Norwich City – Arsenal: New Beginnings, Same Old Problems (2-2)
Counterattacks, set-pieces and penalties were at the heart of a truly chaotic encounter which teased a winner but failed to deliver one. Early optimism for Arsenal quickly flatlined as they, once again, proved to be architects of their own downfall.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter Munnely.
After claiming three crucial points at Everton last week – their first victory since defeating Manchester City – Norwich had reason to believe they could challenge a ramshackle Arsenal side that came into this game off the back of seven consecutive matches without victory – in all competitions, that is.
Norwich manager Daniel Farke made only one change, in the form of Ibrahim Amadou replacing Alexander Tettey in deep midfield. A win here would potentially move his side to within one point from safety, whereas a victory for the away team would help them keep tabs on the sides storming away above them.
Now with a fresh face in charge following the club’s dismissal of Unai Emery on Friday, Freddie Ljungberg was hoping he could cash in on some of that new manager bounce many seem to get lucky with.
His first eleven was quite different to the 3-4-1-2 setup fielded in Arsenal’s last Premier League outing. Looking to bounce back from a 2-2 draw, there, he opted for the 4-2-3-1 system here. The changes included Shkodran Mustafi replacing Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the center of defense, Calum Chambers and Sead Kolašinac occupying the fullback positions ahead of Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney respectively, and Granit Xhaka returning to the lineup in place of Lucas Torreira, having just been reintegrated into the side following last month’s fallout with the fans. Joe Willock, was the extra attacker to enter the fold, alongside the same attacking trio of Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 1, 2019
Arsenal click into gear early on
Ljungberg’s first twenty minutes in charge of Arsenal were as positive as he could have hoped to be – picking holes in the Norwich outfit and getting into great areas in behind.
The main way they achieved this was down the right side, where Willock – who was positioned as either a number ten pushed out to the right, or an advanced central midfielder as part of an asymmetrical three – and Aubameyang interchanged positions to pull apart the opposition’s defense. This usually consisted of one dropping to the ball to encourage Sam Byram, the Norwich left back, to step out with the attacker then accessible in the channel.
This seemed particularly effective in the opening stages due to how easily manipulated the home side’s shape was. It resulted in Aubameyang getting down the flanks into great positions to cutback to one of the three joining attackers, however, his efforts to do so were always blocked.
As early as the fifth minute, Arsenal managed to exploit another one of their frequent attacking patterns: Lacazette’s drop-ins to the ball when Arsenal attacked down the left side, which almost perfectly worked out, as Lacazette’s drop in allowed Willock to attack the space behind the drawn-out center-back. Thanks to a great ball from Mattéo Guendouzi, who was able to take it down and link with Lacazette again before getting the final shot away, which fortuitously ricocheted back to the striker for a chance from point-blank range that Lacazette wasted.
Lacazette’s movements towards the ball continued to be a key part of Arsenal’s left-sided play, and allowed him to provide access into Özil and Kolašinac, the latter of which was the main source of crosses. Unfortunately, the Bosnian’s numerous attempts were very poor – often hit straight into a crowd of defenders and without much length on them, either.
The visitors did find some success on crosses from corners, though. Mostly thanks to the host’s poor zonal marking arrangements, Arsenal were twice able to win dangerous, free headers. The best of which came as a consequence of three Norwich players being drawn out of the center to the near post by Lacazette’s movement short; this then allowed Mustafi to get a free run into the middle and leap above, well, nobody. Were it not for the two players on the line, Mustafi’s header would have certainly found the back of the net.
Norwich find respite through Pukki
Farke’s men had little to say for themselves in the opening twenty minutes but it was their goal in the twenty-first that turned the entire match on its head.
It encapsulated everything Arsenal did wrong when defending turnovers. With the fullbacks so high up the pitch, it left a rest defense of four players: Guendouzi and Xhaka, with David Luiz and Mustafi behind them. The main issue was the space between each of these players. Because none of them narrowed towards this one side (usually Norwich’s left), the home side were able to cut through the middle of the lines formed.
Onel Hernández was the key beneficiary of this, as his instantly wide position was so easily accessible, especially when Kenny McLean dropped in to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. against Xhaka, the nearest midfielder. He proceeded to do this here with Guendouzi not close enoughand then found Teemu Pukki, who had been wreaking havoc up ahead as Mustafi strayed towards Hernández, and Luiz loosely followed the Finnish striker’s weaving runs. With a gaping hole in the middle of Arsenal’s counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. shape, Pukki latched onto the ball, cut it back and then inside past some very lazy jockeying to fire in from the edge of the box thanks to a deflection off of Mustafi’s turned back.
