Let’s not sugar coat this, because however adventurous your palette there seems little point in sugar coating a steaming turd. That was an entirely abject performance – listless, unimaginative, and other words from the big thesaurus of Angry Arsenal Adjectives. After the point earned against City, I wrote that football isn’t a game in which ‘deserve’ counts for much. But if you’ll allow the hypocrisy, I’ll happily say that we deserved exactly what we got against Norwich: Nothing.
The warning bell should have rung earlier in the week, when Arsene had this to say:
“They gave us very hard games and we need to switch on again. Holt gave us some problems last year… I think the team is hungry and knows that there is no room for complacency and no reason why we should be complacent.”
That should have been the canary in the complacency mine. Now, for comedy effect, let’s jump cut to what he said after the game:
“Maybe we underrated the difficulty we would face. But the Premier League is the Premier League. If you are not ready for the fight then you will always have bad surprises.”
Indeed you will! And we’ve seen exactly that, time after time, for several years now. Arsenal turn up against a supposedly ‘lesser’ team, pop the ball about calmly without looking that dangerous, seemingly under the impression that the chance fairy* will magic up an opening up at some point. (*Cesc then, Santi now.) Eventually the other team notices that we aren’t actually shooting or anything, has a bit of a go, scores, then sees out a famous win to raucous applause from their fans and much hand-wringing from ours.
QPR last year is the perfect example of a similarly craven performance. Likewise Hull at home a few seasons ago. But let’s not kid ourselves that any fan couldn’t reel off a string of similar non-showings.
So here we are. 9th after eight games. Two points better off than we were at the same stage last season after what was universally acknowledged as a calamitous start. A mere three points better Liverpool. I know! That same Liverpool! Brendan Rodgers’ travelling comedy revue are only one win worse off. But c’mon Mr Mouse, you’re just butthurt after a bad result. Thing weren’t so bad after the West Ham game were they?
Well, no. I suppose not – although talking about yourself in the third-person is a clear sign of the deleterious effect Arsenal is having on your brainbox my old son. But here’s the thing: I was never entirely sold on the Bouldian defensive revolution. Until ten games have passed, it’s too early to judge anything – whether that be the supposed newfound solidity at the back or the quality of RVP’s replacements. But what I am willing to say is all that ‘we’re a better team now’ and ‘this group won’t make the same mistakes’ is starting to feel very premature.
After the Chelsea defeat I noted at some length, (there was even a table), that comparing equivalent fixtures between this season and last, we were actually marginally worse off. Now you can add Norwich away to the list – which we won 2-1 last time, and I don’t need to tell you who scored both. Again, I’ll repeat the conclusion I came to then: we aren’t a better team, we’re a different one, and it shouldn’t be overlooked how closely we flirted with disaster last season even with *him* in the side. We bought disaster a slap-up meal and tried for some over-the-jumper action in the cab home.
No doubt there’s a longer, more insightful piece to be written about the way Arsenal seems to keep making the same mistakes against ‘smaller’ teams. Christ, it’s not even like this is last year’s sparky Norwich side. Under Hughton they’d shipped 17 goals and not won a single league game this season. But that can wait for someone like Gingers4Limpar or 7amkickoff to research properly.
Instead, I want to come back to the C word. (Not that one.) It’s no good talking about not being complacent and then fielding a team which plays with all the intensity of a pre-season match against the Peking Banquet Invitational XI. Because that’s exactly what today looked like: a summer tour game, played for exercise only, of which the result was immaterial. Before the match I tweeted that all the big boys had won, meaning we couldn’t afford to blink. Well, we didn’t so much blink as fall asleep at the wheel.
If you were of a mind to worry about winning the league, which I am not, you would rightly be very concerned that we’re already 10 points off Chelsea. The same Chelsea side that finished sixth last season and has entirely improved its fortunes by throwing money at the problem. But I can’t face rehashing the argument about Arsenal not using all its available resources. Nor can I really be arsed to go into granular detail about individual players, other than to say Ramsey has looked good previously but decidedly did not today. And Gervinho absolutely Gervinhoed it every time he had the ball.
Finally, for all the talk of squad depth, injuries are already biting hard and the squad looks short of a striker and a keeper. Both of which you’ll agree are fairly important positions. That’s it then. No sugar at all. The hard lines are that we’re likely going to be involed in another dogfight for fourth, so that we can qualify for the Champions League, so that we’ve got enough cash to keep qualifying for fourth. Have at me all you like for being reactionary in the comments. In the pub after the match Bowie’s Five Years was playing as I necked the first pint. I thought: Seven, Dave. It’s been seven.
PS Here’s a couple of things I ought to have included last night, but didn’t because apples.
- Mannone’s fumble – As bad as it was, I lay greater blame on the failure to shut the shot down in the first place. Obviously you aren’t going to block every single effort on goal, but there was ample time to get closer to the Norwich player before he blatted it goalwards. Nor is this a new failing, and should be a key item on Bouldy’s suddenly lengthy ‘to do’ list, which should also include…
- Corners – We are as bad at attacking them as we are defending them. I wonder how many points we’d gain if we managed to improve our conversion rate from corners by even a few percent. What’s startling is we don’t even look like we might score. There seems to be some strange gypsy curse that makes otherwise supremely talented players lose their ability to whip in a dangerous dead ball as soon as they join Arsenal. Cesc, RVP, Arteta, now Santi – all total pony at taking corners.
- The Bench – If you’re looking for further evidence that we were taking Norwich too lightly, you only have to look at the subs. The only possible reason to include Wilshere can have been on the basis that Arsene thought we might be cruising with 15 minutes to go. As it was we had little there to really switch things up. Chamberlain’s arrival didn’t happen until the 64th minute (four earlier than usual at least) but you have to remind yourself he’s still only 19 and isn’t prolific in front of goal yet either. After that the boss was reduced to throwing on Arshavin for the injured Ox (our wingers are dropping worryingly fast) and 17 year-old debutant Gnabry. So much for the huge squad we keep hearing about. With Chamakh frozen out entirely, there was no obvious way to replace the struggling Giroud – a potential problem that was underlined when the Frenchman had his ankle crunched.