Norwich 0 – Arsenal 2 (Ramsey 53’, Jenkinson 62’)
Norwich: Ruddy; Martin (c), R Bennett, Turner, Olsson; Tettey; Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Redmond; Elmander
Subs: Bunn (GK), Whittaker, Fer, Hooper, E Bennett, Loza, Josh Murphy.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Sagna, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey, Ozil, Podolski, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Monreal, Wilshere, Kallstrom, Flamini, Diaby, Sanogo
The talk before the final game of the season was dominated by personnel as Sagna started ahead of Mertesacker at center half and Fabianski started ahead of Szczesny in the goal (match-practice ahead of the final? Or was it a final bow with Szcz ready to take his place in the final?). Jenkinson replaced Sagna at right-back. There was also no place for Cazorla in the matchday squad as Rosicky came in place of him. Ramsey and Gibbs made their return to the starting line-up, having recovered from their minor strains. Mertesacker and Cathorlaaa, it would seem, were rested ahead of the cup final.
The game started like the dead rubber it was. Norwich needed to get 3 points and a goal swing of 17 to escape relegation while 4th place was already confirmed for Arsenal. Norwich decided to make a decent fist of it anyway, considering it was a home game, and little or no words could be found to describe what happened in the first 7-8 minutes.
The Arsenal team had clearly just woken up, and found it extremely difficult to get past the halfline into Norwich’s half, with their high-pressing tactics working fine. On the rare occasions that we did, one of two things happened: we lost the ball just beyond the half-line, or passed to an offside Podolski/Giroud.
The first meaningful action occurred when poor positioning from the rusty Gibbs allowed Norwich to break down the left, but Koscielny was sharp to cut out the quick ground cross at the near post.
Norwich created another chance in the 18th when fleet-footed winger Redmond tested Fabianski with a stinging angled drive from the right side, which the Pole did to block out for a corner. Norwich skewed high and wide from the resulting set piece.
Not much can be said of the few minutes that followed. The game slipped into a tedium characterized by Arsenal giving away the ball cheaply and Norwich trying hard and futilely to attack. Arsenal tried playing right to left to right in three of four passes as they laboriously made their way forward resulting in a long-range effort from Podolski trickling wide. Perhaps it was of little surprise that I was found the results in the deciders more interesting than what was happening here. Cesspool had just fallen behind to an own-goal by Skrtel. The vowel-less man has an unrivalled knack for scoring goals at both ends of the field.
The customary verve seemed to be lacking from the right. “Never mind”, said the trio of Ramsey, Giroud and Podolski as they worked the ball nicely in from the left. Ramsey slid a cute ball down the left channel to Giroud, who went with it into the box taking a few Norwich defenders before sliding Podolski into space in a tight angle at the near post. Podolski’s shot was blocked sharply by Ruddy. A good move after nearly 30 minutes. There did not seem to be any second gear for Arsenal today.
Another good chance was parried by Ruddy in the 31st. Ozil played to Giroud just outside the box. Giroud played a composed one-two with Podolski, getting himself into space unmarked near the penalty spot. The resulting shot was stopped well by Ruddy, and the following corner trickled away harmlessly.
Believe you me, Arsenal will be much poorer without Sagna’s simultaneous attacking and solidity on the right wings, come next season. Everything half good seemed to be born on the left, but things had only been half good so far in this half.
The heat was picking up when Ramsey decided to go it alone in the 35th from outside the box. You really get the feeling that you expect him to score every time he does that, but his shot from just outside was halted by a desperate dive from Norwich defenders.
Another chance in the 41st, when Rosicky played the ball down to Giroud from the right. Giroud evaded the attention of his marker with a clever twist, and tried to loop the ball into the top far corner from outside the box. Ruddy did well again to keep it out.
I have to say, despite the early slumber of Arsenal at Norwich’s home game, they do have a way of effortlessly and completely taking control away from the opposition with the superior quality of the midfield. Or perhaps the opposition, in this case, was so poor that they just stopped trying.
