They say that at the start of every season managers of clubs expected to fight for survival sit down with the fixture list and allocate the number of points they expect to win from each game. Home games against other expected relegation candidates will be marked as three points. Away games against expected title contenders will be marked as zero. They do their additions and see if it gets them close to the magic forty point mark. As the season progresses and results unfold any zeros or ones that end up as ones or threes are a bonus, and will help compensate for any off days where an expected three doesn’t come to fruition.
I’d imagine Arsene does the same thing. Just because we expect to battle for a top four place, as opposed to avoid a bottom three place, doesn’t mean the same pre-season logic can’t be applied. It’s possibly one of the reasons why Arsene spends the first few months of the season saying that until a certain number of fixtures have been played we can’t get a real feel for how things are taking shape.
If the above does indeed happen in the minds of football managers then I’m almost certain that Arsene Wenger had a number three next to yesterday’s fixture, whilst Chris Hughton had a zero (perhaps a one if he was feeling optimistic). Is this part of the psychological problem we appear to have for such ‘lesser’ fixtures? Do the players, and indeed Arsene himself, go into fixtures like yesterdays expecting victory as opposed to focusing on how they’re going to have to earn it?
Whatever the reason, whether it be the above mentioned lack of focus or whether it be something else completely unrelated, Arsenal were truly awful yesterday and got exactly what they deserved; nothing. It was without doubt our worst performance of the season; from 1 to 11 (or 24 to 12 as our squad numbers happened to line up from front to back) we were below the required level. At a push Jenkinson and Arteta came away with a little credit, but even they didn’t reach their own recent high standards.
The game was a dull affair, not helped by officials who seemed intent on awarding free kicks as opposed to letting the game flow and build some kind of rhythm. It was all rather stop start, which suited the home team more than us, and as a result I can’t remember any real chances of note being created by us. In the first half Podolski fizzed one wide and in the second Giroud couldn’t connect when attempting to shoot on the turn following a Ruddy fumble; other than that we created nothing. Admittedly Mannone wasn’t much busier at the other end, but what he did have to do he didn’t do well enough. When Tettey was allowed the freedom to carry the ball forward unchallenged and to have a free shot at goal the best Don Vito could manage was ‘Nigel Martyn Syndrome’ – that’s where a keeper stupidly parries the ball right back into the danger zone. Yes the ball swerved, yes it dipped and bounced in front of him, but you’d still expect him to get two strong wrists behind the ball and push it away from goal. When your keeper fails to do that you’re then hoping for one of two things, that either one of your defenders is quickest to react or that any attacking players following in were offside at the time of the shot. Sadly Mertesacker couldn’t get there first and when Holt did there was no was offside flag as Andre Santos was a yard or two deeper than the rest of the defensive line (‘Gael Clichy Syndrome’).
From that point on we never looked like scoring. We could still be playing now and still wouldn’t have scored. The Ox came on for Podolski, but only last 9 minutes before getting injured. That he was replaced by Arshavin, and that Gnarby then got his Premier League debut later in the half, shows our lack of options in the final third, an area Arsene must surely strengthen in the January window. Furthermore I’d question why Wilshere was on the bench yesterday. Gnarby was introduced with less than 10 minutes remaining, so if Jack is still not fit enough for such a short length of time on the field then why was he in the squad? But I digress. Norwich looked the more threatening with Turner wasting a great chance (putting a header wide when unmarked from a corner) and when Holt selfishly wasted a couple of good counter attacking opportunities. The final whistle sounded and we returned home with nothing. Afterwards Arsene said:
Norwich had a good defensive performance; they were focused and committed. We had a lot of the ball but did not create much with it. It was an illusionary domination. It was a disappointing performance on our side…
The attitude of the team has been excellent but that was not at the level of what we have produced until now. It was the first time of the season we were way below par. And we were well below today.
I’m pleased Arsene didn’t make any excuse and in particular didn’t blame the international break. I appreciate we had fifteen players away with their countries compared to Norwich’s two. And I appreciate that Norwich’s two were on the subs bench meaning their starting eleven had two weeks of rest and tactical preparation with their manager ahead of this fixture. But what it also tells us is that the quality of personnel at Arsenal is far greater than that of Norwich. That’s why we had fifteen players away with their countries and they didn’t. That’s why Arsene had this fixture marked as a three pointer. It was a lack of focus and discipline that resulted in an unacceptable performance and result, not the fact some annoying internationals had been played. On paper United, City, and Chelsea all had more difficult fixtures than us yesterday yet they all won, so internationals can be no excuse.
It means we’re now 10 points off Chelsea and 6 points off the two Manchester clubs. Needless to say we can’t afford to slip any further behind and if we do then our slim title hopes, or aspirations to at least be a part of the title race until the latter stages of the season, will instead be over before the month of Christmas even arrives. My good friend Simon Rose made a valid point on Twitter yesterday, when he said that half the battle is believing you are good enough. Deep down I don’t think our players do; I think they know they’re a top four challenger only, and perhaps that’s another reason why we see poor results like yesterdays. Who knows.
What I do know is that we need the same response as we saw after the home defeat to Chelsea. We followed that poor result with a Champions League win over Olympiacos and a league win over West Ham. It’s time for more of the same, this time against Shalke and QPR. If we can add a League Cup victory over Reading onto the end of that, then all the better. Three wins in three competitions would be nice, but you also feel it’s needed. The fixture which follows that run of games is United at Old Trafford, and after last season’s humiliation that really will be a mental battle and will show us just how much the players truly believe in themselves.
Finally, today has been my last day of leisure; tomorrow I start my new job, going to work for the first time since 17th August. It’s a really exciting opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting started, to meeting my new people, and finding a daily routine. It’s another step in my adventure down under and will help to continue building the picture as to just what life is like living in Sydney. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how things progress.
Until the next time, keep the faith.