Arsenal (0) 1 Norwich City (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 11th September 2021. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Albert Sambi Lokonga; Nicolas Pépé, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Thomas Partey, Alexandre Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe, Cédric Soares, Nuno Tavares, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (66 mins)
Yellow Cards: Ben White, Thomas Partey
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 52%
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
Fourth Official: Gavin Ward
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Mike Dean; AVAR Eddie Smart
Attendance: circa 60,000
Today is the day that we need to restart our season, and urgently too. We should forget the appalling results of August, the amount of money that has been spent on new players, and the wild and sometimes ridiculous opinions of all sections of the media. Thanks to the hiatus of the international week (which may just have been our saviour), we should start again with today’s match against Norwich City. Nothing else matters; the past is gone, the future has not happened yet, so all we have is today. So let’s just live in real time, on a match-by-match basis, and worry about our opponents as they arise. Best foot forward now, chaps, no messing around. Or else.
We started the match very much on the front foot, pressing the visitors into their own half. Gabriel and new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu were both unlucky not to score within the first ten minutes, as was Kieran Tierney and in both cases, Ben White (another new signing) was instrumental in assisting the two full backs in their goal attempts. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot from outside the Norwich City penalty area went narrowly past the post and just after a quarter an hour (and another narrowly missed header by Albert Sambi Lokonga), the visitors broke out and we had a close call when Max Aarons crossed the ball into our penalty area and thankfully the header by Kenny McLean went wide, which was a blessing. The match started to calm down and although the visitors were having their chances, and appeared to look more confident, our defenders managed to hold them at bay. Both Teemu Pukki and Kieran Dowell had their chances, but thankfully, our defence was able to block their shots before Aaron Ramsdale could spring into action. With just three minutes left of the first half, Max Aarons fouled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the subsequent free-kick, which was taken by Nicolas Pépé, went narrowly wide. On the cusp of the break, Kieran Tierney crossed the ball into the Norwich City penalty area, and Takehiro Tomiyasu’s superb volley went just over the bar, which was extremely unlucky.
And so the second half started, with both speculation and trepidation permeating the North London air in equal measure. Despite a couple of half-hearted goal attempts from the visitiors, we managed to regroup and apply pressure on the Canaries’ goal, and as in the opening stages of the previous half, our desire to score became more and more evident with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kieran Tierney being unlucky not to score. Almost pendulum-like, the match started to go back into the visitors’ favour with Norwich City winning possession quite easily in our half, and in a classic breakout movement, Bukayo Saka’s quick thinking saw his shot blocked by Brandon Williams just before Nicolas Pépé could pick up the rebound. So close. On the hour, Thomas Partey and Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Albert Sambi Lokonga and Takehiro Tomiyasu in order for us to push up to score; Ainsley Maitland-Niles dropped back to the right-back position in order to accommodate the substitutions. At last! A goal! Twenty-four minutes from the end of the match, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s right-footed shot from very close range ended up into the bottom left corner, after some sterling work by Nicolas Pépé. Although the visitors claimed the goal was offisde, the VAR check by Mike Dean at Stockley Park gave the green light for the goal to stand. Nothing like a goal to spark up a match, and within a few minutes, both teams had good chances to score, and the goalkeepers at either end made superb saves. With ten minutes of the match remaining, Cédric Soares replaced Ainsley Maitland-Niles in order to press up to finish the match; within a minute of the substitution, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came extremely close to scoring a second goal when he slid in to try to finish off a clever Nicolas Pépé cross, and as the match came to the final stages, the visitors started to look fatigued, and recognising this, we pressed their goal harder. Emile Smith-Rowe received a pass from Bukayo Saka, lost his marker and his clever shot went just inches wide. In injury time, Emile Smith-Rowe ran through and slotted an accurate pass to Nicolas Pépé, whose left-footed shot went narrowly wide. Norwich City started to wake up and although it looked a bit touch and go, we held on for our first win of the season.
Okay, it wasn’t brilliant, but it is a much-needed win, when all is said and done. The new boys all played well, Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka all played extremely well also. The match itself will not be remembered as a classic in any way, shape or description, but that is not the issue today. We desperately needed three points to kickstart our season and thankfully, that is exactly what happened. A better test will be next Saturday afternoon at Turf Moor when we meet Sean Dyche’s Burnley. Three points there, and that will give us a massive confidence boost going into the North London derby later in the month.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday, 18th September at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.