Starring roles for Lewis Grabban and Gary O’Neil at Norwich City – who’d have thought it?
09:45 05 December 2015
Although “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” is the better known philosophical conundrum, “if an unpopular striker plays well and scores a vital goal can I still argue that he shouldn’t have been picked?” seemed to be the one exercising the minds of several phone-in callers post-Arsenal, writes Robin Sainty.
While none of us expected to see Lewis Grabban, inset, leading the line on Sunday, Alex Neil doesn’t usually get many things wrong, and so it proved again. While Cameron Jerome or Dieumerci Mbokani would have offered more of an aerial challenge to the walking lighthouse that is Per Mertesacker, Grabban’s greater mobility, intelligent runs and ability to pull central defenders into wide areas and create space inside caused Arsenal increasing discomfort as the game wore on and City had more and more possession.
It was an excellent return, capped by a well-taken goal, and showed that Grabban can still contribute to this team, despite the run-in with Neil after his Rotherham disappearing act. In fact, it would be hard to criticise any player in yellow and green as the recent defensive durability was finally combined with a genuine attacking threat that Arsenal had to work increasingly hard to resist, with only Petr Cech’s brilliance denying City a winner as Gabriel’s misdirected header seemed destined for his own net.
While Arsenal’s goal came from a litany of errors in which four City players could be considered culpable, the way in which the home side took the game by the scruff of the neck thereafter was exhilarating and, particularly when compared to the weekend capitulations by Aston Villa and Newcastle, suggested the Canaries have more than enough fire left in their bellies, despite a largely barren couple of months.
The key to that has to be the manager and the belief that his players have in him. With the exception of the Newcastle game it would be hard to find fault with any of Neil’s game plans and he must have felt like banging his head against a wall as his side gifted Arsenal a lead. However, the response that the setback engendered from his players would have delighted him as much as it clearly rocked the visitors who, in the immortal words of Corporal Jones, clearly “didn’t like it up ‘em”.
As a regular critic of referees I must take this opportunity to praise Jon Moss’ acceptance of a reasonable degree of physicality which was to City’s advantage, even if it sometimes frustrated us home fans when decisions didn’t go the way of the Canaries. While he didn’t always get it right, he allowed the game to flow and seemed, unusually for a Premier League referee, to realise that the fans hadn’t paid to watch him strutting about the pitch; Mark Clattenburg take note.
One final word of praise must go to Gary O’Neil, who is emerging game by game as a real leader on the pitch and was quick to get in and defuse a potential flashpoint after Alexis Sanchez ended up in the photographers’ pit. His experience is proving invaluable.
This performance and result will have given City’s confidence a huge shot in the arm and with Watford making heavy weather of beating an awful Villa side who had more than enough chances to win, the stage is set for a cracking game today.
Watford don’t concede too many goals at home, but they don’t look likely to blow a team away either (cue 4-4 draw) so I suspect City will again look to be compact and play on the break. If that’s what is needed to get three points I, for one, have no objections.