Aubameyang bags double, Arsenal draw Ljungberg's first game
NORWICH, England -- Balding, chisel-jawed and from the Nordic region, one of the protagonists at Carrow Road made exactly the kind of fresh start he was hoping for. It just wasn't the one who had drawn the photographers streaming into the stadium's car park as the Arsenal team bus pulled up before the game.
Teemu Pukki scored his first goal in nine Premier League games as Norwich City ended a run of three successive home defeats with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal, whose erratic, error-strewn performance made it clear that although interim coach Freddie Ljungberg is now the man in the dugout, this is likely to feel like Unai Emery's team for some time yet.
Arsenal's run of games without victory now stands at eight in all competitions -- the club's worst such run since an eight-game winless streak midway through the 1991-92 campaign, years before Arsene Wenger's arrival -- and they have gone six matches without winning in the league for the first time since 2011. While Ljungberg was enthused by the sense of purpose his players showed with the ball, he conceded that they had looked vulnerable almost every time Norwich recovered possession.
"I think everybody can see that we had problems in transition," said the Swede, who had had only one training session in which to get his ideas across. "So that's what we have to work on -- not to get countered in those ways. But I'm extremely proud of the players that they came back twice. We came out fighting."
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Prior to his dismissal on Friday, Emery appeared to have decided that a system featuring three centre-backs was the answer to Arsenal's defensive shortcomings. Ljungberg reverted to a back four, only to find that those problems remained just as pronounced as ever. Arsenal's lack of genuine width in forward areas obliged right-back Calum Chambers to push up and stay wide, but diligent and versatile though he is, the 24-year-old does not possess the pace of a modern full-back and Norwich required no encouragement to exploit the space he left behind him.
Both of the hosts' goals stemmed from passes into the area between Chambers and right-sided centre-back Shkodran Mustafi, whose well-documented limitations were repeatedly exposed after Ljungberg awarded him a first league appearance since May. He and centre-back partner David Luiz allowed Pukki too much room when the Finland striker cantered onto Kenny McLean's through ball in the 21st minute and when the Norwich No. 22 accepted the open invitation to take aim, his shot flicked off Mustafi and skidded past a wrong-footed Bernd Leno.
Norwich restored their advantage, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had drawn Arsenal level for the first time, with another attack down the left flank in first-half stoppage time. Onel Hernandez cut the ball back to Todd Cantwell, who had the time and space to take a touch before steering a shot into the bottom-right corner.
Aubameyang's second equaliser, in the 57th minute, should have been the precursor to an onslaught from the visitors, but instead Arsenal's defensive frailty meant it was Norwich who came closest to snatching victory. They went close three times in the space of four minutes, with Leno saving brilliantly from McLean and Pukki either side of a shot from Cantwell that fizzed inches wide of the right-hand post. It took another eye-catching save from Leno in stoppage time -- this time to repel a deflected effort by Max Aarons -- to preserve parity.
The chief novelty of Ljungberg's starting XI was the deployment of Mesut Ozil on the left wing in a 4-3-3 formation. Despite Ozil being granted the freedom to swap positions with Aubameyang, who started on the right, Arsenal's players struggled in open play to find the German, who consequently exerted almost all of his influence on the game from set-pieces. His free kick led to Arsenal's first equaliser in the 29th minute, with Christoph Zimmermann's handball gifting Aubameyang the opportunity to level from the penalty spot, albeit at the second attempt after Tim Krul's superb save -- down to his right -- was rendered void by the VAR due to encroachment by Aarons. Aubameyang went the same way with his second penalty; Krul did not.
Ozil was also at the root of the goal that ensured Arsenal would at least go home with a point. From his 57th-minute corner, Sam Byram blocked from Mustafi and Aubameyang followed up to curl the loose ball inside Krul's left-hand post. The Gabon striker has scored six of the seven goals that Arsenal have mustered away from home in the league this season.
There were other, subtle indications as to the kind of team that Arsenal may become under Ljungberg. In a break from the Emery regime, they were not as ideologically wedded to the principle of playing out from the break, with Leno going long on multiple occasions. The emphasis on getting the ball forwards more quickly, particularly noticeable in the first half, also contributed to a tally of 16 attempts at goal, which was more than they had mustered in any of their previous away fixtures this term.
But the same chronic failings remain. Ljungberg may yet get Arsenal playing the kind of incisive, winning football that they played during his own glorious nine-year tenure on the right side of midfield, but on this evidence, it will not happen overnight.
"In preseason, when you have five or six weeks, you can normally implement how you want to play football. That's not what I have," Ljungberg said. "I'll just try to make it simple as possible for the players and hopefully we get better."