Here in Montreal, we just got hit with a freak snowstorm last night, so it was a sunny but slushy walk to Champs Sports Bar this morning. Still, I was feeling optimistic before the game, since we were in striking distance from the top four (our trophy).
Arsène Wenger made three changes to the starting XI today, adding Vermaelen (Mertesacker), Gibbs (Monreal), and Wilshere (Rosicky) to the lineup. Per had picked up a red card toward the end of the West Brom match, and Rosicky had hamstring issues. Monreal was a healthy scratch. Since it was only Norwich (4 points above the relegation zone), it was a good opportunity to re-introduce Wilshere and Gibbs.
Unfortunately, the new starters did not make an impact. They’ll need more playing time to get back into game shape. The whole team looked sluggish, not like a team who were hungry for a win. It should come as no surprise to Arsenal fans that Michael Turner scored on a set piece, putting the Canaries up 1-0 early in the second half. He went forward for an easy header, unmarked by anyone.
Wenger, who normally waits until the 70th minute to make substitutions, brought on Walcott and Podolski just at the 60 minute mark. The impact was felt immediately, as Walcott made some nice runs down the right side, and Podolski nearly scored.
There will probably be a lot of pixels shed over the “controversial” penalty awarded to the Arsenal, but the replay clearly shows Kamara pulling Olivier Giroud down by his shirt in the box. The ever reliable Arteta scored on the penalty kick, drawing the Gunners level at 1-1.
The Ox entered the game at the 80-minute mark, and there were too many speedy threats for Norwich to handle. We scored two quick goals, and stole the game 3-1.
The positives: the team demonstrated again that they will fight for 90+ minutes, even if they’re down a goal. Yes, they were inconsistent all season, but they do have tremendous team spirit. It was nice to see Podolski back in action; I’d prefer to see a front three of Podolski-Giroud-Walcott, with the Ox available on the bench.
The negatives: it was Wilshere’s first game back after injury, so he was not 100%. Hopefully he’ll be ready to battle against Everton on Tuesday. Gervinho was back to his old self, making inexplicable passes to nobody. He also had a heavy touch on a clear breakaway chance. Cazorla was invisible today, and Ramsey made no impact.
Just six weeks ago, we lost to the Sp**s and dropped to 7 points behind them in the league table. Since then, the Gunners have won every game (in all competitions), defeating Bayern Munich (!), Swansea, Reading, West Brom and Norwich.
With six games remaining, our run-in looks like this:
16 April: Everton (H)
20 April: Fulham (A)
28 April: Man Utd (H)
4 May: QPR (A)
12 May: Wigan (H)
19 May: Newcastle (A)
With the exception of Man U, these are all winnable matches. On the other hand, the Sp**rs have a tougher run-in, with Chelsea, ManCity and Stoke away. Chelsea have Tott, Man U, and Everton, not to mention FA Cup and Europa League games. So I’m cautiously optimistic.
What do you think about the run-in? Let us know on our Facebook page.