NORWICH 2-2 ARSENAL, CARROW ROAD, 27,067
This afternoon, Freddie Ljungberg took charge of Arsenal for the first time as the Gunners visited Carrow Road to take on Norwich City. In the end, the sides shared the spoils in this one with Norwich very unlucky not to pick up all three points.
The first half started well for Arsenal – they came out of the traps quickly and had a number of early chances. Schkodran Mustafi saw an early header cleared off the line, while Alexandre Lacazette squandered a glorious chance from close range.
Despite Arsenal’s early control, it was Norwich who would strike the first blow when Teemu Pukki broke through. Norwich had been trying to catch Arsenal on the break all game, and on 22 minutes – they managed to pull it off. Pukki latched onto a through ball 30 yards from goal, made himself an angle and smashed a deflected effort past Bernd Leno in the Arsenal goal. 1-0 to the hosts.
Shortly after, VAR reared it’s ugly head and gave us one of the more bizarre series of events I’ve seen so far this season. Mesut Ozil lofted in a free-kick from deep right and while tussling for the ball, Christoph Zimmerman flung his arm in the air – which the ball struck. The referee, Paul Tierney, showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped up to take the spot-kick, trying to ignore the mind games of Norwich keeper Tim Krul, who got himself booked for stepping off his line. Auba ran up to the ball and adopted the old-fashioned hit it as hard as you can tactic – which Krul spotted and immediately foiled. A fantastic save cued jubilant scenes around Carrow Road.
However, the joy of the Canaries was short-lived as VAR checked for encroachment. Replays showed four Norwich player had indeed entered the area as the spot kick was taken – Tierney pointed to the spot again and ordered the penalty to be retaken. Despite Krul buoying up the fans behind the goal and trying to use a few Jedi mind-tricks to put Aubameyang off, the Arsenal skipper would not miss a second time. He kept his composure and sent Krul the wrong way before “shushing” him on his way to the corner-flag, 1-1.
Following the penalty incident, the game continued to play out in the way it had prior to the incident. Arsenal were playing all the football, while Norwich tried to catch them on the break – just before the half, Arsenal were caught cold again as Norwich broke with pace. Onel Hernandez picked up the ball on the left wing and drove towards the area. He laid the ball into the path of Todd Cantwell who expertly found the far corner with a low, curled effort to restore Norwich’s lead.
In the second period, the game continued to be played at a furious pace with both sides creating chances at will. On 57 minutes, Arsenal drew themselves level in the match once more as Aubameyang continued to prove his importance to the Gunners.
Norwich had been struggling to deal with Arsenal’s set pieces all game long and eventually, the visitors managed to make one of them count. A corner was whipped in from the right hand side, it fell to Callum Chambers whose blocked shot landed at the feet of Aubameyang. In a fashion typical of him, the Arsenal skipper hammered the ball past a helpless Tim Krul to bail his side out the gutter once more.
The further into the game we got, the more Arsenal struggled to cope with Norwich’s attacking threat. The likes of Cantwell and Kenny McClean were causing asking all sorts of questions that the Arsenal defence simply couldn’t answer. It was Bernd Leno who kept Arsenal in this one – making save after save to deny a lightning quick Norwich attack. The pick of his saves came as Norwich stole the ball from Matteo Guendouzi following a poor pass from Granit Xhaka. Pukki slid the ball into McClean who saw his effort acrobatically tipped around onto the post and out for a corner.
There were other cracking saves as Leno denied Pukki from close range, McClean from a free-kick and then Max Aarons from the edge of the area right at the end. All in all, not the worst result for Arsenal but Ljungberg must be concerned about that second half showing. Arsenal played the second 45 as though they were a man down, defending for their lives for pretty much the entirety of the last half hour.
If it wasn’t for a masterclass from Leno on his 50th Arsenal appearance, this would have been a very embarrassing defeat. I must also praise Aubameyang, without whom Arsenal would be relegation candidates at this point. The man is a machine.
Star player: As you’d expect given my gushing reviews of his performances above, star player today was Bernd Leno. There were numerous candidates in yellow that I could have awarded this to, not least Todd Cantwell, but Leno was different class today. Not many keeper could have made the sheer volume of top quality saves he did in this match.