It's been an hour since the final whistle blew.
It blew a minute early, but I'm not going to mention the referee at all. Because it will worsen my mood. And because it will encourage me to deflect my frustration onto the hapless and hopeless Anthony Taylor.
This was supposed to be the easy one, wasn't it? Mid-table Norwich City. Nothing to play for. Happy to have a day out in the big city. Lucky to be playing on what has been named the best pitch in the Premier League for the umpteenth consecutive year.
Don't worry, they'll just roll over and play dead.
As it turns out, it seemed as though Arsenal's mission in the first half—besides the first 70 seconds— was, "Just turn up and the points are yours."
Norwich started the game asleep. In the very first minute, Yossi Benayoun was allowed the freedom of their penalty area and he then curled a delicious strike into the far corner of John Ruddy's goal.
1-0. Great start. Three points on their way.
Immediately thereafter, Arsenal fell asleep. All 11 players. Norwich broke forward at pace through Kyle Naughton—yes, on loan from Spurs—and he sent a decent cross in. Wesley Hoolahan took a first-time shot from around the penalty spot, which went between a defender's legs and squirmed under Wojciech Szczesny's body and in.
It will not rate as one of the Arsenal keeper's finest moments—definitely a howler. But I also have a bone to pick with Arsenal's defense, in as much as all of them were ball-watching and marking no one in particular as Naughton's cross came in.
There was no block, or even some kind of distraction, to speak of as he side-footed goalward. 1-1.
That setback should have galvanized Arsenal into a response. In fact, it did the opposite.
In the 27th minute, Norwich stole possession from Arsenal well inside their own half, and the next 10 seconds summed up the Gunners' afternoon.
With supposedly nothing to play for, three Canaries broke at pace, and as Tomas Rosicky, Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey jogged back, it became a three-on-two situation for the visitors. Grant Holt's shot got a massive deflection off Gibbs and went in, but in all fairness, Norwich deserved every bit of the luck.
They showed drive, desire and determination, while their glamorous opponents were content to amble back and make a show of trying to help out their defense. With so much at stake for Arsenal, that was, quite frankly, pathetic.
The Gunners then lost Bacary Sagna with what we now believe is a broken fibula. It seemed to be quite an innocuous injury at the time, but Arsene Wenger is reported to have said, "He was kicked on it, it has not happened alone. When he was kicked, he has broken the leg. The guy closed him down and walked on him. I dont know if it was deliberate or not."
Hmm. Me smells a controversy brewing.
Back to the game, though, and it was more of the same, as Arsenal were rubbish for the rest of the first half. I can't point out a single Gunner who did well. Even Szczesny, who has been a model of confidence and excellence all season long, was a subdued man after his earlier howler.
Before I get to the second half, I need to say something about Robin van Persie. He has been outstanding this season, and the only reason Arsenal are even fighting for third place is because of his efforts. But for the seven or eight games before this one, he had been woeful.
He did score a tap-in from two yards against Stoke and a penalty against Wolves, but otherwise, he has been anonymous. I'm surprised that much hadn't been written about his dip in form, and even in the first half today, he wasn't sharp or clinical enough, missing at least two chances he would have buried two, four, six or eight months ago.
But as all the best players do, he lifted his game when it was needed, scoring a spectacular goal to level the scoring at 2-2, and shortly afterwards, with just 10 minutes to go, he smashed home a loose ball to give Arsenal the oh-so-crucial lead.
Regrettably, Arsenal were in a generous mood, and after an inexcusably shoddy passage of play from the midfield and defense, Steve Morison was left in acres of space to fire the ball into the corner of Szczesny's net, albeit from a narrow angle.
The keeper was at fault on two counts—not coming out to claim the loose ball before Morison did and allowing a shot to go in from a tight angle. Not his best day at the office, but where were his defenders to bail him out as he has often done for them this season?
With time running down, Arsenal fashioned at least three or four good chances and had a stonewall penalty turned down by the inept referee—sorry, I just had to—but there was no way back and it ended 3-3.
Two more points dropped, and Arsenal have now collected only nine points from a possible 21 in a seven-game set that included fixtures against QPR, Wolves, Wigan and Norwich.
