Category Archives: Norwich

Szczęsny’s 15 sheets in the wind…

Like many of you, I was a bit confused and even disappointed to see that Łukasz Fabiański got the nod over Szczęsny against Norwich, assuming that it would deny Szcz a chance at the Golden Glove. Before the match, he had kept the same number of clean sheets as Chelsea’s Petr Čech but had played more matches, which would hand the award to Čech. However, according to the Premier League’s official twitter account, Čech and Szcz will share the award.

Once I got over my befuddlement, I thought I had come to grips with the decision. After all, an award like this one would might inflate Szczęsny’s ego, and for as much as keepers thrive on confidence, Szczęsny if anything suffers a surfeit of it, so much so that he needed a benching last season to remind him that he’s not irreplaceable and that he must work to earn and keep the #1 spot. He’s been splendid since his return, although there have been a few moments to remind him and us that he’s still learning. I saw this more-recent demotion as another nudge from Arsène that, for as good as he’s become, he’s not at the level on the pitch that he assumes he is in his mind.

Past that, I wondered if Arsène was tipping his hat to Čech, a world-class keeper who arguably deserves the recognition and award more than Szcz does. The man missed Chelsea’s last three matches after injuring his shoulder against Atletico Madrid, and he might very well have earned the award had he faced Norwich or Cardiff. I wouldn’t put it past Arsène to pull a move like this, even if it did benefit Chelsea. Then again, it might be a clever little jibe if Chelsea can only muster up one individual award while Arsenal come through to win the FA Cup. Time will tell. Thanks to Čech, at least Chelsea won’t finish the season empty-handed. Aha. Ha. I promise that will be the only attempt at humor for the rest of the column.

More seriously, though, it turns out that, once again, I have little or no idea what I’m talking about. I know so little, in fact, that I don’t know if  I know little or nothing. It’s a bit of a catch-22. It turns out that Szcz does get to share the Golden Glove, which comes as a surprise to me as I was under the impression that the award could only go to one person. Perhaps Arsène knew ahead of the match that Szcz and Čech would share the award. This would negate the previous suggestion that Szcz was demoted to make sure he didn’t get too big for his britches, but it would make sense as Arsène considers the FA Cup final. Having already stated that Fabiański would play the final, it would be important to give him a warm-up even if Norwich didn’t test him very much. It’s now a month since Fabiański faced Wigan, and even if the Golden Glove were to slip through Szcz’s fingers, certainly the FA Cup means more to the squad than the individual award.

Some are licking their chops at the prospect of facing Hull, who seem to be sinking faster than the Titanic—winless in their last five, it would be easy to assume that they’ll keel over before halftime on Saturday. The freedom that flows from that assumption means that Hull can play without pressure or worry while we fight to overcome not just them but a looonnnggg trophy-drought, not to mention trying to banish a fair few ghosts of past debacles against lower sides. At least Hull’s name doesn’t start with B.

With Fabiański again looking sharp on Sunday, we have to feel that the match is in good hands. This is a keeper who has earned two Man of the Match awards from (against Norwich and Bayern), came up with massive saves against Wigan in the shoot-out, and hasn’t lost an FA Cup match yet. If there’s one complaint to dredge up, it’s that he hasn’t kept a clean sheet in the competition since facing Tottenham in the 3rd round. I’m sure he’ll do his best to set things right on Saturday. Should we bring home the Cup, Arsène’s decision may well prove Solomonic: Szcz gets his award, Fab gets his, and the club claims silverware to cap off the season. Not bad. Not bad at all…

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Norwich 0-2 Arsenal: Jenkinson gets a pornogol!

Just when you thought a goal couldn’t be more sublime, more stunning, more scintillating than the one that Jack Wilshere delivered against Norwich back in October, along comes no less than Carl Jenkinson to go one better. In a sequence similar to the one that saw Cazorla, Giroud, and Wilshere team up for a breath-taking sequence of touches, Jenkinson scored his first-ever goal for Arsenal and celebrated in a style befitting the moment. Okay, so it wasn’t quite at the same level, coming as it did after Podolski’s shot squibbed through a defender’s legs before falling to Jenkinson’s feet, and no, his finish may have lacked the cool nonchalance of Wilsheres, butdammit—he scored. Carl Jenkinson, he of the left foot that’s good for little more than standing on, scored. Anyone who tells you it matters little in a match in which both squads’ positions were settled and that the goal therefore doesn’t matter in the grand scheme can take a flying leap.

