How Arsenal edged past Norwich- Tactical Points
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
3 points and that’s all that matters!! A single goal margin is perhaps the disappointment although chance creation was certainly not the issue.
With Partey and Smith-Rowe not fully fit, a rookie midfield of Lokonga and Maitland-Niles was the only available choice with the key test going to be how the midfield duo would fare without the ball.
For the first 25 minutes or so, things were far better without the ball than in previous games. Norwich were pinned back into the half with the high press with Arsenal’s new-look back four looking compact despite having only one training session together.
Norwich started to play through the press much easier as the midfield started to tire with too many loose touches loosening the home side’s grip of the game. Lokonga and Maitland-Niles seemed to drop off too much rather than coordinate, giving Norwich’s midfielders space around the box.
The passes between the lines were always an option as Saka and Odegaard found the spaces, but the lack of chances from these positions was frustrating to say the least. Having not scored a goal in the league coming into this game, confidence was perhaps lacking and an early goal could have changed things and sparked a much-bigger scoreline.
Maitland-Niles’s game was a mixed bag, much like his Arsenal career. He had a few eye-catching passes but was otherwise a bystander in a lot of Arsenal’s buildup with Sambi always looking to demand the ball and drive forward when the space was there. With Lokonga sitting deeper without the ball, the Englishman was guilty of dropping off too much or being passive in the press. Whether this is down to energy levels or something else remains to be seen.
The substitutions made the difference but it’s not really a surprise considering the calibre of players. The instant improvement in the dynamism of Arsenal’s attack is something visible, evident since Smith Rowe's debut back in December. In the deeper areas, Partey instantly won his duels, especially aerially and his characteristics are going to be crucial next weekend against a physical side like Burnley. The Ghanian is always sure of what to do with the ball while progressing it forward and showcased his quality. Arsenal need him to start next weekend to keep improving.
Odegaard playing in a deeper role with Saka hugging the left and Smith-Rowe being central is likely to be a formation while chasing games or to break down low-block sides but it would be surprising to see Arteta start a game this way.