Before Arsenal's clash with Norwich City, I, like many, predicted a fairly comfortable victory for the Gunners, considering that they have been playing some of the best attacking football in England this season, and their opponents conceded nine goals in their last two games.
Never trust me with predictions.
Norwich came out looking like a disciplined unit that was committed to getting its first Premier League win of the season. Arsenal, meanwhile, were a sluggish group of seemingly uninterested players who could never establish any sort of consistency or rhythm.
Now, as Norwich erupts in joy, Gunners fans are questioning their team in utter disbelief: how could a team like Arsenal, with so much promise, capitulate so pathetically to seeming relegation fodder?
To get the answer to this question and more, read on to see six things we learned from a remarkable game.
Among a group of awfully lackadaisical players, Gervinho was by far the worst on the right wing.
I honestly cannot remember one positive contribution he made to the match, other than a late shot that was heroically blocked by Sebastien Bassong. For 90 minutes, he was lazy and utterly ineffective.
The job of a winger is to serve the striker and keep play flowing when the ball is given to him on the wing. Yet every time Gervinho had the opportunity to create a chance for Olivier Giroud or others, he slowed everything down, ran into a defender and lost the ball.
Even those moments were rare. Perhaps Gervinho would be better suited to a central role, but he is certainly an ineffective winger.
It's easy to place the blame on the goalkeeper whenever a goal is conceded that should not have been. And, indeed, Vito Mannone should have done better with Alexander Tettey's swerving shot in the 20th minute.
Instead of parrying Tettey's shot around the posts, Mannone spilled it back across the goal into the path of Grant Holt, who had an easy finish to make. But what happened before Holt took advantage of the keeper's mistake?
Tettey was simply afforded too much space in midfield, and, instead of closing him down, Arsenal's midfield and defence invited him to shoot. And when Holt saw the rebound, he was better-positioned to score than Per Mertesacker was to clear.
So, should a dumb goal have been allowed to go in? No, but let's not take the easy route and blame the replacement goalkeeper.
As Norwich stymied Arsenal again and again, I was astounded that this was a side that conceded nine goals in its past two games.
In fact, the Canaries organized themselves, as a team, as well as I have seen any side do this season. Perhaps it was just Arsenal's malaise, but there always seemed to be a sense that it would have been impossible for the Gunners to score if the game was played for another 90 minutes.
Arsenal were able to keep a decent amount of possession throughout the match, but Norwich seemed determined to win every ball in midfield and stifle the Gunners' many creators.
There was much hype before the match over Jack Wilshere's impending return ahead of schedule after 14 months on the sidelines. As it turned out, he was forced to watch helplessly from the bench as Arsenal ran in place.
Perhaps Arsene Wenger thought that he could throw Wilshere on for the last few minutes of the game if Arsenal were winning comfortably, but it feels like a spot on the bench that went wasted.
Asked why he didn't throw the returning midfielder on, Wenger said:
We have to be conscious he has not played for 14 months. I would have brought him on if the game had allowed it today but it was too intense.
Well, it was a Premier League game after all, and we should seriously temper our expectations of what Wilshere will bring to the team if he wasn't trusted when he could have conceivably made an impact.
It's quite easy to blame the international break for Arsenal's lackluster performance—after all, they looked nothing if not sluggish, and many players had constantly been traveling for the past two weeks.
That argument evaporates rather quickly, however, when you consider that, on the same day, Chelsea smashed Tottenham by the same score that Manchester United crushed Stoke, and Manchester City overcame an early red card to beat West Brom.
All these teams have just as many internationals as Arsenal, and each player was subjected to the same stresses during the past two weeks. Yet they did exactly what they were supposed to do when they returned to their respective clubs.
In Arsenal's case, a simply horrible team performance was to blame.
Every team has disappointing losses like Arsenal's lifeless capitulation to Norwich, and every team goes through bad spells. But to be so thoroughly outplayed after a great series of results prior to the game is inexcusable.
A disheartening loss is a little easier to take when you know that your team had no chance of winning. At least Arsenal did not drop points in stoppage time after dominating the preceding 90 minutes.
But there really is no way to explain how a team that should realistically be challenging for trophies and titles could be so out-hustled by a side that is commonly regarded as relegation fodder.
I think that this could and should be a blip for Arsenal in an otherwise promising campaign. No drastic, knee-jerk changes need to be made—let's not forget how much hope many had for this team just a couple weeks ago.
If, however, this Arsenal side does not wish to waste its great potential like its predecessors frustratingly did, they will need to become a more consistent and professional unit.