Beat QPR and it’s business as usual
There’s no getting away from the unforced errors or lack of possession, but this isn’t a result that will be to blame should the worst happen and Norwich are relegated by a couple of points.
Only drawing with the likes of Wigan or Blackburn might yet to prove to be costly, but losing to an infinitely better Arsenal side whose speed and work-rate were breathtakingly better than anything City could offer – it’s not exactly a disgrace, is it?
And it could have been an awful lot worse. We could have been looking at a third successive 4-1 defeat to the Gunners or a repeat of the six goals they scored at Carrow Road in a pre-season friendly in 1997.
We got away without having our goal difference significantly worsened or suffering any further defensive injuries. The only negative was Grant Holt picking up a third yellow card of the season.
Had we played Arsenal in the first few weeks of the season I’m quite sure we might have taken something off them at a time when they were on the ropes. However, a couple of months on they are a distinctly different prospect.
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Our hopes on Saturday rested on two possibilities – that either Arsene Wenger took us too lightly and decided to rest stars like Robin van Persie ahead of Champions League action or his players had a collective off-day.
Neither happened and we had to endure something of a backs-to-the-wall afternoon.
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As a result you can’t blame Russell Martin for losing possession in the build-up for Arsenal’s second goal given how he’d earlier cleared a couple of efforts off the line.
It’s one thing to be under the cosh to the likes of Arsenal, but this Saturday against QPR is a very different matter.
Lose that one as well and a few doubts might start to surface.
After all, you start looking at the subsequent fixtures and don’t get exactly get filled with hope.
Manchester City away – anything less than a 4-0 defeat is a bonus. Newcastle home, Everton away and Tottenham home – all tricky. Quite frankly Wolves away on December 20 is the only other game before the Christmas week which you think: “We could get something out of that.”
If you take this season’s likely top six as being – in alphabetical order - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham it’s the remaining 26 games that really matter.
Anything that you get from the leading half a dozen is a bonus – the fact that so far we’ve played four of them, scored against three, come away with a point and not been hammered in any of them is highly encouraging.
But a heavy defeat to QPR, now that would be rather worrying.
It’s no over-statement to say that this is as key a game against Rangers as when we beat them 3-0 in the penultimate fixture of the 2007/8 fixture to secure our Championship status.
Somehow I suspect we won’t get such a helping hand of a visiting defender being sent off after just four minutes, although Joey Barton‘s fifth booking of the season on Saturday was almost as good a piece of news.
Beat QPR and it’s business as usual.
Fail to win, or, more worryingly, get completely overturned after Blackburn have taken points off Stoke in the lunchtime kick-off, and there will be some nervous glances over the shoulder.
Unlike Saturday’s visitors, QPR are one of the few teams in the Premier League to whom we should feel no inferiority whatsoever. They might be nouveau riche but our home spirit can prove crucial this weekend.
Could be time for a battling Championship game with two forwards, perhaps.
• THIS IS WHAT THE TOP FLIGHT IS ALL ABOUT
The last time City were in the Premier League we had a couple of 12.45pm kick-offs against Everton and Liverpool and the atmosphere did suffer quite a bit.
Even the Arsenal home game seven years ago started at 5.15pm and again the buzz around the ground wasn‘t quite the same as it might have been at 3pm for the visit of a top side still in the middle of their lengthy unbeaten run. So I did wonder whether Saturday’s kick-off being brought forward a couple of hours would lead to a similar loss of atmosphere.
Not a bit of it.
If you haven’t been to an away game this season Saturday was the first day that it was really obvious that the Canaries have returned to the big time – after all, you can dress fixtures against Stoke and West Brom up as much as you like but the fact remains that we’ve played them quite a few times over the last decade and they‘re not exactly special occasions, despite what the Premier League spinmeisters might have you believe.
Arsenal, however, are a different matter. The atmosphere never let up until the closing stages – when it became obvious that there was going to be no late drama this week. Even the people who insisted on leaving early to beat the 2.45pm Saturday rush-hour didn’t miss anything.
In short, Saturday was a bit of an occasion – the type of fixture that the last two years have been all about working towards.
Having to enter the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, battling home wins over the likes of Brentford – for whom Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny played at Carrow Road just 22 months ago – and some ugly away victories last season: the visit of such a big name as the Gunners almost made up for everything we’ve gone through during a couple of eventful years.
But there has to be a difference this time, both on and off the field. There can be no – as there was seven years ago – standing back in awe of such famous opposition.
We have to continue to get into other people’s faces. There was no ‘little old Norwich’ approach in the way Steve Morison saw off Per Mertesacker to set up his goalscoring opportunity. Having seen all but the Wigan game I have to say that, for me, Arsenal’s display was the toughest City have faced this season. But I’d rather see more of these challenging days than what we were facing two years ago: Tranmere at home.
• KEEP ON TALKING ABOUT THE OTHERS
We might not have won for four games now, but I can’t help but think that the attention on relegation strugglers is still being focused elsewhere. Which is very good news for us. Because you can’t help but look elsewhere and think that other clubs have more to worry about than the Canaries.
Blackburn simply can’t defend in the games that matter, Wigan can’t buy a win and Bolton are unable to compete for the whole 90 minutes and can only really perform when they play Stoke immediately after one of their lengthy Europa League journeys.
We have to keep a significant gap between ourselves and this struggling trio.
• JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
Mounted police outside the ground, plenty of spotters from the Met on the streets of Norwich, reports of trouble on trains back to London afterwards… it’s like the last 20 years and the middle-class takeover of football never happened. Obviously now the next time Arsenal come to Carrow Road it’ll kick off at noon on a Sunday – or is that only the case for Ipswich fixtures?