Finally. We scored. And gained some points. Hallelujah. We are no longer bottom. And more importantly there was a change at the top. Two perfect results. Even if our performance was far from it. But I’ll take those points thank you. Enough to get us out of the relegation zone. So, thank you international break. Thank you for two weeks of relative peace and tranquility. Avoiding watching Arsenal is good for your health. Now please bring on the next international break.
Arteta survives. Just. Today was an important game. To lose at home or drop points would have incurred the wrath of the fans. And feed into the media frenzy. And into my own loss of faith. Today was still too painful. Too many weaknesses. Against more polished teams we will be picked apart. And we could have been today. But thankfully we finally took one of our chances. But if that had been against us, I would have screamed off-side.
We started the game with energy and commanded the game. For 20 minutes anyway. But even their GK had no saves to make and we barely had a shot on target. Odergaard drove us forward and was our best player on the day. He presses and demands the ball – often dropping deep. Unfortunately when he presses no-one seems to understand how to follow suit. Pepe barely presses and Aubemyang is likewise static. You would have though our manager could sort that out.
It’s hard to know whether this was a turning point; whether there were signs of green shoots sprouting. We clearly have an improvement at right back. Much more controlled and with a better touch than previous incumbents. Likewise it was good to see White in the center of defense. There are still a few physical duels he should be winning – especially at the end when he allowed Poki-man to turn him in the box just before Cedric slipped to block a shot. Next week against the Burnley bullies will be interesting to see how White handles that challenge. And Gabriel next to him is an upgrade on Mari but still does not instill me with confidence. His distribution over 20 yards is so predictably shit. But he can defend – unlike Mari. Though I also worry about his tendency to lose the ball unnecessarily.
I liked the selection this week; in particular, Ramsdale in goal. Leno must know his number is up. Or not. Arteta is turning Leno into Pep’s Joe Hart. Hart was frozen out as soon as Pep had the chance. And we’re seeing that now with Leno. I’m not too upset. But there’s no way Leno can now come back in until Ramsdale makes a colossal mistake or is injured. Maybe he can play against mighty FC Wimbledon. Ramsdale is more certain in his distribution and much quicker. None of the dithering we had with Leno. Of course, he was barely tested today. And is fortunate to start against a team as toothless as Norwich. Nice as they play they are destined to yo-yo back to the Championship. Though playing them every week would be perfect.
AMN and Sambi is not the ideal midfield partnership but, again, I liked that selection. It’s important that we give Partey time to come back to fitness. We’ve rushed him in the past. So I was happy that he only played 30 minutes today. He’s too important to us. As was demonstrated as soon as he got onto the pitch. He changed the tempo. As, to be fair, did ESR. The two of them were more dynamic, direct and provided the missing quality. I just wish I could say the same thing about Pepe. For our record signing he continues to frustrate (me, anyway). For those few moments of brilliance, we have to endure peripheral performances like today. Against such a weak team he should have shone. Instead, too often his first touch was too heavy and he could barely beat his man. We should expect so much more from him. And he so rarely delivers. I doubt he’d make the starting 11 in any team in the top ½ of the table. When everyone is fit he shouldn’t make ours. He should be on the bench. I’d prefer Saka to be on the right and let ESR and MO float.
Saka is still to find his footing. Maybe our expectations are too high. But today he lost the ball in too many important areas of the field. And our vulnerability on the left where Tierney gets outmanned seems to stem from Saka not tracking back. He just does not seem to have his rhythm yet.
I liked the fact that AMN dropped back to right back. Better to see him there than Cedric. But neither AMN or Sambi created enough or moved the ball quickly enough. Both were solid. Both are young. But against stronger teams we’ll need Partey there.
There were times today when I was sure we’d not score. Even when we did we then proceeded to waste so many chances. Between MO, ESR and Pep we have numerous chances to put more distance between us. Hopefully, as they settle down we’ll find ways to score. But 1-0 against Norwich is not confidence inspiring. Overall the performance was not inspiring. Once those first 20 minutes passed we ceded too much space and control to Norwich. We lost our energy and drive. Against Norwich.
