Arsenal 3 Norwich 1: London’s Finest Seal Victory at the Death
The importance of this game knew no bounds. For starters, it was the first of three fixtures that would give Arsenal some breathing space over their fierce rivals, Tottenham that didn’t have any game because of Chelsea’s involvement in the FA Cup.
Norwich arrived at the Emirates, facing one of the most in-form teams in the land but Arsene Wenger made some changes to the squad that held firm against West Brom last week. Per Mertesacker’s red card saw the captain, Thomas Vermaelen, return back to the side and Arsene Wenger also had the luxury of bringing Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal. In midfield, Tomas Rosicky’s injury gave room for the return of Jack Wilshere and his new hand tattoo but Theo Walcott had to make do with a place on the bench, as Gervinho retained his place.
As expected from a team in rampant form, Arsenal began on a brighter note with Santi Cazorla pulling the strings yet again as he teed up Bacary Sagna. The Frenchman located Gervinho with a drilled pass but the Ivorian’s poor touch let him down. A sign of things to come.
Gervinho got some space on the left and waltzed into the box before firing a cutback that didn’t reach its intended target. After some brilliant interplay, Wilshere found Gibbs in behind the Norwich defense with a carefully-weighted pass but Gibbs’ cross evaded his teammates in the box. Aaron Ramsey, playing as one of the pivotes, made a rear foray forward and sent an impudent chip to Wilshere but the Englishman was offside.
Arsenal turned on the style when Cazorla’s pass from the left was flicked on by Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman’s neat pass went straight to Wilshere and the maestro tried to feed an onrushing Rasmey but the ball was too heavy for the Welshman, as the Norwich goalie smothered the ball to safety. Cazorla was in the thick of things yet again, as his intelligent pass found Sagna but the fullback’s cross was glanced onto the bar by Giroud.
Cazorla tore the Norwich defense yet again with a through ball that was like hot knife through butter and Gervinho used his pace to get past Bunn in goal but his poor first touch drifted the ball too far away. To make things worse, his attempt of a finish was pathetic to say the least. Arsenal was having some joy on Norwich’s left hand side, and after some brilliant combination play between Cazorla and Sagna, the fullback’s drilled cross was saved by some last-ditch defending from Norwich.
Cazorla ended what was a good half for him with a left-footed piledriver that was easy pickings for the goalie. You have to commend Cazorla for his ambidexterity though.
The second half began with Arsenal on the driver’s seat but fears of a possible Norwich upset were realized when Gibbs needlessly committed a foul on Kamara. Robert Snodgrass swung in the dead ball and an unmarked Michael Turner nodded the ball home with Lukasz Fabianski rooted to the spot.
With Gervinho at his frustrating best and Jack Wilshere showing signs of his rustiness all game long, Arsene Wenger brought in some reinforcements in the forms of Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott. Both substitutes almost made an immediate impact with Walcott showing off his blistering pace on the right hand side before crossing a ball for Podolski that was offside by a margin.
Walcott was involved again in another attacking buildup and it seemed as if he was impeded by Whittaker in the box but the ref was having none of it. With the Gunners pushing hard for that all-important equalizer, Sagna sent in another cross that was flicked across the goalmouth by Giroud but Podolski took his eyes off the ball and a great chance went begging.
With Arsenal pressing for a goal, it was obvious that they were going to be some loopholes at the back and it was almost exposed in ruthless fashion from Norwich through the most unlikeliest of sources. After winning the ball in his box, Sebastien Bassong made a slalom run across the pitch before teeing up Russell Martin but the fullback’s shot was fired straight at Fabianski.
Arsenal probed Norwich from the left with Gibbs finding Giroud with a lofted pass. The French forward cushioned the ball perfectly for Podolski with his chest but the German’s thunderbolt rattled off the cross bar. With time running out, Wenger played his last card by bringing on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Sagna, causing Ramsey to take the right back role.
Arsenal won a corner through Ramsey of somewhat fictitious circumstances but the resulting outswinger from Cazorla caused mayhem in the box, as a goalmouth scramble saw Kamara tug Giroud’s shirt and with the linesman waving his flag for what he perceived was an infringement, the ref wasted no time in pointing to the spot.
The controversy surrounding the goal would have come to nothing if Mikel Arteta repeated his penalty antics against Fulham but the lego-haired Spaniard sidefooted the ball into the net even though the goalie guessed the right way. Moments later, the Ox produced his own version of magic as he connected with Podolski’s using a one-two before supplying a cut back that was finished aplomb by Giroud.
The Emirates went into raptures and the Gunners celebrated with the Ox instead of the goalscorer, that had no choice but to join in the big cuddle for the Ox in the corner flag.
When it was absolutely vital for the Gunners to keep their concentration levels in check, a lapse allowed Howson a clear cut chance at Fabianski’s goal but the big Pole made a magnificent save to send the ball out for a corner. Last season in the same fixture, Norwich’s James Morison was in the same spot with Howson but his shot went past Wojciech Szczesny to make it 3-3.
With Norwich failing to take the initiative, Arsenal attacked through a diagonal ball that was flicked to Walcott by Giroud. The English speedster went into the box and fed Podolski that took the ball in his stride before firing the ball past Bunn to put the game beyond doubt.
At the end, London’s finest had to leave it late to seal the victory that has seen them leapfrog their fellow Londoners to third place, just six points behind second placed Manchester City. Barring the controversial scenes that occurred during the game, a victory was no less than the Gunners deserved and it has offered them the momentum for that vital game in hand against an Everton side that eased past Queens Park Rangers.
Arsenal is exhibiting the kind of form that is usually good enough to win titles, at this point in time, it’s only good enough for Champions League qualification but it’s what we all crave right about now.
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