Easy run-in, did someone say?
What this also means is that the Gunners have gift-wrapped third place and handed it to Tottenham, who need to win at Aston Villa tomorrow, and at home against Fulham next Sunday to assure themselves of third place.
Arsenal now must win at West Brom, and then wait for Spurs' and Newcastle's results, as also Chelsea's exploits in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Sickening.
What would have been a fantastic end-of-season charge to third place could now go up in smoke, with nothing to blame but a lack of desire and quality.
There have been too many average performers over the past month, and in my opinion, only Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Sagna, Benayoun and Rosicky can hold their heads high. Ramsey and Gervinho have been shocking, Van Persie and Song have looked jaded—and I can somewhat understand that—and Gibbs has blown hot and cold.
The subs have just not played enough, and haven't made that much of an impact when brought on. Read this carefully: The last time an Arsenal substitute scored was Thierry Henry against Sunderland on 11th February.
That's 16 games and almost three months ago.
I read somewhere today that Arsenal have not won a single game that Mikel Arteta has missed, and quite frankly, I'm not surprised. Many Arsenal fans have said that he isn't "Arsenal class." Well, trust me, he is just that and more. The seamless transition he has made from being an attacking midfielder at Everton to a more defensive player at Arsenal is truly commendable. Miss you, Mikel.
Anyway, enough said. Now for some player ratings, and I promise you, this will be brief.
Szczesny: Easily his worst game in an Arsenal shirt. Lacked concentration, and eventually, confidence. Was directly responsible for two of Norwich's goals, the first and the third. 3/10
Sagna: Was definitely lacking something today offensively and defensively. Perhaps Wenger is right—he was kicked well before he crumpled in a heap. 5/10
Gibbs: Remains "promising," and I'm not sure for how much longer he will receive this concession. For me, he doesn't try hard enough. Today, as well, there were a number of occasions when he did not track back. Had two good goal-scoring chances, which he fluffed. 4/10
Vermaelen: Not one of his greatest games either. Although not directly culpable, could and should have done better for all of Norwich's goals. Should have scored as well. Can't fault him for effort, though. 6/10
Koscielny: Can't find too much fault with him. Made a couple of heroic blocks and was a driving force throughout. How he still isn't rated as one of the best centre-halves around, I will never know. 7/10
Song: Looked jaded today, and I guess that's understandable for a "holding midfielder" who's played 45 games and made 12 assists. He needs support and backup. Great assist for RVP's first goal. 6/10
Ramsey: Reminds me of Rosicky a few months ago. I'm beginning to wonder if and how he will ever get out of this form slump. I cannot remember the last time he did something special. His substitution could have come earlier. 3/10
Rosicky: I don't want to be too harsh on him because of all that he's done of late, but the Czech magician was quite anonymous today. Arsenal missed the urgency, speed and drive he normally brings to their play. 5/10
Gervinho: Terrible in the first half; arguably the best player in the second. The Ivorian must be waiting for the season to end, because he can't seem to buy a goal at the moment. His second-half play on the left was eye-catching, but it seems like too little, too late. 7/10
Benayoun: The Israeli was his usual, industrious self. Scored a spectacular goal to get Arsenal off to the best possible start, but he faded along with the rest of his teammates as the game progressed. Probably the last time we will see him in red and white at the Emirates Stadium. Thank you, Yossi. 6/10
Van Persie: Robin did today what all great goal scorers do. Not much other than stick the ball in the back of the net. He's been looking tired for a while, though he ended the game in the ascendancy much like Gervinho did. Wish he didn't have the Euros coming up. 8/10
Coquelin was industrious and steady throughout, without doing anything special (6/10), while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked promising in patches, but made little or no impact (5/10).
Marouane Chamakh showed that there may just be a future for him at Arsenal next season, if he mentally attunes himself to being a third-choice striker. Did a number of good things in the few minutes he was on the pitch (6/10).
It looks as if we've thrown away the initiative, and that Tottenham Hotspur will finally finish above us after a gazillion seasons. I can't see them slipping up in their last two games.
Someone spike the lasagna!
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