Norwich claimed their first league win of the season with a determined and resolute performance against an Arsenal side who were sloppy, pedestrian and lacking mobility.
In games such as these, with one of the top teams in the division playing a team in the relegation zone, there is always the temptation to veer in one direction at the final outcome. Some will claim Arsenal were extremely poor whilst the counter argument is, of course, that Norwich were much better. As ever, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Chris Hughton made two changes to the Norwich side which had lost 4-1 away to Chelsea prior to the international break. Barnett and Howson were replaced by Turner and Pilkington.
Hughton set Norwich out in a fairly conservative 4-4-1-1 line up. Wes Hoolahan was tasked with providing the support to the lone frontman, Grant Holt.
There was only one change to the Arsenal side that had beaten West Ham 3-1 at Upton park. Andre Santos started at left back for the injured Kieran Gibbs. Jack Wilshere made the bench for Arsenal following his lengthy injury.
Arsenal began in their now usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
Match Stats Overview
Norwich sat deep with their two central midfielders shielding the back four. The two wide players Bennett and Pilkington attempted to get forward when the opportunity allowed although Bennett undertook a far greater share of the defensive work due to Arsenal’s preference to attack down the left which will be explored later.
Hoolahan tried to operate as close to Holt as possible to prevent him being isolated and easily marked by Arsenal defenders.
A quick review of some of the key match stats below tells you that Arsenal dominated this game and yet despite their possession, Norwich were seldom placed under a period of sustained pressure.
The key issue regarding possession was how ineffectual Arsenal were in the final third. Arsenal attempted almost three times as many passes as Norwich but when considering final third passes, 39% of Norwich’s overall passes were in the final third compared to just 29% of Arsenal’s.
This is where the combination of poor Arsenal play and good Norwich play meet. Whilst Arsenal were slow circulating the ball and lacked mobility in finding space, defensively Norwich performed very well, closing down space and pressing their opponent. The back four performed extremely well as a unit and were highly organised.
When faced with a low defensive block, you need to recycle possession quickly and stretch the defence, looking for gaps to exploit combined with good movement. Arsenal had none of these assets on Saturday. Arsenal attacked overwhelmingly down the left side, unsurprising given the strength in that area of the team but it makes the team somewhat predictable.
Bennett operating on the Norwich right won 5 of his 6 attempted tackles, more than anyone else in the Norwich team. He was also the top performer in terms of ground duels, winning 9 form his attempted 14. It’s not often you will see a player on the right side of midfield with such defensively impressive statistics demonstrating his role in the defensive phase of the game.
Without possession of the ball, it’s easy to become frustrated and dive into tackles. Norwich conceded just 13 fouls and won 17 tackles from 26 attempted. As well as they defended, Arsenal were not providing a sufficient test for their defence. Arsenal needed to ask more searching questions but failed to do so. It’s difficult to recall any clear cut chances which Arsenal created in this game. There were two long range shots from Arteta and Cazorla during the second half which went close. The best opportunity of the game for Arsenal was probably a mis-timed scissors kick from Giroud which went wide.
Yet despite their limited possession, there was a sense of purpose and directness about Norwich which ended them to carve out the better scoring opportunities. Shortly after taking the lead, Turner headed over from a corner with a free header. He should have at least tested Mannone. Following Vermaelen’s slip, Grant Holt ran unopposed from the halfway line but chipped harmlessly into Mannone’s arms.
These were not lucky points for Norwich, these were points gained through a determined and disciplined structure.
The only goal of the game arrived in the 19th minute and will cause Arsenal a degree of concern from a defensive standpoint.
Tettey received the ball in the centre of the Arsenal half without any Arsenal players in the immediate vicinity of him as shown below.
Tettey was able to advance and shoot at goal from approximately 25 yards out. The low shot was stopped by Mannone but he failed to gather the ball and Grant Holt reached the rebound first to finish.
There are three key issues from an Arsenal perspective:
Firstly, nobody attempted to challenge Tettey before he shot at goal. The closest midfielder was Arteta but he moved laterally across the pitch rather than move diagonally towards Tettey to try and force him slightly wider. Vermaelen could move forward also. Somebody has to reduce the angle and the opportunity.
Secondly, Mannone has to do better in the Arsenal goal. Allowing for a slight movement of the ball etc, if Mannone is unable to hold onto the ball, he has to push it wide of the goal and into a relatively safe area. The release of the ball back into the centre of the penalty area should not occur.
Thirdly, Grant Holt is played onside by Andre Santos at left back who is looking across the line of defence. Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Jenkinson are all 1-2 yards ahead of Santos and Grant Holt when the ball is struck. If Santos moves up with the defensive line, Holt is offside.
The discussion around Holt reacting faster than the Arsenal defenders is a false one in this situation. He has a yard of a start on Mertesacker and reaches the loose ball about one year ahead of the German.
The first 3 points of the season for Chris Hughton’s men lift them up out of the relegation zone and into 15th place. Hughton will hope that this win can provide a much needed confidence boost to his players ahead of a run of three key Premiership games against Aston Villa, Stoke and Reading. All games which are winnable and which Norwich really need to collect points from.
But how will Hughton react and take Norwich forward? Against a team such as Arsenal, it’s easy to focus solely upon the defensive and try and gain something when attacking. Against lesser sides, Norwich cannot simply sit deep and defend. They too have to offer something in attack.
For Arsenal, their worst display of the season sees them fall 10points behind league leaders Chelsea after just 9 games. Talk of mounting a challenge for the title now seems premature but prizes are not won or lost in October. There is time yet for Arsenal but there is no leeway for error now.