They’re the kind of people who, when sitting next to you as you’re about to stuff your face with something gooey, delectable, and loaded with calories ask (in a voice that clearly indicates that it’s not a question forthcoming but an accusation, indictment, and verdict), “are you really going to eat that?” Prigs. There’s a special place in hell for the likes of them, and it’s full of overcooked broccoli and joyless, dispassionate music, the kind that you can only clap for politely when it’s over.

We’ll have none of that here, thank you very much. Carl’s goal may have lacked the nuanced beauty of Wilshere’s, and it may have had little impact on our season or even the match in which it occurred, but this here is an Arsenal man through and through. His celebration tells you all that you need to know about why the goal matters. The man is exultant. Overcome. Orgasmic. What the finish itself lacked for style, the follow-up delivered for passion. On his face is pure joy, divested entirely from how the goal might actually matter. It’s an everyman’s goal. When each of us dreams of playing for Arsenal, dreams of scoring for Arsenal, we probably conjure up something more similar to Ramsey’s coolly delivered volley, or Wilshere’s pornogol. The reality is much closer to Jenkinson’s. For the vast majority of us, if some bizarre series of unfortunate events led to us getting a call-up, this the goal we would score.

So much the better, I say. Who among us could deliver a volley like Ramsey’s or a perfectly-weighted pass like Özil? No one, unless they’re lying or lucky—and, by lucky, I mean that they got three wishes, used each wish to wish for 1,000 more wishes, then condensed those 3,000 into one wish again, and wished for the ability to score or pass like that.

If I’m implying that Jenkinson himself may lack the quality to play in this squad—after all, I’m equating him with the rest of us—so be it. There are open and nagging questions about his ability to play for Arsenal. Some will seize on those questions to nag and gnaw away. I prefer to see it as a potential break-through. He’s come close on a number of occasions only to see other, more-illustrious teammates seize the moment. For him to finally make good on offense is a good thing even if he’s still a bit raw. At 22, he’s made just 47 appearances for Arsenal and is only a few years removed from League One play. There’s room to grow. The fall-off from Sagna to him is of course massive, and one measly goal does little to close that gap, but its timing could hardly be better. With the FA Cup final to play, Jenkinson should see the opportunity that presents itself. Yes, he’s scored, but there’s more to being a right-back than scoring, of course. He’s made the most of his chance on the day. Can he use the summer to prove that there’s more to him than that? The possibilities for inspiration and motivation know no end.

For whoever we might sign—let’s be clear, we’re going to need two right-backs, no matter how much Jenkinson develops over the summer—Jenkinson knows and is Arsenal. He’s followed the club since he was a lad, and he’s made good on a childhood dream that many of us share. He might not ever become the kind of right-back that we’ll remember through the ages, but, for this one, brief moment, he’s shown us what it’s like to live the dream.

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Sagna’s swan-song…or has it already been sung?

What an odd, empty Saturday. No Prem matches to pass the time. In their absence, I caught up on some thumb-twiddling and mumbelty-peg while my offspring begged me to interact with them. Without any proper football to watch, however, and with Sunday’ clash with Norwich lacking any real drama beyond Szczesny’s quest for a Golden Glove, it’s hard to summon the requisite energy. The match feels more like a friendly, maybe even a Sunday league game. At each end, it’s likely that we’ll see both squads rotate pretty heavily, further fueling the idea that its outcome matters little if at all. Off-the-pitch issues rise to the surface, chief among them the increasing likelihood that Bacary Sagna will leave this summer if his own words are to be believed.

PSG? It’s a little bit that way. East of here.

In fact, we may have seen the last of Sagna already unless Carl Jenkinson is otherwise unfit or unavailable. Sagna did well against West Brom, but that might be his swan-song. Without trying to sound disloyal or callous, if he’s already preparing for his next move, then so too should we. He certainly speaks like a man with more than one foot out the door:

I am out of contract, as everyone knows. I still consider myself as an Arsenal player at present. But actually we had a small problem to agree and I do not think [I will] stay at Arsenal at the end of the season.

