Football Features

Norwich draw proves how deep Arsenal’s problems run: Five things learned from Carrow Road

By Ben Green

Published: 16:08, 1 December 2019

Arsenal bounced back twice to secure a debut 2-2 draw for Freddie Ljungberg against Norwich City in the Premier League.

Things couldn’t have got off to a worst start for Arsenal’s interim coach as the Canaries broke the deadlock against the run of play, with Teemu Pukki firing in his first goal since September with only 21 minutes on the clock.

The Gunners managed to claw themselves back in the match through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty, but Norwich soon restored their lead courtesy of a timely Todd Cantwell finish just before half-time. 

Norwich continued to create chances after the restart, but struggled to deal with set-pieces throughout the match and were soon made to pay for their deadball deficiencies after Aubameyang fired home a second equaliser to rescue a point for the north London club.

It was an intense encounter in Norfolk, but what did we learn from this Premier League game?

1. Arsenal’s over-reliance on Aubameyang a major cause for concern 

Of Arsenal’s 20 Premier League goals this season, Aubameyang has netted 10 of them, bagging another brace this afternoon to keep his side alive and competitive. The Gunners, historically, have always boasted a prolific No. 9 on the books, just consider the likes of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie. Aubameyang is the latest to pitch up on that star-studded conveyor belt.

The 2018/19 Golden Boot winner kicked off his game with a retaken penalty kick, silencing Tim Krul in the 29th minute to drag Arsenal back into the match, before once again levelling proceedings with a well-struck right-footed effort just after the restart. It will certainly sooth frustrations in north London that, at least, they have a competent goalscorer, but they must now look elsewhere on the pitch for someone to step up, and not just their captain.

Such is the influence of Aubameyang, he is a trusty source of goals, fulcrum and leader all rolled into one. It is certainly a blessing to have such a unique and dominating player at the club, but that can often prove to be a double-edged sword as Arsenal are becoming more and more reliant on their skipper to rescue them.

That was certainly the case once again this afternoon as Arsenal’s grandmaster goalscorer restored parity twice, though he was ultimately unable to help Ljungberg avoid a banana skin debut in the dugout.

2. Pukki party picks back up

Pukki broke his nine-game duck this afternoon, netting the opener with a top notch piece of centre-forward play. The Finnish forward made a darting diagonal run to unsettle Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz, before collecting the ball off Kenny McLean and holding his nerve to strike past Bernd Leno. 

The goal was Pukki’s first since he netted the winner in Norwich’s sensational 3-2 win over Manchester City back in September, and now means he has become only the eighth player to have had a direct hand in 10 plus Premier League goals this season.

It will come as no surprise that Norwich’s dip in form, after such early promise under Daniel Farke, has coincided with Pukki’s own misfortune in front of goal. Heck, this was a man who struck a quite ridiculous 29 Championship last term as the Canaries clinched promotion. His importance to this side should never be downplayed. 

When Pukki is on song and firing on all cylinders, then so too are Norwich; Farke will be hoping his talismanic forward can now rediscover his early season form and enjoy another purple patch. If the Norfolk-based club are to stave off the threat of relegation, then Pukki will be imperative to achieving that objective.

3. Mustafi fails to vindicate starting berth

Having fallen down the pecking order under Unai Emery, Mustafi was restored to the first-team by interim coach Ljungberg this afternoon, starting his first Premier League game this season, with his last coming back in May.

However, hopes of a rejuvenated Mustafi were short-lived as the German’s weaknesses were laid bare in only the 21st minute. As Pukki sprinted across the pitch for Norwich’s opener, Mustafi looked all at sea; first, being dragged out of position, before allowing the Norwich forward to easily turn him, cut across and fire home.

His feeble attempt to block Pukki’s strike is rule number one in the ‘how not to defend’ handbook: do not turn your back on the ball. It culminated in the shot ricocheting off him and deflecting past a hapless Leno – it was a bold move by Ljungberg to include Mustafi, but one which ultimately backfired as Pukki ran riot.

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4. Cantwell an outside chance for Euro 2020?

Todd Cantwell exploded onto the scene earlier this season, earning rave reviews for his performances in games against Man City and Chelsea, while simultaneously earning a spot in most Fantasy Premier League sides, such was the impact he was having in front of goal – and relative cheap price! 

However, much of the hype surrounding Norwich during the early stages of 2019/20 waned significantly across the past two months as their woeful autumnal form saw them slide into the Premier League relegation zone. But there are now signs of renewed life in this Norwich side, with Cantwell spearheading the renaissance.

Last week the Canaries put a struggling Everton to the sword, beating the Merseyside club 0-2 with Cantwell himself getting on the scoresheet. And now they have now produced a valiant performance against Arsenal, again with Cantwell finding the net.

His goal this afternoon means the young Englishman has now netted in games against, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, forging a bit of reputation as a giantkiller – he certainly doesn’t look like a flat tack bully.

If the 21-year-old can now continue on this current trajectory and produce consistently in front of goal then there is no reason Gareth Southgate won’t turn his attention to East Anglia in these upcoming months.

5. A club-record benchwarmer 

When Arsenal couriered £72m to Lille for the services of Nicolas Pepe, few Gooners could have predicted the incisive winger falling below academy starlet Bukayo Saka in the club’s pecking order, but that was exactly the case this afternoon as the 18-year-old was called upon by Ljungberg instead of the Ivorian.  

Having started on the bench this afternoon as Ljungberg deployed an unorthodox 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Swede neglecting the position he made a name for himself in during his playing career and opting against traditional wingers, most spectators would have expected Pepe to make an appearance if things weren’t going according to plan.

As it turns out, things weren’t going according to plan, but Ljungberg still didn’t turn to Pepe, instead bringing on the aforementioned Saka, and then another 18-year-old in Gabriel Martinelli – even Lucas Torreira got the nod ahead of him as Arsenal went in search of a winner.

Ljungberg’s actions spoke volumes and his post-match comments on the Ivorian were also damning: “Pepe is a very good player, but I looked at what we did in training and what I see every day and that is how I judge it.”

This will now be a major cause for concern for Arsenal that their marquee acquisition and club-record signing is not adjusting to Premier League life as swimmingly as they would have hoped. Of course, it is still early days and this is a man who took the scalps of so many Ligue 1 clubs last season, but he will have to start producing soon, or risk having the ‘expensive flop’ moniker bestowed on him.