Norwich 1 Arsenal 1: Five things we learned
Joel Campbell needs to make the most of his chance, Petr Cech remains a fantastic goalkeeper and Lewis Grabban completes his turnaround
The sides' draw at Carrow Road entailed further injury woes for the Gunners, an expedited opportunity to impress for striker Joel Campbell and additional evidence that the Canaries require fine-tuning at the back.
Arsenal’s injury problems aren’t over yet
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning to Arsenal’s first-team set-up and taking up his place on the substitute’s bench, Theo Walcott reportedly targeting a return against Sunderland next week, and long-term absentee Aaron Ramsey back in the midfield, it had appeared before this match that the injury crisis that has recently rocked Arsenal was beginning to subside.
Unfortunately for the Gunners, Laurent Koscielny was forced off after less than ten minutes, and was replaced by Gabriel, after hobbling off the pitch in what looked like a serious amount of pain. With a typically hectic festive fixture pile-up looming, Arsenal can ill-afford yet more injuries, so it is something of a small mercy that the club are well stocked at centre-back, with Gabriel—who came on the replace the stricken Frenchman—and Calum Chambers waiting in the wings.
More worrying is the hamstring injury Alexis Sanchez appeared to pick up around an hour later. Only this week Arsene Wenger was paying tribute to the resilience of his mercurial forward. His prolonged absence could be devastating to their title hopes.
Joel Campbell has his chance earlier than expected
The way in which Arsene Wenger recently threw his support behind Joel Campbell—by telling reporters that he had “smelt something good” in his blossoming form—was distinctly unorthodox. But the sentiment was clear, Campbell has had a decent season, has been training well, and stands on the verge of nailing down a spot in the first team after a series of loan moves away from the club.
With Sanchez withdrawn half-way through the second half, Campbell had another chance to impress, and to prove to his manager that he will be a more than able deputy if the Chilean is ruled out for weeks rather than days. He made little impression upon being introduced, although in his defence Norwich were in far greater control of the game in the second-half than the first, but he did whip in a dangerous cross to Olivier Giroud and showed flashes of his technical ability. If he can generate some form, he could finally prove his worth in an Arsenal shirt.
- Arsene Wegner fears Alexis Sanchez is more injured than he's letting on
- Man of the match display from Robbie Brady as Canaries dent Arsenal title hopes
Petr Cech was more than worth it
It’s not easy for a goalkeeper to stand idle for long periods before being forced into action, and expected to make a match-saving stop. Petr Cech was at his very best when, with around fifteen minutes left on the clock, he dived low to tap the ball around his post after a fizzing cross evaded all of the Norwich forwards before almost spooning in off of Mertesacker.
So much was made of the number of points the acquisition of Cech would win Arsenal this season. On this occasion, he most definitely helped to secure a point at Carrow Road.
What a turnaround for Lewis Grabban
Alex Neil, widely regarded as one of the brightest young managers in the Premier League, is a hard taskmaster, with a reputation for insisting on impeccable discipline and maximum respect. So, when the club suspended Lewis Grabban for leaving the team hotel before the League Cup victory at Rotherham despite being named on the bench, his future with the Canaries looked impossibly bleak.
But Neil only furthered his reputation when he accepted a public apology from Grabban with the minimum of fuss, promising that if he continued to work hard he would win back his place in the Norwich first team. The 27-year-old has had to be patient and wait for his chance, and has only been handed four starts in the League this season but, here, given his first league start since the spat, he coolly spun past Gabriel before slotting home. It was the former Rotherham forward’s first ever goal in the top flight, and completed his Norwich City turnaround.
Norwich need to work on the defending
Norwich won promotion to the Premier League playing expansive, attacking football. Their fans loudly ridiculed bitter local rivals Ipswich Town for defending deeply and attempting to sneak a win on the counter-attack when they met in the Championship play-off semi-finals, and their end-of-season goal tally of 88 was a league high after the two strongest teams in the league, Bournemouth and Watford.
And, at the start of the season, Norwich attempted to continue playing in this swashbuckling style. But their early November win against Swansea—a dogged 1-0 with Neil setting up his team to stifle and frustrate—was heralded as a pragmatic turning point, with the manager publicly admitting the need to grind out results and play ugly if necessary. The performance against Norwich was encouraging, but the goal conceded to Mesut Ozil was sloppy, especially for a team aiming to out-defend rather than out-score. If Norwich are going to set-up to contain, they must eliminate these silly errors.