Result: Norwich City 2-2 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 1 December 2019
Venue: Carrow Road
Arsenal XI: Leno, Chambers, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Willock, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Martinez, Sokratis, Tierney, Torreira, Pepe, Saka, Martinelli
Freddie Ljungberg’s first game as interim head coach of Arsenal ended in frustration as Norwich held us to a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s retaken penalty cancelled out Teemu Pukki’s deflected effort before Todd Cantwell’s cool finish gave the home side the lead in first half stoppage time. Aubameyang lashed home a second equaliser from a corner just before the hour-mark but the Gunners struggled to build any momentum after the break and were thankful for a series of smart saves from goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Another draw, our seventh of the season, means we’re still seven points adrift of the top four and extends our winless run in the Premier League to six games. Freddie has his work cut out.
Having only been in the job for a couple of days, Ljungberg’s bold decision to drop Sokratis and hand Mustafi a Premier League recall certainly raised eyebrows. The Gunners set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Xhaka, Guendouzi and Joe Willock in midfield and Ozil and Aubameyang flanking Lacazette on the left and right respectively. A strong bench included Pepe, Torreira and Martinelli.
It was a bright start from the Gunners. The passing was crisp, the movement sprightly and we even managed to break through lines with our first attempt to play out from the back. We should have had a goal too. Willock and Lacazette caused mischief in the Norwich box before the Frenchman scuffed a golden opportunity that allowed Tim Krul to push the ball around the post. Five minutes later, Mustafi’s header was cleared off the line as he beat Krul to an Ozil corner. The travelling fans liked what they were seeing and were quick to serenade Freddie.
A McLean effort, straight at Leno, was a warning that we weren’t going to have things all our own way. Back we came. Kolasinac, a danger on the left, won another corner and this time Chambers forced a save from Krul.
Of course, completely against the run of play, we conceded. On the break, Norwich worked the ball to Pukki. Thirty-yards from goal, he weighed up his options and decided to go it alone. He cut onto his right foot and tried his luck. Mustafi, who’d made no attempt to close down the striker, turned his back on the shot and it deflected off him inside Leno’s near post. Luiz punched the air in disgust. (1-0)
Norwich didn’t seem overly determined to protect their lucky lead. Inside three minutes they gave away a penalty when Christoph Zimmermann handled an Ozil free-kick in the box. VAR had a look and verified the decision by referee Paul Tierney. Aubameyang placed the ball on the spot and had to deal with some mind games from Krul who duly picked up a booking. The Dutchman won out, diving to his right to make a decent stop. Damn.
But hang on. A quick VAR check showed several yellow shirts encroaching. The referee pointed to the spot again and this time Aubameyang, despite going the same side, hammered into the corner net. A reprieve for the Gabon striker. Out came his trademark front flip celebration. Krul was livid. It was fantastic to see. (1-1)
Chances for both sides were few and far between after that but somehow we still managed to head into the break behind. A minute into stoppage time, Norwich worked a counter-attack targeting space vacated by Calum Chambers. Hernandez pulled the ball back to Cantwell who opened his body and passed the ball beyond Leno’s despairing dive. (2-1)
Knowing we’d push hard for an early equaliser, Norwich sat deep soaking up pressure doing their best to cut out crosses early. We kept probing and capitalised on 57 minutes were rewarded. From an Ozil corner, Mustafi’s initial effort was blocked but when the rebound fell to Aubameyang he lashed the ball into the top corner. (2-2)
It should have been a positive catalyst. It wasn’t. The home side created three golden opportunities in quick succession. McLean, capitalising on awful play by Xhaka and Guendouzi, had an effort fingertipped onto the post by Leno. Soon after, Cantwell went just wide and then Pukki, having twisted and turned Mustafi until the German was on the floor, forced Leno to save with his feet. The German was in inspired form.
Ljungberg responded by replacing Willock with Torreira and soon after put Saka on for Guendouzi. The winger’s first involvement saw him deliver a cross, via a deflection to Aubameyang at the back post. Our captain, in turn, found Ozil who backheeled goalwards. It was hacked away. A second effort by the German a couple of minutes later had no power.
The Canaries came on strong in the closing stages. Kolasinac and McLean had a confrontation after the latter claimed a handball against the Bosnian. VAR had a look but the ball had come off our full-back’s chest. Leno then twice had to save from Aarons. The second was brilliant, clawing the ball for a corner after another big deflection.
The final chance of the game fell to Torreira but his powerful shot from the edge of the box was blocked at close quarters. It was a breathless end to an entertaining encounter. There were a few positives, particularly the fact we twice fought back from behind, but more dropped points are very frustrating.