Arsene Wenger was quick to lessen the pressure on the young midfielder, he stated that the nation’s hope shouldn’t rely on one player, however the Arsenal team performed like they couldn’t perform without him in the side.
From an Arsenal perspective, there was very little decisions to be made, with Gibbs injured it was Brazilian Andre Santos who was always going to make a start, and with the physicality of Norwich’s front line, it was the smartest decision to go with Per Mertesacker. With Giroud in form after goals against Coventry, West Ham and a last-minute equaliser for France against Spain, he was given the nod to spearhead the Arsenal attack.
The opening spell of the match favoured Arsenal; the pitch was greasy and allowed for quicker passing between the players. Arsenal’s passing was snappy and the players looked like they were ready to take the game to Norwich, however as the first half dragged on into the 15th minute, the impetus seemed to have disappeared. Come the 19th minute where defending of the seemingly old Arsenal appeared.
With no pressure on the ball after a bad first touch by Norwich midfielder Tettey, he was allowed to have a shot which resulted in Vito Mannone to parry badly into Grant Holt’s path which is gratefully put into the back of the net. Needless to say the goal should have been stopped much earlier and the place is upon Tettey’s approach to the ball for the shot, with Grant Holt the only attacker in line for a direct pass on goal, Vermaelen had no need to stay deep and not press the ball (also because Mertesacker was covering Holt’s run), and the red triangle shows the space he has already vacated. Should he have taken a more aggressive approach in pressing the ball then Tettey’s options would have been far more limited, the shot could have been blocked, or had the Norwich midfielder decided to pass the ball either way, there were players ready to intercept the pass. However due to Vermaelen not closing the ball more aggressively, Tettey was allowed a free shot which resulted in the goal.
The remainder of the half consisted of Arsenal attempting to play their way through organised and aggressive pressing on the half way line to the keeper, and should Arsenal make it through that then more times than not they would give the ball away through a sloppy pass, which could also be caused because of a lack of movement and mobility. Once Norwich regained the ball they would look to counter (usually on the right hand side, 43% of their attacks came from this side). Norwich’s average pass streak was 3 passes per attack which is an indication towards their counter attacking nature. The half ended and changes needed to be made, not in personnel but in attitude.
The second half started brightly for Arsenal as they made a couple of tactical adjustments, firstly they used the full width of the pitch more, Jenkinson and Santos were given license to get forward and allow Podolski and Gervinho to come inside and try to combine with Giroud. Secondly, whether this was intentional or not, was Cazorla’s preference to move to the sides in order to get involved in the build-up phases earlier on. This change stopped Arsenal being as effective in the attacking third as there was a consistent space in between the Norwich midfield and defence which was left alone, Arsenal struggled to influence that area throughout the game. Arsenal continued to probe and pin Norwich back as far they could, Gervinho was attacking both fullbacks with feints and shimmies but to no avail, Podolski was taken off for the more direct Chamberlain but within a minute he was injured due to an awkward landing. He continued to play but was eventually taken off for Arshavin, and Gnabry made him Premier League debut, replacing Aaron Ramsey. The change in the end had little effect as Norwich found it easy to defend the same style attacks continuously, by forcing Arsenal wide, they restricted the amount of passing avenues and made the play predictable again and again till the final whistle. Norwich did their homework on Arsenal prior to the game; this was clear from the start. Norwich defended using a highline which squashed the space in the middle of midfield, this forced Cazorla, Arteta and Ramsey to drop deeper into less threatening areas. Holt was pinned onto Vermaelen, knowing he would have the beating of him in the air and that gave Norwich an aerial outlet whenever they needed to relieve the pressure.
Cazorla – Arteta Combination
In order for Arsenal to gain a foothold in a match, Arteta and Cazorla must be in the forefront of their passing through midfield. Today, however Norwich was ridged and structured in the middle which created a greater distance between the two players.
Against West Ham, both Spaniards were combining regularly and more often than not Arteta was feeding forward passes for Cazorla to penetrate the central area of the pitch. Norwich ensured that by closing down quickly and stopping the vertical passes, it made the passes between the two players much longer and more importantly, more horizontal.
Cazorla tended to drift to the left hand side and try to create a triangle of players to overload and penetrate through there. However when Cazorla received the ball, due to the lack of movement from the Arsenal, a lot of his passes were to the side of him, and this fell right into Norwich’s plan.
Arsenal Left Side
Arsenal, as previously mentioned, favoured attacking their left hand side for attacking (46% of attacks came down Arsenal’s left hand side). Andre Santos, Podolski (and Gervinho later on) combined with Cazorla but failed to make any penetrative movements into the Norwich box.
As shown in the images, a large majority of Arsenal’s attack came from the left side, however by analysing where Norwich intercepted the ball; it indicates Arsenal’s lack of quality when attempting to penetrate the Norwich box. Norwich finished the game with 17 interceptions which is the same number of tackles they made the whole game; this is a bad statistic for Arsenal, because it shows how sloppy they were in their passing all over the pitch. Arsenal lacked adaptability when “plan A” didn’t work, they persisted with a method of attacking which favoured Norwich’s defence, instead of Ramsey pushing into spaces where he could receive the ball (albeit with his back to the goal), he decided to stay back and stop the ball going forward quicker. Another tactical adjustment Arsenal should have made was taking off Gervinho and bringing on someone of Arshavin’s nature who will not look to take on a player at every opportunity but rather play passes into Giroud around the box to play off him, but Arsene Wenger persisted in Gervinho even though he failed to beat a player all game (5 take ons attempted, 5 failed).
In conclusion, Arsenal failed to show any kind of impetus to come back from a goal down against Norwich and their attitude has to be questioned. Complacency has been a factor in recent years for Arsene Wenger’s side and this game seemed to be no different. Arsenal must get back to the same resiliency that they showed during the start of the season or results like this could plague their campaign. Norwich deserved the win due to their preparation, hard work and efficiency, Arsene Wenger mentioned in the press conference about Arsenal’s “illusionary domination”, they need to make sure their hopes for the season do not become an illusion as well.
Written by Zaheer Shah
Thanks to WhoScored.com and FourFourTwo Stats Zone for the data and images that were used in this article.
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