Unstoppable Robin van Persie fires Arsenal to victory at Norwich

Premier League; Norwich City 1 Arsenal 2

The superlatives have long since run out to describe Robin van Persie’s goalscoring form this season, and the Arsenal captain was at it once again at Carrow Road as his double strike gave the Gunners a fifth successive Premier League win.

Van Persie’s latest brace took him to 15 goals for the season, 11 of which have come in his last six Premier League games. Single-handedly he has breathed life back in to the Gunners’ season.

The Dutchman has so far plundered 31 goals in 29 league games in 2011, and shows no signs of slowing down. It was not just his goals that stood out here though, his all-round play was of such a quality that both sets of supporters at Carrow Road, and indeed both sets of players, sometimes just had to stand back in admiration.

Once again his goals rescued a performance that stuttered at times, most notably so when Per Mertesacker’s dreadful error handed Steve Morison a goal inside 15 minutes.

Wenger had brought the big German back into the side having lost full-back pair Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson to what look like worrying respective hernia and back injuries during the week.

That necessitated a reshuffle at the back, with Laurent Koscielny getting the nod ahead of Johan Djourou at right-back and Mertesacker earning a recall in the centre alongside Thomas Vermaelen.

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Norwich boss Paul Lambert also made a few surprise changes with David Fox and Andrew Crofts starting, and was aware just how dangerous Arsenal can be in attack

They underlined that fact after just five minutes, Van Persie latching on to a ball on the left-hand side of the area and flashing a shot across John Ruddy’s goal and narrowly past the post.

Six minutes later Theo Walcott went even closer, accepting Van Persie’s pass and hammering a shot past John Ruddy only to see Russell Martin clear brilliantly off the line.

Then with quarter of an hour gone came the moment Mertesacker will again have nightmares about, allowing Morison to muscle past him when he had plenty of time to either clear or pass back to Wojciech Szczesny. He did neither, and the Welsh striker simply took the ball off him and gleefully tucked the ball home.

Arsenal’s response was immediate, Van Persie miscuing from close range and then seeing a header again cleared off the line by Martin, who was also on hand to save the day when Gervinho had raced clear and seen his shot blocked by Ruddy.

That was all in a breathless opening 25 minutes and for those fans scratching their heads at how it was 1-0 Norwich, it soon wasn’t.

Van Persie was both creator and finisher of Arsenal’s equaliser on 26 minutes. First the Dutchman sprayed the ball out to Walcott on the right flank, and when the England man’s cross came in, Gervinho missed an attempted flick but Van Persie was there to score from close range.

It was a vital strike, and silenced the home crowd who were starting to believe their goal was charmed after so many missed Arsenal chances early on.

The goal also calmed Arsenal’s nerves, but they did not threaten as much after it as both sides went in at the break reasonably satisfied with their first-half work.

Paul Lambert made a change with the wide man Elliott Bennett coming on in place of David Fox, but it was Arsenal who started the hald stronger with Gervinho going close before Walcott’s cross was turned into the side-netting by Van Persie

Gervinho then should have put Arsenal in front for the first time, latching on to a ball from Van Persie and initially seeming to have rounded Ruddy but somehow still allowing the Norwich keeper to deny him.

Much like in the first half, it felt like Arsenal’s pressure surely had to pay, and it did just before the hour-mark. Alex Song was the architect after he and Ramsey had dispossessed Bradley Johnson, the Cameroonian’s driving run then saw him release Van Persie, who drew Ruddy expertly before scoring with a delightful chipped finish.

Arsenal were in front, but a one-goal lead given their defensive record this season did not really feel sufficient as Norwich brought on their talisman Grant Holt, and an equaliser did not look beyond them.

However, that left them vulnerable on the counter-attack, and Arsenal nearly made the game safe when Arteta’s shot was parried by Ruddy who then also gathered Gervinho’s attempt from the rebound.

There were not too many late scares for the Gunners, however, as they held out reasonably comfortably. Yossi Benayoun having come on for Gervinho late on and helped calmly play time out.

A fifth successive win has put Arsenal back level on points with the top four for the time being at least. On this evidence that will be the least of their ambitions over the next six months

Arsenal: Szczesny, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Walcott (Djourou, 90), Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho (Benayoun, 78), Van Persie.

Subs not used: Fabianski, Rosicky, Arshavin, Chamakh, Coquelin.

Norwich City: Ruddy, Naughton, Tierney, Martin, Barnett, Hoolahan (Holt, 69), Johnson, Fox (Bennett h/t), Pilkington, Morison.

Subs not used: Rudd, Drury, Jackson, Surman, Wilbraham.

Referee: Phil Dowd

Att: 26,801