The Tuckster’s match report on City’s terrific first win of the season against Arsenal…
After the recent hammerings at the hands of Chelsea and Liverpool, the prospect of a visit from an in-form Arsenal side looked pretty daunting.
On the positive side, Chris Hughton had had the best part of two weeks to try to restore some pride in the Canaries and shore up a leaky looking defence.
The side that started at Chelsea was tinkered with in that Michael Turner replaced Leon Barnett in central defence and Jonny Howson made way for the return of Antony Pilkington.
Once again, Hughton would play a 4-5-1 formation that seems to have become a fashionable way to play across Europe in recent months.
Chelsea play with a forward three in midfield of Hazard, Oscar and Mata, supporting Torres as the lone striker. Mikel and Ramires have provided the steel to cover the defence.
City had Bennett, Hoolahan and Pilkington supporting Holt with Johnson and Tettey providing the muscle.
The game started with plenty of possession for Arsenal and this would be a pattern throughout the match.
Arsenal moved the ball very nicely but did very little with it. Podolski hit a shot fiercely across goal early on but that was about it really. Norwich were compact and resilient in front of their own goal and it seemed that when the Gunners did try to move the ball forward they often lost it which resulted in a swift counter attack.
Pilkington`s return to the side was very welcome and he gave Jenkinson a tough match with his direct runs and close control. One of these runs resulted in him hitting a long shot just wide of Mannone`s post, early on.
Much was made of Santi Cazorla before the match and having watched him over the last few weeks I can see why. He is a compact player with a low centre of gravity and terrific control and vision. He would obviously be a threat but was well shackled by Johnson and Tettey throughout.
Johnson took a yellow card when Cazorla allowed the ball to run past him which resulted in the Arsenal player being trimmed out by Johnson who swept his legs away – no arguments there.
Norwich continued to nullify the Gunner`s play and the ball fell to Tettey in the 19th minute. He was 25 yards out from goal and sent a fierce drive at Mannone.
The young keeper couldn`t hold it and the ball spilled out to Holt who had anticipated the chance. It was a simple finish and City were one nil to the good.
Santos was playing Holt on side and he had two yards head start on Mertesecker to reach the ball.
Before the match kicked off, this seemed an unlikely development – especially for most of the country`s press as well as those Arsenal forum fans who seemed to think that they only need turn up to claim the points.
A few minutes later, Turner had a glorious chance when his free header from a Pilkington corner went just wide. That should`ve been two nil at half time.
As usual, at half time the crowd were entertained by the crossbar challenge.
This week`s competitors were struggling as the City subs passed footballs and generally warmed up behind them. As they were doing this, Steve Morison took a cheeky shot himself from about 25 yards out and duly hit the bar!
“That`s how you do it” said the man on the microphone. Moments later one of the competitors slipped and fell on his backside, covering his jeans in mud – “And that`s not how you do it” came the response from the mike man. This week`s winner? Steve Morison.
The second half kicked off in a similar fashion with Arsenal having a lot of possession. Their best chance came when Ruddy could only palm Jenkinson`s cross out in front of goal and Giroud`s hook shot went wide.
City were still the best bet for another goal though. Wes Hoolahan suddenly became a ball winning midfielder with numerous tough challenges that sent him away and sparked more counter attacks.
One of these resulted in Wes being booked after he put the ball in the net after the whistle had blown.
On another occasion Bennett showed poor decision making when he put the ball to his right as he advanced towards goal but Wes had gone to the other side.
One of the features of the match was the unusual way that the Gunners dealt (or tried to deal) with Grant Holt.
Whenever a goal kick was to be taken, Mertesecker would mark Holt with Arteta standing right in front of Holt, sandwiching the City striker. Wenger cited Holt as a threat before the game and warned his side about him. I`ve never seen this tactic used on Holt before. It was quite extraordinary to see and showed that they clearly feared his aerial ability.
As it turned out, Holt should have doubled his tally when he robbed Vermaelen near the half way line and used his electric pace (ahem) to steam towards goal.
He had plenty of time and was accompanied by Wes. He looked up and I assumed he`d hit it hard across the keeper but he didn`t. He tried some sort of chip that ended up being an easy take for Mannone – he got a mouthful from Wes for wasting the chance.
Ruddy had a fairly straight forward match and took plenty of catches and easy takes. His most worrying moment came in injury time when he had to dive low to his left to hold Arteta`s shot.
And that was about it. Norwich were tight, strong and worked their socks off. No-one would`ve been surprised if the score had been 2 or even 3 nil.
Arsenal were good in possession and had plenty of it but their forward play was poor. Cazorla was well shackled and although he looked good at times his impact was limited.
Arteta was the driving force from midfield but could do little to make the front three much of a threat to Ruddy`s goal.
Wenger tried to change things by replacing Podolski with Oxlade-Chamberlain on 65 minutes. The Ox had one surging run which was stopped by the excellent Seb Bassong. He was injured in the challenge and the substitute was subbed just nine minutes after coming on. Arshavin replaced him but was completely ineffective.
I`ve said before that for us to beat teams like Arsenal, we have to play at 100% and hope the opposition have an off day – that happened here.
Norwich were superb and deserve all the credit for a professional display and carrying out the manager`s game plan, perfectly.
Hughton had clearly realised that Arsenal have struggled to deal with teams that have played in such a tight, controlled way in front of their own goal this season.
The formation here was interesting and worked a treat. Tettey and Johnson were superb in breaking up the play and moving the ball on. Johnson seemed to be in the way as every cross came into the City box during the second half.
Pilkington and Hoolahan were a constant threat going forward and although some of Bennett`s offensive decision making wasn`t the best, he also worked very hard.
None of the City players had a bad game. Bassong won man of the match but that accolade could have gone to almost anybody – such were the performance levels.
This result was fully deserved and a perfect tonic for our first win of the season. It should set us up nicely to go to Villa next week and a meeting with our old hero, Paul Lambert.
Lambert has now fallen from grace as far as the City faithful are concerned and to quote Kevin Keegan “I`d love it if we beat them, love it!”