David Freezer: First away day in four months didn’t change City’s direction of travel
- Credit: Jason Dawson
Let’s just go ahead and say it, what all Norwich City fans - and probably the players - are thinking at the moment: this sucks.
After three months of waiting to see whether the Premier League season could be salvaged, the restart has just added to the misery of lockdown and the strange coronavirus affected world we’re all trying to navigate.
The only genuine distraction or entertainment provided so far has been a valiant struggle to defeat against Manchester United - in an FA Cup quarter-final which should have been a special Carrow Road occasion.
On Wednesday I left Norfolk for the first time since March 7, when we’d returned home late after a long day of travelling to and from Bramall Lane to witness a narrow 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United. That was the weekend when Premier League players were first told not to shake hands. Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it.
Driving down the A11 and heading for London felt strange, after jumping through various administration hoops to ensure that we complied with the Covid-19 guidelines to attend the game at Emirates Stadium. A health questionnaire and a 20-minute online course were part of the strict protocols in place as Arsenal prepared for their first home game since the lockdown - and rightly so, of course.
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Once we were through the security checks and masked up I was finally walking up the steps and into the bowl of the superb Emirates Stadium, seeing an arena other than Carrow Road for the first time in almost four months.
I’ve visited before as a spectator and a reporter, so I knew what to expect but usually there’s that buzz of entering a stadium and taking in the impressive scale of your surroundings as you look forward to kick-off. Unfortunately all that hit me was the memory of City’s last visit.
Remember that narrow League Cup fourth round defeat in extra-time time back in October 2017, during the early days of Daniel Farke’s reign? There were 9,000 Canaries fans packed into the 60,000 capacity stadium that night, a truly memorable sight.
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Prior to that we had mingled with City supporters - many of them wearing Farke masks - in the Drayton Park pub ahead of the game as we recorded a Facebook live video while the travelling yellow army enjoyed a beer or three. This time that same pub was boarded up and the away end was empty but for some well meaning banners unfurled across the seats.
The breathless nature of three Carrow Road games in quick succession amid the excitement of the restart, mixed with having attended plenty of youth games with very few spectators, had brought a surreal feeling but it was one that I’ve quickly adjusted to. This was very different.
Aside from a fairly disastrous evening on the pitch, as horrible moments from Tim Krul and Josip Drmic ensured Arsenal never really needed to move out of second gear to win 4-0 and bring relegation that bit closer, we did have a prime view sat just behind City’s substitutes.
REPORT: Horror show at Arsenal leaves City in bad shape ahead of decisive weekFrom seeing their routines up close, spotting Christoph Zimmermann as part of the travelling party, seeing an angry Farke using his tactics board to try and find an answer ahead of his half-time triple change and hearing the City coaching staff furiously questioning the decisions of the officials, it was fascinating in some ways.
Defeat at Arsenal, however disappointing, is easy enough to brush off though. They occupied something of a false position in the table after a tumultuous season and confidence is understandably low among the Canaries players. Norwich haven’t won at Arsenal since 1992, losing seven, drawing three, conceding 26 and scoring nine during those 10 visits to Highbury or the Emirates, including Wednesday night.
The Gunners are clearly a much wealthier and more successful club, so defeat for a team bottom of the table came as no surprise. Unfortunately it’s looking like the return to the Championship could even be confirmed against West Ham a week on Saturday, unless City roar back into life and take a significant haul of points from their next three games against survival rivals.
At this point, sadly, it feels like plenty of City fans just want it to be over so that they and the club can regroup to start building for the next phase of the Farke and Stuart Webber era. Who knows, perhaps that easing of pressure might just allow the players to go out with the motivation of proving everyone wrong?
For now though, let’s look at the key league statistics from before and after lockdown.
From the opening 29 games City had averaged 0.8 goals per game, so a big fat zero since the restart leaves plenty of room for improvement. Defensively it’s also been worse, conceding an average of 2.6 during the three recent games, which had stood at 1.8 prior to lockdown.
And across the board almost all average measures per game have taken a notable downturn. Aerials won is down from 14.6 to 11.6, passes attempted from 461 down to 427, shots from 11.5 to 8.6, shots on target from 3.9 to 1.3.
The only slight increases, according to WhoScored.com, have seen tackles increase from 16.7 to 17.6 and corners from 4.6 to 5.6 - although set-pieces have been extremely rusty overall, other than a fine free-kick attempt from Kenny McLean at Arsenal.
Clearly the added injuries were a cruel blow to nip enthusiasm in the bud as the restart loomed but it’s also clear that the overall trend for the Canaries is downwards.
- If you can stomach it, you can watch my video verdict from the Emirates at Youtube.com/OfficialPinkUn