Reality is starting to bite for toothless out-of-sorts Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A 1-0 defeat at Arsenal won't condemn Norwich to relegation at the end of the season.
It's the lacklustre performances against so many of the teams directly around us in the Premier League table which meant we found ourselves needing a result at the Emirates.
It wasn't just an identical scoreline that made defeat in north London so similar to the one at the King Power Stadium two months ago. The performance from both sides virtually mirrored the loss against Leicester. An almost blemish-free defensive display in which we created chances but lacked the necessary quality to take any of them, in contrast to a below-par home team proving the importance of being clinical with theirs.
Where was this spirit and defensive discipline against teams of far less quality? At Watford, Swansea, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and of course Aston Villa? Norwich shipped 15 goals in those six games.
The one recurring theme is a lack of goals. Norwich failed to score in five of six away fixtures against those opponents.
Selecting Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond provided much more of an attacking threat than in recent weeks, but it does give the rest of the midfield more to do defensively. When Hoolahan is in the team, Norwich play differently. Gone is the tendency to go route one and bypass the midfield and we play the ball on the floor much more often.
On Saturday, Alex Neil started a striker who hasn't scored in more than four months. Perhaps it was the manager's thinking that Cameron Jerome could cause Per Mertesacker more problems with his pace than Dieumerci Mbokani would in an aerial duel.
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Mbokani though proved against Newcastle that he can make things happen with the ball at his feet and we don't have any other striker who holds the ball up so well, which helps to relieve pressure against teams like Arsenal that dominate possession. Norwich were well organised and battled hard but that doesn't make up for a toothless strikeforce. Since winning at Old Trafford in December, City have managed a paltry two goals in the following nine away games. In comparison Sunderland's Jermain Defoe has netted eight times alone on the road in that time. How we could have done with someone of his quality and consistency up front this season.
Nine players who started at the Emirates began the play-off final against Middlesbrough. Two transfer windows on from Wembley and Neil fielded a team Saturday that left five of his signings on the bench and one not even in the squad. Injuries to Andre Wisdom and Timm Klose aside, when players brought in to improve the team aren't deemed good enough to start it raises significant questions about Norwich's nous in the transfer market.
Anyone who has attended a Norwich game in recent weeks would've heard the somewhat tongue-in-cheek chant comparing Gary O'Neil to Zinedine Zidane. Arsenal sing it about £42million signing and World Cup winner Mesut Ozil, West Ham sing about PFA Player of the Year nominee Dimitri Payet to the same tune. We sing it about a midfield veteran who only managed nine starts for us in the Championship last season.
No disrespect to O'Neil, but the fact that there are no other 'heroes' to chant about signifies the dire situation we find ourselves in. Without a goalscorer, as a tough tackler, organiser and all round grafter, O'Neil has emerged as the closest thing to a hero that we have. Someone who rolls his sleeves up and gives his all, O'Neil covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch on Saturday, but it doesn't compensate for quality in the areas of the pitch where we need it most.
Now on the back of three defeats, Sunderland (unbeaten in three) and Newcastle (unbeaten in four) are picking up form at a time when Norwich have whimpered. As Neil pointed out, the fans are sometimes the first to lose hope. Now his team have to show us there is still cause for some by beating Manchester United.