I suppose the rebuilding has to start somewhere. And we’re out of the relegation zone – for a week anyway. But we need Aubameyang to put chances away. We need to see more of those long, cross-field passes from White. We need to see less of Gabriel on the ball. And we need Partey on the pitch. And we need Saka to rediscover his rhythm. And we need ESR fully fit. He really was impressive when he came on. More so than Saka (today).
Today helps though. Three points gives a little breathing space. A little more time for Arteta to shape this group of players into a team. One that has a backbone and balance. But with Ramsdale, White, Partey, MO and Aubameyang we’re getting there. We just need Pepe to be more consistently dominant and Saka to revive himself. We are on a very long (and painful) journey. This will take a year or more. Unfortunately. I’d thought it would be sooner but, even today, you could see how easy it is to dominate against us. Both Saka and Pepe provided too little protection to our full-backs. We can’t afford to carry players. Arteta now has time to prepare for games and he has his spine in place. So now let’s see him coach this team into the shape and style we expect. Let’s see us consistently apply a pressing game with everyone on the same page.
In the meantime, we can all ponder what has been pumped into the veins of Wenger; what are they feeding him these days. As intelligent and cerebral as he is, the idea of a WC every 2 years is insane. Wrong. And destructive to the game and the players. And the idea from FIFA that it makes it better for other countries to get to play at the WC is such an asinine reason. Basically, you get to buy two lotto tickets. But you still won’t win. Because you come from a country that does not have enough good players. That won’t change by doubling the frequency. But it will cheapen the WC. It will impact the 4 yearly Euros. Which will also move to every 2 years. And then every other competition. But FIFA is only motivated by money. They, along with the NCAA, we the two most evil organizations within sport. Neither contribute anything but drain money from the sport. FIFA are just trying to re-assert their power. Over players they do not pay for and clubs that are in fear of FIFA. Look at what they’d doing by forcing players to travel into COVID countries and then plays 3 games in a week. Insane. But they don’t care as long as they get the TV money. This idea sits up there along-side the European Super League. And, watching the financial collapse of Barcelona and loss of Messi, you understand why some clubs were so vested in making that happen. Look at Juventus as their loss of Ronaldo. It’s all about the financial impact of COVID. But Barca have no pre-ordained right be at the pinnacle of European football. They’ve only been there for 30 years or so. Every club has it’s cycle (as we know only too well). Back in the 1930’s through 1960’s they were nothing. It was Cruyff that took them there initially. Anyway, back to the corrupt FIFA. Let’s hope that the clubs find their backbone and resist this insidious idea. It’s painful enough that the number of countries in the final has been increased to 48. Soon, like American sports, everyone will qualify. We’ll have 195 countries at the WC. Hey, maybe that’s a better idea. Then we can scrape the stupid qualifiers where someone has to play Monaco or Lichtenstein or Gibraltar. I mean, what’s the point. Let them all join in and save us to wasted two weeks of international play. Though, of course, Arsenal, more than ever, need these breaks. Someone needs to give Wenger something else to occupy that great mind. Because this idea is flat our awful. Maybe the one good thing would be to consolidate the international matches to a limited part of the year so we don’t have to disrupt the EPL. That would be an improvement. By the time FIFA figure that out, we’d have figured out how to get back into the top 4 and compete for the league – that’s how long it will take.
So, a week to wallow in 3 points and look ahead to the bruising encounter with the Burnley bullies. Get ready for all those long balls, corners and football in the mould of Stoke and Bolton. It won’t be a place for the faint hearted. None of those weak challenges we saw today where we continued to lose those second balls. Next week will be a test – again. But one we have time to prepare for.
So, thank you Patrick. Thank you Palace. You made my day. Top of the league. My arse.