Arsenal v Norwich: Well, it’s a start !

Sitting in the stands on Saturday was a nerve-jangling affair.

Among the crowds of fellow fans, the tension was more palpable, the mood more on edge, the sense of nervousness more profound. You experience all of those things while watching on a screen, of course, but the feeling is intensified in person as the rollercoaster of emotion is experienced collectively.

As John and Jane Smith in the seat next door flinch, so you flinch.

And seldom has a game felt quite so tense as the visit of Norwich at the weekend. In truth, it was a match we should ultimately have won comfortably but we had to settle for a single-goal win on the day.

A win is a win, naturally, but I think we would all have been far happier if it was a win made certain long before the 94th minute.

This was a match Arsenal dared not lose and that feeling permeated from Row Z right down to the pitch. As it was, the opening 20 minutes were pretty good for Mikel Arteta’s men and it felt like it was only a matter of time before the lead was ours but, credit to Norwich, they squeezed the game into the middle third, pushed their back line up high, and forced Arsenal to play through – something they largely struggled to do in the first half.

Aside from a few decent breaks in the opening 45, Norwich didn’t offer much in attack but Arsenal’s own lack of end product certainly caused jitters. The fact that we hadn’t scored a Premier League goal going into Saturday would have come as little surprise to someone watching for the first time and it wasn’t really until the arrival of Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe in the second half that we really assumed control.

That we started with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sambi Lokonga in central midfield may have had something to do with that, in fairness.

Once we had scored our opener, the team seemed to settle a little but we really should have taken the chance to put a few more past Tim Krull. Though the big keeper did make some presentable saves, the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Smith Rowe and Saka will be disappointed they spurned chances to add to the lead.

In the end, it didn’t matter but, on another day, a lapse of concentration could have proved costly.

On a positive note, our back line looked vastly more comfortable than it has done in weeks. Ben White and Gabriel were solid and distributed the ball well, Kieran Tierney was Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu had an excellent debut at right back. As well as twice going close to scoring, the Japan international was dominant in the air and alert defensively too. There was a lot to like about his performance and that of his fellow defenders.

Aaron Ramsdale, surprisingly picked ahead of Bernd Leno, was confident with the ball at his feet – if a little cocky – and unhurried under pressure. He may find himself in and out of the team this season as fortunes fluctuate but it was an encouraging performance from the youngster on his home debut.

The other big positive of the day was another goal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who now has four goals to his name this season. After the trevails of his 2020/21 campaign, that’s an encouraging sign and hopefully something to build on in the important weeks ahead.

All things considered, it was a much-needed win for Arteta and our season is up and running at last. It’s vital that we take confidence from this performance into next weekend’s trip to Burnley, who are certain to make it a bruising encounter.

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