Mesut Ozil

Norwich City holds sloppy Arsenal

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Arsenal needed two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to take a point from Norwich City at Carrow Road, a 2-2 draw which doomed the Gunners to their worst season start since 1975.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The draw comes in the first match after Arsenal fired Unai Emery, as interim boss Freddie Ljungberg oversaw another defensively-challenged performance.

Arsenal needed a number of sensational saves from Bernd Leno to get their point, which leaves them 8th with 19 points.

[ MORE: Ljungberg reacts ]

Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell scored for Norwich City, who sits 19th with their 11th point.


Three things we learned

1. Gunners defense invites Pukki and friends to party: Emery may be gone, but it didn’t instantly fix the Gunners’ defensive woes. Norwich City went ahead when Pukki used a clever change of direction to open up for a perfect Kenny McLean through ball, then watched as the Arsenal backs allowed him to turn and dribble to space for a shot that turned off Chambers and past Leno. The Cantwell goal wasn’t too different, and Bernd Leno was outstanding in denying what could’ve easily been a number of additional goals.

2. VAR denies Krul penalty save: Norwich City goalkeeper Tim Krul has been a penalty-stopping marvel for years, but he was denied his fourth season stop from the spot when VAR spotted his plant leg off the line before he saved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s effort. Don’t get us wrong: He left his line and this isn’t VAR’s fault as much as it’s the law. In some cases like this, it’s illogical to expect a keeper to hit the line every time unless you make him start inside the goal. Perhaps the idea is to make penalties more automatic, but it’s a tough but correct application from VAR that allowed Arsenal a brief respite.

EDIT: The call was apparently against Max Aarons, who entered the box before Aubameyang’s effort and was the first to touch the rebound. As you were.

3. Cantwell continues to raise profile: Norwich City’s 21-year-old midfielder collected his fourth goal of the season to go with two assists. Born 25 miles from Carrow Road, he’s averaging 1.3 key passes and 1.3 successful dribbles per game in helping the Canaries find, perhaps, their next James Maddison.

Man of the Match: Aubameyang — Saved penalty aside, the Gabonese goal collector gave the Gunners plenty to like (again) in scoring his 52nd and 53rd Arsenal goals (in 82 appearances).


It was mostly Arsenal early, though Onel Hernandez led a 17th minute charge that led to a hard shot directly to Bernd Leno.

Tim Krul produced more brilliance typical of his season with a flying slap of Calum Chambers‘ header.

That’s when Pukki finished Norwich’s lightning counter, calmly turning the ball onto his right foot for a shot that deflected past Leno.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The score line looked set to change within moments, as Mesut Ozil‘s spun free kick was slapped out of the air by Zimmermann.

Krul came off his line to best Aubameyang’s spot kick, and VAR didn’t let the nominal distance sway it: Aubameyang bagged the re-kick despite Krul’s obnoxious hypeman antics on the touch line.

Norwich retook the lead in the second minute of stoppage time, Cantwell scoring for the second-straight match.

Leno continues to perform well for Arsenal under siege, splaying to make a world-class save on McLean at the hour mark.

Watch Live: Norwich-Arsenal, Wolves-Sheffield United

Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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Freddie Ljunberg leads Arsenal into the first match of the post-Unai Emery Era, as the Gunners visit Carrow Road in one of two 9 a.m. ET kickoffs on Sunday in the Premier League.

Shkrodan Mustafi and Granit Xhaka start for the Gunners, with Mesut Ozil keeping Nicolas Pepe on the back line in a 4-3-3 (Watch live on NBCSN and online at NBCSports.com).

[ STREAM LIVE: Norwich-Arsenal | Wolves-Blades ]

Norwich gets help at the back, with captain Christoph Zimmermann back in the fold.

Wolves and Saints also kick off at 9, an NBC Sports Gold match with Top Five positioning on the line.

LINEUPS

Norwich City:

Arsenal:


Wolves:

Sheffield United:

Arsenal players react on social media to Emery’s firing

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After taking some time to digest the news, many Arsenal players went public on social media with their thoughts on Unai Emery’s Friday firing.

In general, most of the players, even those who preceded Emery but mainly the ones he signed to the club, showed their appreciation for his faith in them as players. The players lamented almost to a whole that they weren’t able to deliver for Emery. The near-universal support for Emery is interesting, considering that Arsenal was regressing as the season went on.

Could it be that this team doesn’t have the talent to content for the Premier League top four? Or was Emery’s tactical ideas too difficult for the players to execute? Either way, Emery clearly made an impression on many of the players. It remains to be seen how the Gunners respond to this on Sunday at Norwich City.

Here’s a sampling of some Arsenal player’s responses on Friday afternoon.

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Coach, Thank you for all that you have done for me, I would never be grateful enough. You made me grow up as a football player but also as a man. I have progressed enormously and you helped me to take many steps forward. If I reached those levels today it’s thanks to you and your huge work you have done for me. You are a great man and a great coach. I wish you a lot of happiness and success in your future projects. Thank you for everything Coach 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽 Coach Merci pour tout ce que vous avez fait pour moi, je vous en serai jamais assez reconnaissant. Vous m’avez tellement fait grandir en tant que footballeur mais aussi en tant qu’homme. Si j’ai atteint ce niveau aujourd’hui c’est grâce à vous et votre travail. J’ai énormément progressé et franchi de nombreux paliers. Vous êtes un grand homme et un très grand coach. Je vous souhaite pleins de bonheur et de succès dans vos futurs projets. Merci Coach 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽 @unaiemery_

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Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil had a – slightly -different post-Emery message.