The first half drew to a close with Elmander performing the role of Arsenal defense as he blocked a goal-bound Norwich shot. In a pretty average half, it turned out to be Arsenal v Ruddy, with the Norwich keeper doing well when he was called upon. Arsenal could surely do better in the second. Tottenham, to my disgust, had already done much more by going up 3-0 at home to Villa.
The second half kicked off in much the same vein in that Arsenal had all of the ball, but did little or nothing with it. Arsenal did claim a corner five minutes into the half as Jenkinson showed off his dribbling to win a corner. Podolski headed the resulting corner over. Meanwhile, in a piece of news that I hardly cared about, City wished goodbye to Cesspool by doubling their lead over the Hammers.
The moment of magic was duly ushered in by Ramsey in the 53rd. Rosicky played the ball to Giroud on the left, who held the ball well before looking up and gently crossing the ball to Ramsey on the right. Such is the confidence oozing through the Welsh Jesus at the moment that he volleyed the ball in first time into the left top corner of Ruddy’s goal. The movement, technique and composure are just perfect for Ramsey at the moment. If I was to spell the goal out for you, it would result in B.E.A.U.T.Y!
In a vain attempt to recover after the goal, Hooper and youngster Loza came on for Salamander and Tattey in the 58th minute. Loza showed off encouraging spirit and dribbling skills and set up Redmond outside the box, who sent another shot flying high and wide into the stands.
The 62nd minute turned out to be special for Jenkinson. The Gunners played in Gibbs completely free on the left, who played it into a crowd at the Norwich goal. Podolski’s first time shot deflected off a Norwich defender and fell perfectly to Jenkinson who shot it in through a block of Norwich defenders for his first ever goal for his boyhood club. I love the guy for his unbridled enthusiasm for all things Arsenal, and this much surely mean a lot to him, going by the orgasmic expression on his face. 2-0 Arsenal, as Ramsey was taken off for Wilshere. I hope this doesn’t result in yet another injury.
I like this version of Arsenal. Except in matches when the entire team is at sixes and sevens, they have a way of completely dominating the opposition while not looking like they are doing much work. Behind the scenes, players are constantly making relatively safe passes to other players are in constant movement to find little pockets of space. Yet, when they lose the ball, they are quickly back in position in banks of four to deny the opposition space on the ball, trying to steal the ball before the opposition has the time to make a meaningful dent in the fabric of time and space.
The second goal completely took the sting out of the match. In the next moment of note, Diaby came on for a Halley’s comet-like appearance for Rosicky, and Sanogo replaced Giroud at the front. Bennett came on for Norwich’s brightest attacking threat in a move that confounded. Diaby adding a third would do very nicely, indeed. Instead, Fabianski had to be sharp to stop a stinging drive from Loza, who then personally headed the ball out of touch on behalf of Arsenal.
The following period was so tedious that I could hardly be bothered enough to write about it, but to say that there were a few chances on either side, which either trickled harmlessly wide, or were blocked by the concerned keepers. I do wish, though, that Sagna decides the world outside isn’t worth it and stays.
It was Sanogo’s turn to come close to his first ever goal for Arsenal, when Wilshere had to be tenacious to keep the ball. He fed Sanogo down the right, who cut in and took a quick shot which Ruddy did well to save. The described action occurred in the 89th minute of the mediocrity following Arsenal’s 2nd goal. Really, we couldn’t be bothered to do more than jog and glower right now, taking the occasional potshot at Norwich by allowing them a tantalizing glimpse of our goal before coolly stealing the ball away.
The game, like so many Norwich shots today, trickled harmlessly away. Arsenal came quite close to finishing top, but no closer than they were before the Norwich game, so it made no difference. Norwich, on the other hand, proved that an endgame against a top four side does you no favours when you are in a dog fight to avoid relegation. Their goal difference suffered a harmless drop of two as they went down without a whimper.
City, to no one’s surprise and the utter disgust of many, finished top as the exciting League season came to a tame end. Goodbye to 2013-14 and welcome to an exciting World Cup in the football capital of flair, and a totally mad silly season.
Wait, not quite that yet. Just what the doctor ordered before the FA Cup final, our hope for a first trophy since we won the Cup in 2004-05.