Arsenal leave their best until last and beat Norwich to go third
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Premier League: Arsenal 3 Norwich City 1
Three goals in six crazy minutes at the Emirates saw Arsenal move up to third place in the Premier League table after a dramatic win over Norwich.
Just when it seemed Arsenal’s nerve had deserted them to allow Norwich to steal an improbable and impressive win at the Emirates courtesy of Michael Turner’s second-half header, the Gunners equalised through a Mikel Arteta penalty on 84 minutes and then won it with a late own goal from Sebastien Bassong and a third from Lukas Podolski.
The win sends the Gunners a point clear of both Spurs and Chelsea, neither of whom play in the league this weekend. Having played the same number of games as their rivals from White Hart Lane, Arsenal can cement their superiority by winning for the fifth successive time against Everton on Tuesday night.
But winning successive Premier League games at this stage of the season is a lot easier said than done, and how Norwich, who are in a scrap for survival, proved that here.
The Canaries looked to have pulled off a classic smash and grab with under 10 minutes remaining, and at the whistle the visiting players surrounded the referee Michael Jones, whose penalty decision for some shirt-pulling by Kei Kamara changed the momentum of the game.
After that, Norwich would have settled for a point, but the Gunners ruthlessly went for the kill, and delivered it in quite stunning fashion.
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Wenger had suggested on Friday that his returning England duo would figure and while Theo Walcott was on the bench Jack Wilshere started for the first time since March 3 in place of the injured Tomas Rosicky in midfield.
Thomas Vermaelen was also back in the starting XI, replacing the suspended Per Mertesacker, while Wenger chose Kieran Gibbs at left-back ahead of Nacho Monreal, perhaps with the short turnaround to Tuesday’s clash with Everton in mind.
Not that the Gunners boss was taking Norwich lightly. Wenger remembered only too well when, in the corresponding fixture in last season’s penultimate game, a 3-3 draw with the Canaries so nearly cost Arsenal third place and, ultimately Champions League qualification.
Having also been beaten 1-0 at Carrow Road back in October, there was no room for complacency and Arsenal started like they meant business, with Gervinho and Gibbs tearing down the left in successive attacks only for their crosses to fall to yellow, not red shirts.
Wilshere was on the receiving end of a heavy challenge early on, but was soon buzzing around in the centre of the pitch and trying to break down a resolute looking visiting defence.
Midway through the half Bacary Sagna was given time and space to cross from the right flank and from his delivery Olivier Giroud glanced a header off the crossbar. Arsenal were getting closer.
Gervinho has been a key figure in the three successive wins that have reignited the Gunners’ season since the defeat at White Hart Lane, but he was back to being the inconsistent presence the Emirates faithful know only too well here.
First the Ivorian failed to choose the right option on one counter-attack when he had team-mates free left and right, and moment later he raced clear and around Norwich keeper Mark Bunn, but took the ball too wide to be able to find the net from a tight angle.
Santi Cazorla sent in a fizzing shot which was held by Bunn and then Giroud saw another header from a Cazorla corner deflected clear, but there was no breakthrough before half-time as the rain teemed down at the Emirates.
Within seven minutes of the restart Arsenal were left to regret their profligacy. There had already been a warning when Kamara crossed from the right and Grant Holt almost stole in at the back post.
Moments later Kamara tumbled a little theatrically under a challenge from Gibbs and Jones awarded a free-kick. Robert Snodgrass swung over the set piece and Turner was left free to glance a header into the corner of the net, giving Lukasz Fabianski no chance.
Arsenal could sense what was happening to them, but seemed powerless to do anything about it. Wenger withdrew the tiring Wilshere – bringing him back looked a mistake – and Gervinho, and sent on Podolski and Walcott.
Almost instantly Podolski mis-controlled the ball with the goal at his mercy and you sensed it would be an painfully tense last 30 minutes at the Emirates.
Giroud was constantly buffeted off the ball by either Turner or Bassong, Cazorla could not shake off the attentions of the limpet-like Alex Tettey and the Emirates crowd grew more and more frustrated.
On 78 minutes, the ball fell perfectly for Podolski inside the box and the German lashed a volley goalwards only to see it come back off the crossbar with Bunn grasping thin air.
It began to feel that this was really not going to be Arsenal’s day but on 84 minutes they finally got the piece of good fortune that had thus far eluded them.
Norwich failed to clear a corner, and a linesman spotted some shirt-pulling from Kamara on Giroud, ansd signalled a penalty. After some confusion, Jones pointed to the spot. Arteta held his nerve after some ludicrous theatrics from Bunn and squeezed his spot-kick beyond the grasp of the Norwich keeper.
Arsenal had five minutes to find a winner, but needed only two of them. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had replaced Bacary Sagna, raced down the left flank, exchanged passed with Podolski and centred for Bassong, under pressure from Giroud, to bundle into his own net from close range.
The Emirates faithful were disbelieving, but Norwich almost drew level seconds later, only for Fabianski’s outstretched boot to deny Jonathan Howson.
With the fourth official signalling six minutes of injury time, it promised to be unbearably tense for the home fans, only for a third goal to seal the win when Podolski turned smartly on the edge of the box to rifle home.
That was that. Arsenal had a priceless win, and with just six games remaining their Champions League qualification destiny remains in their own hands.
But if this game is any indication, then nothing should be taken for granted over the next five weeks.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 79), Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere (Walcott, 59), Gervinho (Podolski, 59), Giroud.
Subs not used: Mannone, Monreal, Coquelin, Jenkinson.
Norwich City: Bunn, Martin, Bassong, Turner, Whittaker, Johnson (Fox, 60), Tettey (Jackson, 90), Howson, Snodgrass, Kamara, Holt.
Subs not used: Camp, E Bennett, Garrido, Becchio, R Bennett.
Referee: M Jones