Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Arsenal 3 Norwich 3

It was 90 minutes of an emotional roller coaster, which mirrored our whole season. We were 1-0 up in just 66 seconds through Yossi Benayoun's beautiful curler. This should have been an ideal start for Arsenal to build on and a perfect birthday celebration for Benayoun. However, after the early goal, we soon found ourselves totally outplayed by a newly-promoted side and at half time, we were trailing at 2-1. We were disappointed with Arsenal's below-par display. After the break, the game could have gone beyond our reach, with Norwich threatening our goal on several occasions. Arsenal then stepped up the gear, pressing forwards with the sense of purpose. They got a well-deserved equaliser and another goal by RVP followed. We were ecstatic with a belief that we had all important three points in the bag. Then, what happened next was beyond our belief. Norwich grabbed an equaliser in the 85th minute. We tried to find the net one more time, but the time was up.

We thought we had grown to maturity though difficult times this season, but it was very disappointing to see Arsenal throwing away a precious lead with just 5 minutes left to the end of normal time. Even our captain tried a cute back-heal pass in the Norwich half only to be intercepted. It was a crime that we failed to keep the ball in possession and just run down the clock.

This draw was definitely two points dropped rather than a point gained without question. At the final whistle, we were left with a gut-wrenching feeling. There was no wonder why this year's end-of-season lap of applause that took place following the match was a relatively muted affair.

All the positive signs we saw in the previous game did not materialise in this game. Passing was slow and we were the second best on loose balls in the first half. Our defence that looked so solid against Chelsea and even a physical Stoke side appeared shaky on Saturday.

It was no coincidence that we haven't won a game since we lost Arteta to an injury. The balance and stability in midfield and cohesion throughout the team seem to have been seriously undermined by the absence of Arteta. We thought Ramsey had a better game against Stoke, but in this game he was clearly attack minded and slow to get back to defend.

After Arsenal's defensive fragility was exposed, some fans argue that Song should devote his entire attention to defence, like Makélélé to Chelsea. However, we think his qualities as a playmaker, including his vision and skills to deliver those killer passes, are so valuable to us that it will be a shame to restrict his role to just a defensive midfielder. Besides, the current system worked fine with Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta alongside with him, as he and his midfield partners had excellent understanding between them. When one goes forward, the other drops deep to cover the defence. Unfortunately, no one has successfully filled the void Arteta left yet. As Diaby has been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a calf problem, the Ox and Coquelin may be alternative options for Areta's replacement. However, Wenger is not keen on playing another defensive midfielder alongside with Song, as it makes our midfield too defensive, so Coquelin may not be the boss' choice. The Ox came off the bench to replace Ramsey in this game, but he actually played better after he had moved to the right flank.

Another post-match tactical talking point was if Arsenal should revert to the 4-4-2 formation since it seemed to have revitalised Arsenal attack upon the introduction of Chamakh, with the Ox and Gervinho providing the width. Especially with Arteta's replacement still to be found, this is a very interesting option. It may be too late for this season, but when our new signing, Podolski, who can play up front as a lone striker, just behind a main striker, or on the left wing, joins the squad next season, his addition will widen the scope for Arsenal's attack.

It was confirmed that Bacary Sagna suffered a broken fibula, which rules him out of Euro 2012. It was a blow as the return of the regular full-backs was the major factor behind our excellent run of form in March and early April. However, we don't mind Jenkinson getting a chance to show what he is capable of. As he was not on the bench, Coquelin came in for Sagna, but Wenger may prefer a specialist right-back. Whoever takes Sagna's place, hopefully, Arsenal will prepare themselves well for the next game and sort out their defence before next Sunday.

One of few positives to take from this game was that we scored three goals. After the previous match, Wenger pointed out that his team's inability to find the net one more time against Stoke was due to the lack of confidence because they hadn't scored many goals recently. Hopefully, three goals against Norwich should have helped to boost their confidence. Especially, it was a huge relief that RVP has rediscovered his goal-scoring form. In personal terms as well, RVP made a massive step forward towards winning the Golden Boot by netting two goals in this game, which increased the gap to second-placed Rooney to four goals. With just one game left, it is almost certain that he will be crowned as this season's Premier League top scorer.

Tottenham's draw with Aston Villa and Newcatle's defeat to Manchester City on Sunday meant we were let off for Saturday's slip-up and given one last chance to secure third place. It's all in our hands once again now, but nothing less than three points guarantees next season's Champions League football. We have to make sure we will win the next game. As Norwich proved, a middle-table club that has nothing to play for is hardly a pushover. However, we can beat any team when we play to the best of our abilities. Since the superb performance against Manchester City, Arsenal haven't really played to their full potential yet. It is about time for Arsenal to put in some decent performance. If the next game is not big enough to motivate them, what else would be? Let's hope they will turn up with the level of commitment that matches the magnitude of the match and deliver the result this time around.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 4
He had a poor game. Norwich's first goal was a goalkeeping error. We think he could have done more to stop their third goal going in. Did he think it would go wide? Hope it was just his off day.

Sagna: 5
Sustained a fracture in his right leg and replaced by Coquelin in the 33rd minute.

Koscielny: 5
Nearly gave away a penalty by pulling Russell Martin's shirt. On the other hand, he put in some crucial challenges.

Vermaelen: 5
Had a quiet game. The two centre-backs were easily split up.

Gibbs: 5
Unlucky deflection that led to Holt's goal.

Rosicky: 6
Not as sharp as in recent games.

Ramsey: 4
Maybe he was lucky to stay on the pitch. He got off with a talking to, after he had already been shown a yellow card. It was disappointing after he showed some improvement against Stoke. Missed a couple of goal-scoring chances. Replaced by the Ox in the 63 minutes.

Song: 6
Defensively not up to his standard, but delivered an inch-perfect pass, which set up RVP's first goal. Attempted an Henry-esque back-heel shot, which was denied by Ruddy.

Gervinho: 6
Lively in the second half. Good link-up play with RVP.

Benayoun: 6
Scored a goal.

van Persie: 7
Scored two goals, but missed some good chances as well.


Coquelin: 6
33rd-minute substitute for injured Sagna. Worked hard. We agree with the referee's decision to turn down Norwich's penalty claim against his challenge on Hoolahan.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Replace Ramsey in the 63rd minute. Some good movements, but failed to make a difference.

Chamakh: 6
Came on in the 69th minutes to replace Benayoun. After the shift to the 4-4-2 system upon his introduction, Arsenal's attack seem to have stepped up. Missed a couple of chances, but had his best game in recent months.


Anthony Taylor: 4
RVP should have been awarded a late penalty. Why should he have to go down when he only needed a tap-in unless he was pushed over. It was definitely a penalty. That said, Norwich had a strong case for a penalty against Koscielny's shirt tagging, so some may say that it has evened out the things, although the shirt-pulling happens all the time and many of them go unpunished. Also, a Norwich player's handball totally went unnoticed.

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