Wenger worn down by same old story
Norwich City 1 Arsenal 0
No manager is as expert in the Gallic expression of disappointment as Arsene Wenger.
"Tres decu," he conceded, with a theatrical shrug, to a French journalist at the corner of the Carrow Road press room, after a lethargic defeat that left Arsenal an alarming 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea.
The frustration, at least, was shared by midfielder Mikel Arteta, who spoke for all in red and white by admitting: "We're really down."
Struggling to explain why Arsenal were so bereft of creativity in succumbing to a Norwich side who had not won a league match all season, Arteta said: "For the amount of ball we had in the game, we should have done more and created more scoring situations.
"We need more patience sometimes. We are down because we know how good we are, and how good we can be."
Despite the Spaniard's argument, the indications are that Arsenal, who face a Champions League test at home to Schalke on Wednesday night, cannot hope to bridge the gulf to Chelsea by patience alone.
Not only were they careless, as third-choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone spilled the ball straight into the path of Grant Holt for the game's only goal, but they were profligate, too.
So error-prone was Gervinho that, teed up by Arteta for a volleying opportunity, he struck only fresh air.
The statistics bear out the tale of Arsenal's toothlessness up front: in three of their opening eight games in this campaign, they have failed to score.
This constitutes the joint worst record in the Premier League, and marks their most feeble goalscoring return at this stage of the season since 1988.
For all the inventiveness of Olivier Giroud, and the trickery of Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla behind him, they remain in dire need of a more lethal marksman.
As Podolski flashed wide from Giroud's set-up in the first half, the refrain from the Norwich supporters was emphatic and chastening: "Robin van Persie, he would have scored that."
Arsenal fans weary of such wastefulness did not attempt to demur. "It's not the first time we have conceded the first goal," Arteta said.
"It's very difficult. If you go ahead, it gives you a lift, the other team has to take risks, and you can cause mistakes. You can't get back in the game every time you fall behind. It's a tough ask and we haven't done it."
Pressed on the daunting 10-point gap at the top, he said only: "We have time to come back."
Wenger, similarly, made no effort to disguise his team's deficiencies, given a match that demonstrated their lack of cohesion after the international break.
"It's very, very disappointing," he said. "This is a defeat that will hurt us a lot. We couldn't afford to lose a game like that. That's a worry. I feel we didn't create enough and at our level it just isn't good enough." Uncompromising words from a man bearing a now-familiar haggardness at his players' miscues in front of goal.
"My first reaction is that maybe we underestimated the difficulty we faced," Wenger said. "If you do not start the game completely ready, in the Premier League it is not enough. I don't doubt the character and the fight of my players. But you wonder, were we mentally ready to face a game like that?"
Chris Hughton, his patently relieved Norwich counterpart, had a ready answer.
"Arsenal are far too professional an outfit and they have far too much quality to treat anybody lightly," he insisted, after his players' responded to heavy defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea with this maiden league victory under his stewardship.
Besides, Norwich, galvanised by impressive displays from Holt and Wes Hoolahan, deserved many plaudits themselves for thwarting their opponents.
"I'm delighted, because as a manager you can take defeats very much to heart," Hughton said.
"They can hurt and it takes a while to get them out of your system. Plus, you don't want to lose in the fashion we have in the last few games. But I will sleep much better now."
For Wenger, alas, one sensed that this result would haunt his every waking hour. (© Daily Telegraph, London)