Paddy Davitt verdict: Issues to address before City's great leap forward
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke’s spin of the roulette wheel with his Norwich City line up at Arsenal suggested he commands an enviable cast list. The task now is to get them singing the same tune.
Premier League debuts for teenage international duo Christos Tzolis and Andrew Omobamidele at the Emirates. A start for Kieran Dowell, in place of Todd Cantwell, and Lukas Rupp preferred to Billy Gilmour was quite the statement from the City head coach.
World Cup qualifying miles on the clock, and the specific tactical adjustments required to try and prolong Mikel Arteta’s own bumpy start to his league season, were cited as underlying factors.
But it was still not enough to earn the points even Farke highlighted before and after a fourth winless league game this season is the only currency that matters. This performance could be filed in the same category as Leicester City prior to the recent international pause.
Encouraging in large parts but interspersed with more concerns about the lack of productivity, woven around Teemu Pukki’s own personal struggles in a post-Emi Buendia world, and the absence of lasting midfield protection for a backline crammed with youthful vigour.
Arsenal’s shots on goal count ended at 30. But as Farke rightly surmised a series of attack-minded changes from the Canaries to retrieve the situation, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s predatory finish, tilted the balance of risk and invited the Gunners’ to profit liberally on the counter in that frenetic final quarter.
Tim Krul was only seriously tested two or three times, one of those courtesy of a wayward kick which required him to make a smart stop to deny Emile Smith-Rowe.
Arsenal’s winning goal was fashioned by a player who cost in the region of £70m and despatched by a fearsome striker who has gone for the same amount in transfer fees.
Norwich’s record summer outlay got nowhere near just one of those totals.
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That is context for what they have faced in these early testing weeks. But it should also not absolve the residual errors in possession in dangerous areas of the pitch which continue to be ruthlessly punished.
Whether you accept there were grounds for a genuine grievance at a potential hand ball from Bukayo Sako in the build up to Aubameyang’s goal, it was sourced from a long Krul diagonal that forced Max Aarons to try and pluck the pass out of mid-air while the red shirts converged.
A heavy first touch was all the invitation Arteta’s swarm needed. It was Leicester City again, it was Manchester City, it was Liverpool.
It must not be Watford, or any of the upcoming opponents in what appears, even in this rarefied company, a more favourable swing of fixtures.
Much will be made of the magnitude of the Hornets’ pending visit to Carrow Road. But a point or three on the board this weekend of itself is only a start.
Farke has to unpick how a squad with far deeper quality than two seasons ago at this level carries more of an attacking threat.
He has to solve how placing differing demands on Pukki in general play do not come at the expense of the service or creativity he requires to plunder in the quantities Norwich desperately need.
He has to find a better balance at the base of his midfield, affording protection while moving City through the lines to give those attacking options the platform to support Pukki.
Farke’s justification for omitting Mathias Normann at Arsenal was sound, given Norway’s World Cup qualifiers delayed his integration at Colney following his late transfer window arrival.
But judged by the length of the pursuit this summer, and the tag he comes as Olly Skipp's replacement, one would expect he is inserted into City’s midfield at a rate of knots.
Normann appears to possess some of the same attributes as the previous Tottenham loanee, but much like Buendia’s departure prompted a job share approach across multiple summer signings, the same may now be true in Norwich’s central midfield.
Farke needs to find that balance between an ability to put out fires, and connecting the dots, from a combined resource of principally Normann, Billy Gilmour, Pierre Lees-Melou, Kenny McLean and Lukas Rupp.
That is a challenge to embrace, but one unfolding in a brutally unforgiving elite performance environment.
What City’s starting roster at Arsenal graphically illustrated is the head coach has options and competition.
Far better he wrestles with who out of Tzolis or Milot Rashica occupies the left-hand berth in midfield, or which two from five centre backs he perms at the heart of his backline, than the unenviable task of trying to build on solid foundations with inferior tools.