This was symptomatic of so many problems Arsenal had throughout the match. With such little compactness and pressure on Norwich players carrying the ball, Hernández could cruise from his own box into the away side’s under no pressure. No defender tried to step onto him or even direct him onto his weaker foot. And, when he arrived at Arsenal’s box, he then had all the cutback options in the world due to the fact that the two back-tracking holding midfielders moved in line with the defense, meaning that there was a queue of wide open Norwich players attacking that space. Whilst this resulted in low quality shots, it left Ljungberg’s side vulnerable to a repeat occurrence of Pukki’s earlier goal.
In spite of the soon-to-be turning tide, Arsenal were rewarded for their early pressure almost immediately after going a goal down. Having given away a sloppy free kick at the corner of the box, Christoph Zimmermann made matters worse by clearly committing a handball offense at the set-piece to hand Aubameyang a kick from the spot.
Following some intimidation tactics from Tim Krul, he was able to prevent the Gabonese international’s shot from finding the net, however, there was controversy when VAR spotted encroachments from not only Krul, but also the clearer of the ball, Max Aarons. To the home fans’ disapproval, Aubameyang was given a second chance and made no mistake sending Krul the wrong way, and then hushing the Dutch goalkeeper for good measure.
Norwich profit from Arsenal’s issues
As limiting as there possessions were themselves, with the strikers shying away in the cover shadows When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. cast by Arsenal’s midfield, Norwich were excellently profiting from Arsenal’s own mistakes, which is what produced a crucial goal in first half stoppage time. A rinse and repeat move saw Hernández get in behind Chambers to then drive into the Arsenal box before cutting it back to Cantwell, who touched it inside past Xhaka’s limp challenge before placing it perfectly into the far corner.
Arsenal’s ineffective counterpress in the buildup to 2-1.
This was a growing concern, even in the second half when the away side’s attacking moves were falling flat, mostly due to a lack of movement and staggered positioning. All that could be seen was a flat, horizontal line of five or so attackers barely moving to or from the ball. The weak structure made them even more vulnerable to counterattacks as giveaways were easily picked up in the huge space between the attack and the defense.
But before the hosts could look to capitalize, Aubameyang had drawn his side back level. At fault again was Norwich’s zonal marking at a corner. Too many players were drawn onto the successful flick-on attempt which required a seismic shift towards the near post to cover Mustafi’s chance, however, the deflection fell kindly for the one player you should never sacrifice covering for: Aubameyang, who rifled it into the far, top corner.
This did not inspire much more from Arsenal, though, as could be seen by the flurry of chances Norwich created shortly after.
On the hour mark, Amadou’s aggressive press up the pitch forced an error from Xhaka, where McLean then managed to pounce on a loose touch from a confused moment between Mustafi and Guendouzi. Driving through on goal, the second striker was narrowly denied by a heroic Bernd Leno save.
Two minutes later, Cantwell was gifted a free shot at goal from the edge of the box, not too dissimilar to the one he took to put his side ahead, as the Arsenal midfield made themselves far too flat, thus allowing him to latch onto the rebound that fell in front of the opposition’s defensive line. With his weaker foot, he so nearly found the bottom corner.
Only a minute on from this, Cantwell shrugged off Guendouzi on the counter to play Pukki in beyond Luiz, who was unaware of his surroundings. Once the forward arrived in the box, he, without much effort required, faked a shot to beat Mustafi, but then drilled a shot straight at the German goalkeeper.
The home side went on to rue their many missed opportunities as play simmered down with legs tiring at this stage. Norwich’s tails were up in this final period, so breaking them down with an exhausted level of play became increasingly difficult and the game ended level.
A bumpy start for Ljungberg has not helped to appease the fans by any means, but it would be wrong to berate a manager on only his second day in charge. Arsenal’s home match against Brighton on Thursday will, however, be a big test, especially having fielded an overall disappointing side and set of substitutes used here.
Farke will reflect on that point far differently, as his side move closer to exiting the relegation zone, and with a performance like that, they can take huge confidence away heading into their away trip to Southampton, the side currently one point above them.
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