It’s a pity that he and the club couldn’t agree to terms, as I would have liked very much to see him see out his career at Arsenal. He’s among the longest-serving members of the squad, and his experience and understanding of Arsenal, the Prem, and the position would make him a valuable mentor to Jenkinson and whoever else might be brought in (Aurier?). Still, it’s hard to refute or criticize his apparent desire for one last, large contract, not to mention a crack at silverware. It is hard to stomach his apparent interest in moving to league-rival. Yes, Man City, can give him the pay-rise he seeks and likely silverware as well, but he’d become a squad-player, sitting behind Zabaleta week in and week out, and that’s a demotion that just doesn’t sit well with me. I’d much rather play than watch. Then again, I never won anything as a player, so maybe I’m just making a virtue of necessity.

If Sagna’s set on leaving, well, we might as well say our fare-wells. Jenkinson, you’re up.

If nothing else, starting Jenkinson avoids the awkwardness of Sagna relive the re-break of his leg, which occurred last May when Norwich’s Bradley Johnson appeared to stomp it. Sagna was able to get up to rejoin play, but when he went to trap the ball down, he immediately collapsed, holding that same right leg. Whether Johnson stomped him accidentally or deliberately is another question for another day. Before that day arrives, it seems like the best thing to do is to hand the position over to Jenkinson. He’ll become our right-back, if only by default, unless and until we can bring in another. He may not be good enough to our full-time, first-choice right-back but has done tolerably well when called upon. If nothing else, the match is so low-stakes that little can go wrong. If he acquits himself, splendid. If he flounders, all the more reason to target a right-back in the summer window.

Back to Sagna. After all, there is one last match to play: the FA Cup final. Does Sagna play? On one hand, it might be a fitting send-off; should we win, it would provide a fine capstone to a very good, at-times great, career. Then again, is it churlish to suggest that his imminent departure should prevent him from fully sharing in the spoils? It’s not as if he’s pulling a Nasri. Even after he leaves, he’ll be remembered fondly for his years of toil. However, ambivalence best-describes my feelings here. Unlike Fabianski, who will also likely leave this summer, Sagna has been the number-one player at his position for almost the entirety of his time here. Fabianski, on the other hand, has had to watch as Szczesny has eclipsed him for club and country. I have no qualms with him playing the FA Cup final. For better or worse, it’s become “his” competition. With Sagna, however, I’m not sure where I stand. Would winning the FA Cup commemorate Sagna’s seven years of service, or should it announce the arrival of Jenkinson’s tenure?

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79 points. That’s enough to win the Prem…in 1998.

An improbable win. A 17-goal margin of victory. Help from an unlikely, erstwhile foe. If these factors come together, the squad will climb to a finish that will dramatically alters its fortunes, its finances, and its fixtures. I speak, of course, of Norwich. If West Brom lose to Stoke and if the Canaries can defeat Arsenal by 17 goals, they’ll climb out of relegation and remain in the Prem for another season. Arsenal share a similar hope for climbing to third, needing Chelsea to lose at Cardiff while winning by a raft of goals. In other words, the ink seems to be drying on each club’s penciled-in position. Mixed metaphor, I know, but I painted myself into a corner and…right. Let’s move on.

Like us, Norwich certainly had designs on finishing higher than they currently sit. Their summer business looked shrewd if not ambitious, and they had a right to look forward to building on last season’s 11th-placed finish. Their slump back down towards the Championship has been as relentless as it’s been prolonged, and it’s hard to imagine them fighting as hard as they’d need to stave off that relegation. None of this should suggest that we can waltz in on take three points just because we’re Arsenal; for as consistent as we’ve been against the bottom of the table, there’s always a slip-up lurking. For those who might still scoff, consider that Norwich might consider themselves unlucky to have drawn with Chelsea when they could just as easily have won.

