Arsenal get away with it at Norwich as new manager fails to eliminate same old problems

New manager, same old problems.

Any notion that Freddie Ljungberg could breeze in, wave a magic wand and make a fairytale return was quickly put into stark perspective.

In fact, Arsenal were lucky not to lose at Carrow Road after a performance which was not much of an upgrade on Unai Emery.

They were still a shambles in defence, the line-up looked lopsided, still relied on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for goals, record £72m signing Nicolas Pepe still cannot get a game and keeper Bernd Leno rescued a point with a string of top saves.

As auditions went, caretaker boss Ljungberg’s was not the most convincing in front of the Arsenal board and director Josh Kroenke who had flown in from the US and it was a long way from the instant lift which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave Manchester United.

Freddie Ljungberg gestures on the touchline
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

In fairness, it was always going to take more than two training sessions to make a mark after Emery’s miserable reign but at least Arsenal did play with more freedom, were better going forward and abandoned playing out from the back.

But can you imagine if Emery had picked Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolasinac and left Pepe on the bench? Instead, the 2,500 travelling fans gave Ljungberg and his hastily appointed assistant Per Mertesacker a great reception.

You could immediately sense the mood had changed in the players as Arsenal started brightly, Mesut Ozil bright on the left and relegation-threatened Norwich holding on. Onel Hernandez cleared Mustafi’s goal bound header off the line and Alexandre Lacazette wasted a big chance.

Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki scores
(Image: REUTERS)
Alexandre Lacazette shoots at goal
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)

But after Arsenal failed to make a breakthrough, Norwich exposed their defence after 21 minutes. Kenny McLean led a counter attack, Teemu Pukki’s clever movement made enough space to shoot and the ball was deflected off Musafi and flew past Leno.

The lead was short-lived as referee Paul Tierney spotted Christoph Zimmermann’s stray arm in a goalmouth scramble, gave a penalty for handball and Aubameyang stepped up only to be foiled by Norwich’s penalty specialist keeper Tim Krul who made a super save.

But VAR intervened, the crowd went crazy but video replays showed four Norwich players encroached in the box, Max Aarons cleared the rebound and so it had to be taken again. Aubameyang made no mistake this time. VAR was right but it is a passion killer.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang steadies himself
(Image: Getty Images)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

You expected Arsenal to take charge. But Norwich regained the lead in first half injury time. Hernandez found space down the left, squared it to Todd Cantwell and the Norwich midfielder steered a low shot into the far corner.

The stadium was rocking and while the home fans still believe then Norwich must have a chance of survival. Arsenal were level again after 58 minutes when Ozil put over a corner, Mustafi’s shot was blocked and Aubameyang smashed a close range shot into the corner.

Now it was anyone’s game. But it was Norwich who looked more likely to win it. Leno made at least four top saves, the first and best from McLean when the German pushed the ball onto the post. McLean, Pukki and McLean again were all denied by more top saves.

Norwich City’s Todd Cantwell scores
(Image: ALAN WALTER/EPA-EFE/REX)

Arsenal threw on youngsters Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli in the closing stages rather than Pepe but it was another substitute, Lucas Torreira, who nearly snatched it at the death but his shot was blocked by Norwich’s Ibrahim Amadou.

Better in patches, familiar problems, but it would have been robbery if Arsenal had snatched it. A new manager needs early wins to gain momentum and that is why these early results are crucial for Ljungberg but it is hard to see him getting it long term.

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