Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Norwich 0 Arsenal 2

With Arsenal having secured next season's Champions League qualification and Norwich all but relegated, this game seemingly had nothing to play for except for pride. Mathematically, Arsenal had a chance of claiming third place by overtaking Chelsea, but that was as slight as Norwich's chance of staying up. So the atmosphere was similarly relaxed as the previous game against West Brom.

Although there was nothing at stake for either club, there was one individual honour riding on this game. It was the Golden Glove award. Wojciech Szczesny was one clean sheet away from grabbing the prize prior to the game and he had a good chance of winning it as the closest contender on the same number of the clean sheet, Petr Cech, was already ruled out for the season after undergoing a shoulder surgery. So when we saw the teamsheet, we couldn't believe that Wenger named Fabianski in the starting line-up with Wojciech dropped to the bench. This decision caused controversy on Twitter and Facebook among the Gooners as soon as the team news was revealed. After the match, Wenger stated he was yet to decided on the team that he would pick for the FA Cup final against Hull City and did not rule out Fabianski's chance of playing in the Cup final. However, we now expect Szczesny to play between the sticks on Saturday. Fabianski has been brilliant in the FA Cup competition this season, but he is set to leave the Club at the end of the season and it is important that our No.1 keeper will play in our most significant game that could affect the Club's future.

This was the most unexpected change of all, although some changes were widely expected with the FA Cup final looming. Wenger made five changes to the side that started in a comfortable 1-0 win over West Brom last Sunday. Per Mertesacker was completely rested as he didn't even make a trip with the squad. Bacary Sagna moved to the centre-back position alongside Laurant Koscielny, while Carl Jenkinson came into the right-back position. Fit-again Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal at the left-back. Aaron Ramsey came in for Mathieu Flamini, after missing the West Brom game through a thigh strain. Tomas Rosicky replaced Santi Cazorla, who was also completely rested. Surprisingly, Giroud kept his place despite having played most games this season after Per Mertesacker. The team selection was different from usual in terms of defenders, but certainly a strong side offensively. The substitute line-up also looked attack-minded, with Monreal as the only defender on the bench.

The game was again often a slow-tempo affair. In fact, Norwich started more brightly, but as Arsenal settled into the game, they started finding their rhythm and the difference in quality became more obvious between the two teams. Girouds' efforts drew two fine saves from John Ruddy, while Poldi also tested the English keeper. Ramsey's stunning goal demonstrated the Welshman's technical ability at a high level. He made a remarkable leap in his development this season. Jenko's goal was fortuitous and somewhat scrappy, but it came at the end of a fluent and ruthless team movement. It was also good for him to score his first goal for the club. Had it not been for Ruddy's heroics, Arsenal would have won the game emphatically. As a matter of fact, the Londoners registered 8 shots on target out of 14 shots in total.

At the other end, Fabianski also produced a few good saves. Norwich had total 11 shots, of which 5 were on target. In fact, whoscored.com named the Polish keeper Man of the Match. We must admit that it was a commendable performance in the game that could be his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt and maybe Wenger's selection was somewhat vindicated. On the other hand, the Sky Sports site and Setanta chose Aaron Ramsey as the Man of the Match. We think that the Wales midfielder deserved the Man of the Match award just for that sublime volley.

Arsenal ended their 2013/14 Premier League campaign on a high with a fifth straight win. There are some Gooners out there who still don't know how to make out this season, but we think that it was a positive one for the Club. This season's point tally was our best in the last 6 seasons. According to Wenger, 79 points is the highest tally ever to finish fourth. Arsenal spent more days (128) at the top of the league than any other club this season. A few weeks ago, we were disappointed with the prospect that Arsenal would find themselves in the usual nail-biting end-of-season scrap for fourth place, but in the end, they secured a place in Europe's elite competition for the 17th consecutive season with 2 games to spare. The north London club finished their campaign closer to the title chasers, 3 points behind third-placed Chelsea, than fifth-placed Everton. St. Totteringham's Day arrived as early as at the end of April this season, with our north London rivals finishing 10 points behind us. There is always a regret after such a good start to the season and a long spell at the top of the table, but the fact only highlights that we can compete at the highest level of the top-flight English football. There can be no doubt that injuries cost us a realistic shot at the title but we must have more strength in depth.  Happily, we still have the  are FA Cup final to look forward to.

There are more positives from this game. Jenko scored his first goal for Arsenal. As a life-long Arsenal fan himself, he has a lot of sympathy among the Arsenal fan base and his enthusiasm in the celebration was shared with the travelling supporters.

Abu Diaby and Jack Wilshere made their first appearances in 14 months and 8 weeks respectively. It took Jack some while to assert himself in the game, but he looked sharp enough. Diaby also got involved and looked reasonably sharp (considering the fact that he always looked rusty in the first couple of games every time he came back from injury).

Now we have a big game this weekend which could turn an encouraging season into a massively successful one. As Arsenal fans, we don't expect anything straightforward in the Cup final. We also know that there are a lot of Gooners who are afraid of a repeat of the Carling Cup final against Birmingham, but Szczesny is more experienced and mature, while Koscielny has largely cut out his lapse of concentration this season. We are confident that this group of players would do what it takes to lift the trophy.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 8
Made a few great saves. Especially, he saved bravely at the feet of onrushing Snodgrass.

Jenkinson: 8
Scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt. Great going forward.

Sagna: 7
His great games often come from the centre-back position and this was no exception. Made 11 clearances. However, Arsenal won only 33.3% of all aerial duels. Prior to this game, Arsenal had the second best figure in the league after Stoke at around 55%. Is this just a coincidence or does Mertesacker's absence have something to do with it?

Koscielny: 7
Rock solid. 

Gibbs: 7
Had a hand in the second goal by running down the left flank and cutting back to find Poldi, whose shot was blocked only for Jenkinson to poke into the net.

Arteta: 7
Did a great job mopping up loose balls in front of the back four. Made an impressive 6 tackles, 2 interceptions and 92 passes with a 97% passing success rate.

Ramsey: 8
Took his goal superbly. He timed his run well to arrive in the box, stepped back to give himself a space and struck Giroud's cross perfectly first time in the top corner on the far side.

Rosicky: 7
Kept going.

Özil: 7
Created 5 chances and made 81 passes with a 94% accuracy. 

Podolski: 7
Always looked dangerous. Had 4 shots, one of which was on target. Made 3 tackles.

Giroud: 7
Provided an assist for Ramsey's goal through a perfect chipped cross. He should have done better when he came one-on-one with the keeper with so much time and space. On the other goal-scoring chance, he was unlucky not to score after making a beautiful turn and trying a curler, which forced a superb save from John Ruddy.


Wilshere: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 63rd minute.

Diaby: 6
Came on for Rosicky in the 74th minute. 

Sanogo: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 74th minute. Looked hungry and put himself about. Had a great chance to score.

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