With us likely keeping at least one eye on next week’s FA Cup final, after all, we may fall guilty to mailing this one in. With the idea that our positions on the table are all but cemented, Arsène may very well choose to rotate players, and I’m all for that. As nifty as it might be to reach 79 points and blather on about this as “the highest fourth-place point total ever“, it just doesn’t really add up to much. Maybe it would if we could invent some kind of TARDIS that transports us back in time to when 79 points was good enough to win the Prem, and then we could, well, win the Prem with 79 points. Then again, that would mean we travel back to 1998 to defeat Arsenal, and I’m not sure whether the space-time continuum would tolerate that. It might lead to some weird, Bizarro-like alternate reality in which Norwich are hoping to finish third while we fight to stay up. Worse, we might arrive in 1998 only for our teenage-mother to fall in love with us, forcing our siblings to slowly disappear from a photo until our dad decks Biff with one punch and we magically learn to play “Johnny B. Goode” on the guitar. Or something. The point here is to practice that guitar because you just never know.

Back to the Canaries, it’s hard not to use words like “rotate” or “tune-up” or “cakewalk” without denigrating them. However, it has just never quite come together for them this year, and for whatever role pride might play in helping them on Sunday, there’s just not enough there to slow us even if we do send out a few back-benchers. Just about the only real drama from our end comes from whether or not Szczesny can keep a clean-sheet in order to finish the season with 17. If so, he wins the Golden Glove. If not, Cech wins it by virtue of having needed fewer matches to earn his 16. Against a squad that has failed to score in five of its last six, that’s not asking for too much, is it?

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Will Wilshere return to score another wonder-goal against Norwich?

We’re all thinking it. Somewhere, in the backs of our minds, maybe even deep in our loins, we sense it. Norwich. Wilshere. The goal. That goal. The one that saw three Gunners make eight touches before the ball danced its way into the back of the net as many as seven Canaries standing as if transfixed, hypnotized, mesmerized…it was a goal that epitomizes so much of what Wenger has preached in his time at Arsenal. The tight passing, the quick movement, the deft touches… the goal was so stunning from beginning to end that many among us didn’t even realize what had happened until after the fact. The entire sequence, from the moment that Cazorla makes the pass to Wilshere to the moment that Wilshere receives Giroud’s flick, takes no more than three seconds, four at most, but it’s become one of the most memorable and stunning sequences I’ve ever seen. With suggestions from Arsène that Wilshere might be available for Sunday, could we see a pornogol sequel?

To be honest, no. As breath-taking as that sequence was, it may have been a once-in-a-lifetime event. Rarely will you ever see such a symphony of touches culminate in a goal. There’s just too much that has to go just right. Three heel-flicks in a row? Are you kidding me? That wasn’t football. That was a work of art. We’ve come close to replicating it on a number of occasions (Rosicky against Sunderland, any number of attempts against Newcastle…), but it might be too much to ask of the lads to deliver such an opus again. If anything Norwich will do dig in and do their best to deny us any opportunity, defending deep, clogging the lanes, and otherwise making things difficult.

Then again, with little to play for, having been relegated, Norwich might play with an attitude that vacillates between blasé and devil-may-care, displaying a reckless abandon or nonchalance that might invite similarly scintillating scoring chances. Truth be told, neither squad has anything to play for. If anything, we might see a bit of a lacklustre match, with Arsène opting to rest a few key players ahead of the FA Cup final next weekend. On the other hand, players do need a bit of time on the pitch to find their rhythm, and if this means that Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil, and Cazorla can partner up, if only for a half, well, then, who’s to complain? Norwich have limped towards the finish of the season, although they have put a scare into more than a few opponents of late, laboring to a draw against Chelsea (*cough*) and losing narrowly to Liverpool, so it would be a mistake to assume that we can simply stroll in and summon another masterpiece to match the one in October.

Without making too much of it, think back to the extended sequence: Wilshere collects the ball just outside our own box and drives up the pitch, finding Gibbs coming up the flank, who then plays forward to Cazorla. Cazorla jinks his way towards the middle of the pitch, and it’s on. There was a mind-meld there, an unthinking, symbiotic awareness of each other that reached a pinnacle in that moment, and that awareness, just as much as any other element, was lost when injuries struck. It’s no wonder, then, that the return of key players has breathed new life into the squad.

Sunday’s match may not offer much in the way of drama, at least not in terms of the table or the title-chase, but it could very well offer a tantalizing appetizer for next season.

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