Leicester City punishes sorry Arsenal

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Leicester City continued its fine home cooking with a straight-forward 2-0 defeat of unorganized Arsenal at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Foxes go second in the table with 26 points, a point more than Man City before the defending champs visit Liverpool on Sunday.

Arsenal is now eight points back of fourth place, sinking below fifth place Sheffield United on goal differential.


Three things we learned

1. Unai Emery‘s race is run: Yeah, it’s dangerous to make judgments on a week-to-week basis, but the Spaniard’s work at Arsenal has been tremendously disappointing. Opting for a 3-5-2 with Rob Holding, David Luiz, and Calum Chambers at the back, he demanded plenty from his midfield; Lucas Torreira and the usually strong Matteo Guendouzi failed to impress behind Mesut Ozil. He has no firm idea how to best deploy his talent, and again left Nicolas Pepe to rot on the bench while Leicester rang up a 2-0 lead.

2. Leicester onto something special, especially at home: There’s been luck along the way, but the Foxes have now taken 16 of 18 points at home during an unbeaten start to the season at King Power Stadium. Their proverbial tails are up and the style, freedom, and confidence of the opening goal tells you all you need to know about the vibe at KP this season. In the words of Arlo White… “Barnes… Tielemans… VARDY!!”

3. Leicester City built for style: If Rodgers’ Foxes are given room in the midfield, they are going to run through most teams. Arsenal opted to try and match the Foxes in fluidity and possession, and were unable to do so. Outdone in possession (52-48) and shots (19-8), Arsenal rarely looked prepared to challenge despite a couple early chances for Lacazette.

Man of the Match: Maddison will be the easy shout here, but Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi were magnificent in the center of the park. Any of the three works for us.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Alexandre Lacazette missed an early chance for Arsenal, while James Maddison won a dangerous free kick for the Foxes. It came to nothing, bounding past the far post.

Lacazette stabbed wide after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cried for a handball off a prone Wilfred Ndidi.

James Maddison skimmed a free kick off the top of the bar in the 42nd minute, as a rain-soaked pitch saw increasing moments of opportunity.

Vardy sliced Leicester into a 68th minute lead with his 11th goal of the season, the clinical end of a clever bit of passing from Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes to set up the veteran Englishman.

Bernd Leno stopped a Vardy rocket moments later, but Maddison gave Leicester a cushion when he drilled a low shot through the legs of Bellerin for 2-0 in the 75th.

Emery’s use of attackers may be his Arsenal downfall

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When the Premier League season began, many joked that Arsenal was built to try and outscore teams 3-2 each week over 38 weeks.

It was a nod to the Gunners’ extraordinary attacking prowess and limited defensive additions. Arsenal had signed three defenders in the summer, one who wouldn’t arrive until the following season (William Saliba*) and another who would miss some time with injury (Kieran Tierney).

The third was David Luiz.

So it isn’t surprising that the Gunners are still allowing goals. It is surprising that they are not scoring more, and perhaps a bit stunning that the expected goals table says that Unai Emery‘s men aren’t even hard luck victims.

Arsenal has scored 16 goals and allowed 15 through 11 match days, but the xG table says the North London outfit has actually finished a bit better their chances and been worse on the other end (15 xG for, 17 xGA).

Luiz has made several head scratching errors to go with his wonderful long passes and forays forward. He’s a player capable of both the ethereal and the tragic, not unlike Granit Xhaka, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a move across London.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset with the defense, of course, and it’s one thing if that anger is put at the board instead of Emery. The league-worst 7.7 interceptions per game points a bit to the tactics, but there’s no question the Gunners have made mistakes above field level even if the Laurent Koscielny exit to Bordeaux caught them by surprise.

But what should be damning is what Emery has been unable to do with an unbelievable batch of attackers. Given Nicolas Pepe to go with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the tactician has not been able to find a way to play them together. Breakout teens Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were both used over unused sub Pepe on Saturday despite the Ivorian not playing in the midweek League Cup loss to Liverpool.

Don’t get us wrong, both players are exciting pieces for the future, but the decision is so short-sighted (let alone that Emery put on Saka for Lucas Torreira with a one-goal lead and 17 minutes to play. Perhaps coincidental but no surprise tha it was 1-1 three minutes later).

Some if not many have argued that Pepe has been a disappointment since arriving in a mega money deal from Ligue 1, and the 24-year-old’s three goals and three assists in exactly 800 minutes in all competitions certainly aren’t eye-popping from a player who scored 22 and 11 in 3300 at Lille last season.

Yet Pepe is capable of the sensational, as evidenced by his pair of free kick goals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Europa League on Oct. 15. He’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (34) and is the 19th ranked player by SofaScore and 24th in WhoScored’s ratings. That’s the best of any Arsenal player, with Aubameyang 38th and 62nd according to both sites, respectively.

And stats say Pepe has been somewhat unlucky in PL play to boot, with one actual goal to go with 3 expected goals. His xG plus xA per contest is below only Lacazette and level with Aubameyang.

Arsenal is ninth in the PL in key passes, with 12.9 per game. Pepe’s 1.7 are behind only Mesut Ozil, whose sample size is two matches.

Look at this pass from Pepe to Lacazette between three bodies to set up Arsenal’s first goal in its memorable North London Derby comeback. It’s just one example, sure, and all players need time to integrate to a new league and culture, but not using a healthy Pepe for 180 minutes should never happen even with the five-pack of attackers.

*A silver lining for Arsenal fans: Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel is furious with his club for selling the 18-year-old Saliba, calling him the “best player” on the team. He’s coming, eventually, even if Real Madrid are reportedly trying to find a way to hijack the sale/loan.