Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal: Missing in Action

This club is schizophrenic.

Full disclosure, a family obligation prevented me from watching the match. I had DVRed it, but the score was thankfully spoiled for me, and I thus had no inclination to actually watch this twaddle.

That said, I did just watch the long-form Match of the Day highlights, and what struck me more than anything else was how John Ruddy did not have one serious save to make in the Norwich goal. Ninety minutes of attacking a club with no wins and a -10 goal difference, and the keeper was never tested.

How does this happen from the same club that went into the home of the champions and came back with a point, the side that were so resilient against the orc armies of Stoke, the team that gutted out the win at Montpellier?

Perhaps, the feeling of rebirth we experienced a few weeks back was a bit premature? Looking at our record so far, the opening two draws are fine, while the win at Anfield looks far less impressive than it did at the time. Anything less than a win at home to Southampton or Olympiacos would have been criminal, while the Montpellier and West Ham wins were decent - albeit against sides we usually should beat.

That leaves one legitimately brilliant result (the draw at City), and one where in a huge spot at home against a major rival, they were found wanting against Chelsea.

Once again, this is a club without a coherent narrative. The beginning of the season saw us painted as the team that couldn't score without the Dutch Judas, but that's since been emphatically disproven. The wins that followed led to those aforementioned feelings of rebirth, but that's also not quite right, is it? We're starting to see a lot of the same old problems - iffy defending, listless performances against lesser sides, constant feels like we are simply taking a slightly different route to the same destination.

Speaking of constant injuries, the one that is proving to be the most detrimental to our season is not the long-term absences of Jack Wilshire or Bacary Sagna - it's the absence of our young stopper, Wojceich Szczesny.

I have alluded to the idea before that those who thought Vito Mannone was good enough to start for this side were hilariously mistaken. We have won a few games with him so far, but I've pointed out some underlying worrying factors - his poor footwork and positioning, his predilection for getting beaten in the air, that horrid one that went through his hands that was luckily called back for offside.

I'll be blunt - park league 7-a-side keepers would be horribly disappointed to give up a goal like that.

The truth is, the shot wasn't swerving that badly. If there weren't a repeated pattern for the player involved, you could maybe chalk it up to just one of those things that happen every so often. Given that repeated pattern though, it's much fairer to say that it's poor positioning and terrible dive execution.

Sure, there's only so much you can expect from a third-stringer. You are not going to get someone of serious quality to come in and sit behind an established No. 1. A fair question though would be why do our keepers get hurt so often? Maybe that's just a small offshoot of why do our PLAYERS get hurt so often, but I would bet anything that our reserve keepers have played more games over the last 10 years than any other club...and by miles at that.

And, while I hate to praise Alex Ferguson for anything,  I think old bluenose has the right idea with the Lindegaard-De Gea tandem. The younger keeper still gets games, but the presence of the solid veteran ensures he doesn't get complacent and can play if the kid gets injured.

Beyond our horror show between the sticks, there are some other worrying points here as well.

  • When he's on, Lukas Podolski is a fine player with serious finishing ability. However, he has a terrible habit of flitting in and out of games, and fading badly in the second half. Is it a fitness issue?
  • Santi Cazorla is quickly morphing into our Henry/Fabregas/Dutch Judas Memorial Player We Overdepend On. Teams have quickly worked out that if they mark him out of the game, we don't have much else that we can consistently punish them with.
  • The defense. No elaboration needed there, I think. 

So, eight games into the season, we find ourselves in 9th place with 2 losses and 3 draws. Chelsea recede into the horizon, 10 points clear. Fourth place, assuming Everton doesn't come back against QPR, is only two points away though.

What that tells me is that while this was a horrendous loss and a frustrating performance, it isn't time to panic yet. Our next few matches are home to QPR in the league and away to Reading in the League Cup. That looks to me like a fantastic opportunity to right the ship, get some people scoring and get the defense sorted ahead of the trip to Old Trafford.

Last season, that house of horrors in the red half of Manchester defined our season - and the infamous youth project of the manager. It is increasingly looking like, one way or the other, it will do so again.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings: 

(Note: These are the averages of ratings provided to me by TMG contributors Brett and John, slightly adjusted to stay consistent with my rating system. Also, I made the executive decision to lower Mannone to a 4 based on that pub-league goal he conceded.)

Mannone 4, Santos 5, Vermaelen 6, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 6 (Gnabry 6), Podolski 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A [Arshavin 6]), Cazorla 6, Gervinho 6, Giroud 6