Groundhog Day all over again for post-Emery Arsenal

By Peter Hanson 2 December 2019 6
Groundhog Day all over again for post-Emery Arsenal

At times, Sunday's contest at Norwich City must have felt like Groundhog Day if you're an Arsenal fan.

At times, Sunday's contest at Norwich City must have felt like Groundhog Day if you're an Arsenal fan.

Always start with a joke, they say.

Only, the laughs have been few and far between for the Gunners faithful this season - save for ones of rueful derision.

There was as much inevitability about Arsenal's decision to end Unai Emery's 18-month tenure this week as death or taxes.

But the failings that cost the amiable Spaniard so dearly were laid bare in 90 microcosmic minutes of a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road.

Arsenal are a little bit like a warm chocolate fudge cake. On the surface, great to look at, a delicious treat but soft at their core and too easy to crumble.

There were signs in the opening 20 minutes that maybe this post-Emery Arsenal led by interim boss Freddie Ljungberg, a legend of the 'Invincibles', was a different animal as Norwich were penned in, dragged from pillar to post. Had Alexandre Lacazette not been so wasteful with a gilt-edged fourth-minute opportunity, such a feeling would have increased tenfold.

And then just like that, to quote the legendary magician-comedian Tommy Cooper – whose vanishing acts were as comical as the ones displayed by Arsenal's midfield – the visitors were behind.

Sliced open in the centre of the park, Kenny McLean was given the freedom of the Carrow Road pitch as Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz inexplicably backed off and Teemu Pukki ended an eight-game goal drought, albeit with a deflection that deceived Bernd Leno.

Arsenal soon mustered a response. Christmas may have been 24 days away, but Christoph Zimmermann gave Ljungberg and Arsenal an early gift with an explicable handball in the area.

The joy was at first short-lived as Tim Krul, canny mind games in full swing, showed why he has a reputation as a penalty-saving expert to deny Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, only for the VAR to spot an encroachment and give the Gabon striker an undeserved reprieve.

There was no mistake on act two, Aubameyang firing into the bottom-left corner and giving Krul the shush sign with an act of fire in the belly that has for so long been missing from Arsenal.

No sooner had the touchpaper been lit than Norwich extinguished it, though. It was an all-too-familiar failing. Onel Hernandez was allowed to stroll forward with reckless abandon to play in Todd Cantwell, who was given enough time to finish a crossword puzzle by Mustafi before clinically beating Bernd Leno.

The half-time whistle allowed for a regroup and Arsenal, as in the first half, looked well oiled going forward. There was a hint of fortune about the way the ball fell to Aubameyang from a 57th-minute corner but there was no luck about the way he hammered past a helpless Krul.

Was this then the moment to spark Arsenal into life? Well, not quite.

Had it not been for the brilliance of Leno, McLean would have restored Norwich's lead after shambolic midfield work from Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi.

Leno was also the scourge of Pukki who had Mustafi on toast and not for the first time in 90 troubled minutes for the German defender.

Ljungberg's big smile at full-time - the whistle signalling Arsenal had failed to win for an eighth match in a row - only masks the concern that the issues that plagued Emery's tenure are as pronounced as ever. A midfield that is too easy to bypass, a defence devoid of organisation, leadership and grit, and a team in general that for all its attacking brilliance lacks the steel to truly mix it with the big boys.

These are problems in the short term for Ljungberg to address and a new full-time boss to get a hold on in the long term.

Otherwise, it might just feel like Groundhog Day all over again for Arsenal fans.

About Author

Peter Hanson