Melissa Rudd: Different styles, but Norwich City 2020 is just as toothless

Todd Cantwell, scorer of a fine FA Cup goal, up against Arsenal's Sead Kolasinac at the Emirates Pic

Todd Cantwell, scorer of a fine FA Cup goal, up against Arsenal's Sead Kolasinac at the Emirates Picture: PA - Credit: PA

In three Premier League fixtures since the restart, Norwich have had four shots on target. They’ve conceded eight goals.

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka keeps Lukas Rupp at a safe distance in midweek Picture: PA

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka keeps Lukas Rupp at a safe distance in midweek Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Wednesday night’s trip to the Emirates Stadium showcased City’s unfortunate ability to create better chances for the opposition than they do for themselves.

The fact it was Tim Krul who made such a glaring error to gift the home side their opener felt particularly harsh. Not just after his heroics in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat, but across the course of a season where his goal has been peppered with shots. Only two goalkeepers have pulled off more saves in the top flight than the Dutchman this campaign. Without him, Norwich would be a lot further adrift.

It was a moment to forget for a man who has been City’s most consistent performer, but it was clear that Mikel Arteta had identified Norwich’s attempts to play out from the back as a potential weakness. Arsenal’s forwards pressed so high when the back four were in possession, and it was a strategy that paid off.

Daniel Farke has often been accused of making substitutions too late to affect a game, but his decision to replace Tom Trybull, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki with Onel Hernandez, Josip Drmic and Adam Idah, matching Arsenal’s 3-5-2 formation, did at least spark a promising start to the second half.

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It was always going to take a colossal effort to get back into the game at 2-0 down, but there was no way Farke could have accounted for yet another individual error that put the game to bed. Not content with gifting the league’s most prolific striker one goal, this time it was Drmic’s misplaced pass from his own team’s throw-in that put it on a plate for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second.

This current City crop are all too often toothless at both ends of the pitch, and on Wednesday’s evidence Todd Cantwell’s strike against Manchester United clearly hasn’t proved to be the breakthrough in front of goal the team so desperately craved.

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It seems unthinkable that a side lauded for their attacking intent this season are now in danger of scoring fewer goals than the relegated class of 2013-14, when Chris Hughton was lambasted before being sacked for a style of football that yielded little goals and little joy.

Farke’s preferred style of football may be very different, but it’s producing similar results. The league table is evidence of it. Norwich went down with 34 points under Alex Neil, and 33 in the two relegation seasons before that in 2016 and back in 2005. City would have to win eight points from six games to even equal that lower tally. It has taken them double that amount of games to win their last eight points, stretching back to New Year’s Day.

The FA Cup run did at least provide some much-needed magic, but otherwise it has been a truly dreadful run of results since the turn of the year. Given that in 12 Premier League fixtures Norwich have mustered two league victories by a single-goal margin, picked up two draws and endured eight defeats, is it any wonder the players look totally drained of any confidence?

So what is the answer for these remaining games? Even the most optimistic City fan must surely concede that being seven points from safety with six games to play, relegation is fast becoming inevitable.

Norwich have a star striker unable to score, a midfield which neither creates enough chances or protect their defence anywhere near well enough, and a back four that has leaked goals all season ravaged by injury. It doesn’t make for pretty viewing.

We have come to expect more from this squad, though. We know they’re capable of better, we saw it against United. A heroic defeat? Perhaps. But there was passion, desire, a hunger to win every ball, yellow shirts diving at the feet of opposition players to block shots. At this stage, that’s all we can ask for, and the players owe it to themselves to put up that fight even though the bigger battle is all but lost.

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