Ljungberg sees scale of task as Arsenal rescue point at Norwich
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit back twice at Carrow Road in Swede’s first game
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gestures to the crowd as he celebrates his penalty with team-mate Alexandre Lacazette during the Premier League match at Carrow Road. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images
Norwich City 2 Arsenal 2
Freddie Ljungberg smiled as he took his seat in the dugout and, after vacating it, might have been excused a roll of the eyes. Arsenal responded to their new interim head coach’s presence, equalising twice through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and, at least for a time, showing a greater appetite to play on the front foot than in the latter days of Unai Emery’s reign. But the major takeaway for Ljungberg will be that he has a huge job on his hands to turn things around. Norwich, who scored through Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell, would have won the game had it not been for some brilliant goalkeeping from Bernd Leno in the last half-hour and were rightly aggrieved at the twice-taken penalty that brought Arsenal’s first goal. By the end Arsenal were largely clinging on and the sense is that, much more than a new manager, they will need better players in order to improve significantly.
Ljungberg had promised not to “just go and smash things up“ on being given the keys to Arsenal’s china shop but his selection contained noteworthy tweaks. Shkodran Mustafi, once been ushered towards the exit door by Emery, was given his first league action of the season while Joe Willock, a protege from the Ljungberg’s academy-coaching days, started in midfield. Granit Xhaka, his reintroduction against Eintracht Frankfurt rendered a footnote by the furore surrounding Emery, also began in the centre. Aubameyang and Mesut Özil played either side of Alexandre Lacazette and one of the questions, as the teams lined up, was whether this blend could create the “happy footballers” Ljungberg believes are integral to success.
By half-time the emotions were more complicated and, if nothing else, what unfolded was confirmation that Ljungberg will not be able to change the fundamentals overnight. Arsenal had begun as if determined to shed the old regime’s shackles, taking the initiative and counting themselves unlucky not to lead within 10 minutes. It only took three for Lacazette, not quite striking the ball cleanly, to force a one-handed stop from Tim Krul as the ball threatened to bobble in. Shortly afterwards Mustafi beat Krul to a corner only for Onel Hernández to head off the line.
For a while the direction of travel was more or less one-way. Arsenal, moving the ball quickly and smartly, oozed purpose and came close again when Max Aarons did well to charge down an effort from Sead Kolasinac. Krul tipped away a Calum Chambers header, although the ball was heading across goal, and at that point Norwich’s sorties had generally involved a sole attacker marauding into the Arsenal back line’s clutches with little support.
That seemed to be the case again when Pukki received possession from Kenny McLean in a fairly innocuous-looking pocket of space. But Mustafi backed off, leaving him to a static David Luiz, and their hesitancy was sufficiently encouraging for Pukki to take aim. His 20-yard shot struck Mustafi and gave Leno no chance; it appeared that, if Ljungberg could not be lucky, he would have to be good.
But fortune soon swung his way in a protracted five-minute segment. Who needs an intriguing football narrative when VAR can make its usual tiresome bid for the headlines? Arsenal were rightly, via a video check, awarded a penalty for handball by Christoph Zimmermann and Aubameyang’s poor effort was saved by Krul to the goalkeeper’s right. But a further VAR investigation discovered Hernándezhad strayed a yard into the area as Aubameyang shaped to kick. The centre-forward was given a second chance and this time Krul dived the wrong way. It was, by the book, the correct call but the problem is that similar infringements will go unpunished several times a week. Carrow Road howled its frustration.
Their mood turned in first-half stoppage time. Hernández was allowed to proceed for 50 yards and pick out Cantwell, who had found space in the area. With Xhaka lumbering behind him, he had time to fade a neat finish around Krul and test Ljungberg’s team-talking capacity to the maximum.
Whatever he said bore fruit after 12 minutes largely spent in Norwich’s half. The second equaliser was scrappily conceived, Özil’s corner being flicked on by Calum Chambers and Mustafi seeing a volley blocked by Sam Byram, but emphatically finished by Aubameyang as the ball ran loose. Perhaps Arsenal would now break with a season’s habits and turn the screw in the final half-hour.
That was a naive thought, of course, and Norwich – always slick on the counter – promptly missed three glorious chances for a third. First McLean, bursting clear after an error by the below-par Xhaka, saw the whites of Leno’s eyes but also watched the keeper make a magnificent fingertip save. Then Cantwell sidefooted an inch wide and finally, after more fine work from the excellent Cantwell, Pukki twisted into a scoring position only for Leno to save with his legs.
For the first time in the match, Norwich had asserted a measure of genuine control. McLean’s free-kick was tipped wide and David Luiz snuffed out another sight of goal for Cantwell. Arsenal’s earlier zest had faded and Ljungberg made two changes, introducing Lucas Torreira and Bukayo Saka, to speed things up again.
A few sorties aside, nothing really changed. Norwich fruitlessly appealed for a handball in the box by Kolasinac late on and, in an intense spell of pressure, Byram shot wide before drawing another fine stop from Leno. For Ljungberg, the hard work starts now. – Guardian