I suppose the first thing to say after today’s 1-1 draw at Norwich is: thank f*ck that was our last fixture of November.
Traditionally a difficult month for the club, the inexplicable trend continued this year, as we picked up just two points from three Premier League fixtures.
And having lost Francis Coquelin to long-term injury last weekend, three more key players picked up knocks today after Laurent Koscielny injured his hip, Alexis Sanchez, who went into the game with ‘a little hamstring alarm’ according to Arsene Wenger, er, pulled his hamstring, and Santi Cazorla sustained a knee injury, finishing the match playing ‘on one leg’ according to the boss.
Next year, I suggest we boycott November football, forfeit all our games and take the squad on a gentle, warm-weather training trip to somewhere like Dubai, just to keep them fresh and fit. It’s not like we pick up many points at this time of year …
On the bright side, we didn’t lose today and Mesut Ozil scored again with a delicious chip from a rapidly-executed through ball by Sanchez, following a poor clearance by Norwich’s keeper after 30 minutes.
Before then, Koscielny had already damaged his hip in what was an innocuous-looking block before we’d played ten minutes. Gabriel replaced him and when Norwich put together a rare first-half attack and the ball found it’s way to Lewis Grabban inside our area, the Brazilian defender was poorly positioned and thus unable to prevent Grabban from coolly sliding the ball past Petr Cech for 1-1 after 43 minutes.
We then wobbled a little and the home side nearly matched West Brom’s feat from a week ago by responding to our opener with a quick-fire, first-half double, but one of their players could only guide a right-wing cross over the bar at the far post. Phew.
The second half began with us regaining the kind of control on proceedings we’d enjoyed for most of the first period, only for Sanchez to pull up clutching his hamstring after an hour, forcing the boss to replace him with Joel Campbell. After that, Norwich grew more confident, forcing Cech into one particularly impressive save low down to the left.
I thought we actually played well for the most of the match, apart from Olivier Giroud, who if I’m honest, may as well have not been there for all he contributed. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office for the Frenchman but as a striker, he needs to take up far better positions in the box to attack crosses and be a little quicker in his reading of where team-mates might put the ball. I thought he was sluggish, to say the least, today and we need better from our front-man than what he offered this afternoon.
In the context of the title race, the draw keeps us in fourth spot, a point behind Manchester United and two adrift of joint-leaders Leicester and Manchester City. After the game, Arsene reflected on his side’s performance, saying:
It was a difficult game. We played against a Norwich side that was at the top level physically and focused. They were well organised and they played every time with 10 players in their own half, and we were not incisive enough. Maybe the turning point of the game was maybe we dropped a little bit after scoring straight away and allowed them back into the game. In the second half I felt we had to dig deep to get though as we were a bit jaded and we lost players. Cazorla played on one leg and of course we played Kosicelny at the start of the game so it was, I would say, a fair point for Norwich and it was on the injury front a bad afternoon for us.
So pretty magnanimous stuff from the boss there and although the result today is far from disastrous in terms of our title ambitions, another trio of injuries to some of our most important players may well turn out to be.
In successive weekends now, aside from dropping five points from the six available, we’ve lost our best defensive midfielder, our best attacker, our best defender and, in Cazorla, possibly also the man who makes us tick from the middle of the park.
At this point I’m not sure what we can say or do other than pray they aren’t sidelined for too long. Because the thought of going into next weekend’s game against a rejuvenated Sunderland at Emirates stadium, before travelling to Greece for our make-or-break Champions League game against Olympiacos, without Koscielny, Coquelin, Cazorla and Sanchez, is pretty scary.
See you next week and try not to get injured in the meantime. Evidently, it’s catching, if you’ve got anything to do with Arsenal at the moment.