Arsenal punished for lacklustre performance

Posted by Andrew Mangan

The temptation will be to blame this result on the fact that too many Arsenal players were away on international duty. The reality is that Manchester United, Chelsea and Man City all had as many players absent and still won on Saturday, so it holds little water.

In fact, this result might well be further proof that the three teams Arsenal fans would want to consider rivals for the title are superior in terms of squad depth and ability to cope with the demands of the Premier League.

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Arsenal were sluggish from the start, sluggish in the middle and only slightly better at the end. While poor performances are inevitable for any team, the lack of urgency and work-rate was a real worry. Far too often Arsenal's players were static, and the lack of movement meant it was easy for Norwich to maintain their shape and nullify Arsenal's very limited attacking threat.

Even after half-time, when Arsenal's players would surely have been given a stern talking-to by Arsene Wenger, little improved. In the 53rd minute Mikel Arteta, stood, arms out, imploring, looking for an option, and it was typical of the Gunners' performance that none was forthcoming.

It's difficult to understand why Arsenal were quite so lethargic, and that they were unable to lift things in the second period is a concern. In fact, Norwich could easily have scored more. Twice Grant Holt broke through; twice his decision-making was poor and better players would have punished Arsenal.

But days like this happen, sometimes teams don't click, therefore it's important that silly goals are not conceded. Arsenal will look back on the one they did allow and think it should have been prevented. The midfield was far too slow to close down Alexander Tettey which allowed him to shoot from distance.

Although the ball was swerving slightly, Vito Mannone should have done better than allow the ball to squirm sideways, directly into the path of Holt, who made no mistake from close range. The Italian tries hard, but moments like that are why Wenger was quite happy to allow him leave the club this summer. The sooner Wojciech Szczesny returns, the better, and even then, with Lukasz Fabianski out for months, the manager really needs to think about signing experienced, solid backup in January.

When Arteta finally managed Arsenal's first real shot in anger -- in the 87th minute, by the way -- John Ruddy held on to his low, powerful effort. Ruddy is hardly one of the Premier League's best, but the difference between him and Mannone on Saturday was obvious.

Overall this was a hugely disappointing performance by Arsenal. With all the other teams winning and a ten-point gap now opened between them and the leaders, it makes a title challenge even more difficult than it was already.

If there's any kind of silver lining, and it's very hard to find one today, it's that this has happened early in the season when there's still time to make up ground. But that is clutching at straws -- Arsenal's continued ability to lose to teams they should beat is a real handicap.

That Norwich didn't even need to play particularly well will set alarm bells ringing, and next weekend against QPR becomes increasingly important.

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