Arsenal: Rating the Gunners Players Against Norwich City
That is, they forced themselves to come back from a goal down after playing sloppily all game and deservedly conceding to an inferior team that was content to park the bus.
The only difference was that the Gunners benefited from questionable refereeing decisions instead of blaming their dropped points on the officials. But Arsenal fans will still need to go to their cardiologist for their weekly checkup after their team waited as long as possible to take the crucial three points.
Even after awful defending allowed Michael Turner to score from a free header off a free-kick in the 56th minute, the Gunners had a difficult time playing without the "handbrake," as Arsene Wenger likes to term such tepid and poor attacking displays.
But when Kei Kamara pulled Olivier Giroud's shirt in the penalty box in the 83rd minute, the game turned on its head.
The referee had a perfect view of the incident but made no motion to the spot. Bizarrely, he deferred to the assistant referee, who was some 30 yards away from the incident, and Arsenal were back in business.
Three minutes later, a wonderful little move on the left side of the box allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who really should be starting) to pull the ball back for Olivier Giroud, who just arrived before Sebastien Bassong thrillingly put Arsenal ahead.
But the Gunners were still not done.
As the Canaries vainly pressed for an equalizer in stoppage time, Theo Walcott, who was offside earlier in the move, set up Lukas Podolski on the edge of the box, and the German allowed Arsenal fans to breathe a sigh of relief with a fine finish.
What could have been one of the club's worst days of the season is now one of their best. The Gunners jump into third place from fifth, one point above Tottenham with an equal number of games played.
Let's reflect on how each Arsenal player did.
Theo Walcott: 6.5
Introduced on the hour mark for a remarkably ineffectual Jack Wilshere, he injected some much-needed pace into Arsenal's game and helped spark the comeback.
Lukas Podolski: 7
He needs to start again. An absolutely thunderous volley nearly shattered the crossbar even after Mark Bunn got a fingertip to the ball, and his finish on the third goal was very precise for a man who has not gotten a start in months.
Podolski was a constant threat on the left side, much more so than Santi Cazorla, who understandably drifted toward the middle all game.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6.5
Added some pace and directness to a lackluster team, as evidenced by his slicing run that set up the winner.
Lukasz Fabianski: 6.5
As I said in my live blog, the Pole could have eaten brunch for large chunks of the game and no one would have noticed or cared. He can't really be faulted for Norwich's goal; that was entirely down to poor defending.
Fabianski did nothing to warrant bringing Wojciech Szczesny back into the team. If someone could shed some light onto why Szczesny has not even been on the bench for the last two games, please leave a comment.
Bacary Sagna: 7
Solid, as usual. He was involved in the attacking side of things more than the defensive but did well when called upon. There were a few occasions when he held off a Norwich defender, and he had to make a strong tackle or cross the ball into the box. He performed each task capably.
Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen: 6.5
We cannot be sure who was supposed to be marking Michael Turner on the set-piece from which Norwich scored, so blame should be apportioned equally to both center-backs.
Allowing Turner to peel away from the crowd was nothing short of criminal, and Arsenal so nearly paid for that catastrophic error.
When the Gunners were attacking, Koscielny and Vermaelen should have passed the ball around quicker instead of holding it up and slowing play down. But outside of those two areas, the pairing was solid.
Kieran Gibbs: 6.5
The differences between Gibbs and Nacho Monreal, who watched the game from the bench, were very apparent today.
As is his wont, Gibbs got forward at every opportunity, linking up with Santi Cazorla and later with Lukas Podolski to great effect. When attacks went down the left side, the Englishman was peppering Norwich's defense with crosses.
But as usual, space was left at the back for the Canaries to counterattack in, and if Russell Martin had finished more capably when one-on-one with Fabianski, Arsenal would almost surely have lost.
Gibbs also conceded the free-kick that led to Turner's goal, but replays showed that Kei Kamara had tripped himself up.
Mikel Arteta: 6
On days when Arsenal are struggling to break down an opponent that is content to park the bus, one really expects more from the leader of the midfield.
The Gunners' slow, tepid play for much of the game must be attributed disproportionately to Arteta, who is responsible for controlling the tempo from his position in the middle of the pitch.
But he does deserve a good deal of credit for dispatching the spot-kick that got Arsenal back into the game. It was such a good strike that, even though Bunn got a hand to it, he could not keep it out of the net.
Aaron Ramsey: 6
Ramsey, too, is often accused of slowing play down, and he was guilty of that offense today.
He often kept the ball moving, but too few of his passes were productive, and too little of his movement was toward threatening positions.
However, Ramsey deserves to be commended for his work rate, which was again superb. He was very active in all areas of the pitch, even when Arsene Wenger asked him to play right-back at the end of the game.
Jack Wilshere: 5
After sitting out for six weeks due to an ankle injury, it was obvious that Wilshere needs a couple games to shake off a considerable amount of rust.
His typically crisp touches were heavy, his passing was not precise and he seemed to dip his head and slacken his shoulders with every mistake he made.
Wilshere's ineffectiveness was one of the main reasons why Arsenal's performance was so lackluster, but he won't stay this mediocre for long.
Santi Cazorla: 7
As usual, Cazorla was Arsenal's most dangerous creative outlet. With Podolski's impressive display off the bench and Wilshere's malaise, the Spaniard should be moved back to attacking midfield.
That's where he played for most of the game, anyway. Constantly cutting in from the left wing, Cazorla's flicks and passes were just about Arsenal's only positive moments for long stretches.
Who else would have played this gorgeous pass to Gervinho? No one who would displace Cazorla in midfield.
Do you hear that? That thud was the sound of Gervinho crashing back to earth and becoming his normal self again.
Instead of the threatening creator and finisher that showed up against Reading and West Brom, we saw the player who has the first touch of an elephant and the vision of an 88-year-old with cataracts.
Gervinho should not be mauled by Arsenal supporters, as he so often is; he is an inconsistent player who is productive on his day. Let us simply acknowledge that there are better options at the moment, and relegate the Ivorian to his normal spot on the bench.
Olivier Giroud: 7
Though he only scored one goal, Giroud's contributions to Arsenal's win were numerous.
He was the only target for the crosses that the Gunners were forced to use for long stretches, and a couple of his flicked headers nearly found their target. One was mis-controlled by Lukas Podolski, and his chest-down resulted in Podolski's thunderbolt off the crossbar.
Eventually, Giroud got the goal he deserved, and it was the most significant thing anyone did all day. Cleverly moving into space at just the right time, he got just enough of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cut-back to win the game for Arsenal.
A thrilling end to an unpredictable day.
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