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Norwich vs Arsenal | Gunners'...
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Norwich vs Arsenal | Gunners' toughest transition is just that: Transition

Raf Diallo
Raf Diallo

03:00 2 Dec 2019

Try this Arsenal equation for size: Chambers + Mustafi + Luiz + Kolasinac. 

There's no need to give away the answer. But one thing's for sure, it won't be zero AKA a clean sheet!

As soon as interim manager Freddie Ljungberg named that back-four for the trip to Norwich, it was clear Arsenal wouldn't be keeping a clean sheet.

Arsenal legend Lee Dixon said as much on NBCSN when he spoke about the Gunners' performance after a 2-2 draw in which they were more than fortuitous to escape with a point.

I may have been a tad hyperbolic on Twitter midway through Sunday's match:

Defensively Suspect

But at the same time, all four players have had their struggles defensively. While Kolasinac is built like a burly centre-back, his defensive positioning as a left-back is suspect.

Luiz needs no introduction, although his ability and vision on the ball cannot be questioned. He's also been more reliable when he's in a back-three rather than four across his career.

Mustafi has been a lightning rod for criticism and had become peripheral. Chambers too has spent more recent times away from the club on loan.

All four can be competent when fielded alongside more reliable defenders. But the quartet together was a recipe for trouble.

That being said, one would have expected a new manager bounce in the wake of Unai Emery's departure.

And it seemed Arsenal were doing just that in the first 15-20 minutes at Carrow Road. They had pinned Norwich into their own half, without necessarily creating a whole host of chances.

Devastating Transition

Arsenal have been technically proficient since Arsene Wenger revolutionised the club in the late 1990s. But the Gunners of his early reign were a mix of technical excellence and devastating transitions. It was when he switched from that to a possession-centric team that his killer instinct became his and the club's kryptonite.

From about 2007-08 onwards, Arsenal have been vulnerable when other teams run at them in transition. Because they attack in numbers but are less urgent in getting back to support their defence, huge gaps are left down the channels and in front of the centre-back pairing. Wenger never solved that issue, Emery didn't either and Ljungberg has experienced that in his first game.

Once Norwich weathered the early pressure, they cut through Arsenal time and again in transition. The first Canaries goal is an example. A simple ball finds Teemu Pukki in acres of space. Arsenal's midfield do not press the passer and they are also ambling back rather than busting a gut to close the space.

In fairness to Granit Xhaka, he does make an effort to get back. But it's all too lethargic and Pukki has time to receive the pass, turn back, spin back towards goal and fire a deflected shot beyond Bernd Leno.

Turning the defence

Norwich's second goal is another break up-field. The pass down the left channel to Onel Hernandez is simple and effective.

The Cuban simply gallops acres into the free space as Pukki runs parallel. Arsenal's defence again find themselves caught in transition, their Achilles Heel being when they have to turn heel and face back towards their own goal. Hernandez plays a simple ball into Todd Cantwell and the 21-year-old shows composure to find the bottom corner. Xhaka is the midfield player looking to close the space from behind but gets there too late.

Of course, there is a case of risk and reward. Arsenal's midfield are trying to break down the opposition, so there is a risk that some of them will be marooned up-field if they lose possession. But that's where a level of organisation needs to come in to bring more balance and a positional sense. If one player pushes forward, another must have the wherewithal to cover the space that could open up.

But time and again over a generation, Arsenal have struggled with that aspect. Norwich should have punished them more severely for those shortcomings in transition. Indeed, between the 59th and 65th minute, the Cananries produced a catalogue of chances while breezing into open spaces. Ljungberg's side survived. But better teams would not be so forgiving.

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Read more about

Arsenal Freddy Ljungberg Norwich Off The Ball Raf Diallo Unai Emery

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