Three goals inside the last seven minutes gave Arsenal victory over a spirited Norwich who will count themselves hard done by to leave the Emirates point-less.
Michael Turner’s 56th minute header – his second goal in as many games – looked, for a while, as if was going to be enough to earn the Canaries a priceless three points but the single wave of a lineman’s flag in the 83rd minute changed the course of the game.
The flag – from a linesman on the opposite site of the pitch and with an obscured view – was in response to a shirt-tug by Kei Kamara on Olivier Giroud. The resultant penalty was coolly converted by Mikel Arteta.
The momentum afforded to the Gunners by this lifeline led to City finally caving into the pressure and two late goals from Giroud and substitute, Lukas Podolski secured the points for the home side.
Chris Hughton made three changes from the side that drew with Swansea; Mark Bunn recovering from injury to take his place in goal but Steven Whittaker coming in at left-back to replace Javier Garrido. In midfield Elliott Bennett made way for the more defensive qualities of Alex Tettey and Wes Hoolahan, in the ‘number 10’ role, sacrificed in preference to the physical qualities of skipper Grant Holt.
For the Gunners Jack Wilshire returned to the central-midfield after a 6-week spell out through an ankle problem.
With Kei Kamara lining up wide on the right, Grant Holt was again asked to plough the lone furrow up front with Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey making up a central-midfield triumvirate designed to break up Arsenal’s renowned free-flowing passing style.
In an excellent first half from a Norwich perspective the hosts typically had a lot of early possession, but were unable to make a breakthrough. City – with Steven Whittaker making an eye-catching return to the side – defended solidly with the trio of central-midfield players providing excellent protection to the back-four.
Arsenal’s possession – while being plentiful – was slow and lacked penetration and gave Norwich time to organise their two lines of defence.
The closest the home side came was on 29 minutes when Gervinho was released in the inside right channel by Santi Carzola’s nicely weighted pass but, after rounding Bunn, the Ivorian’s heavy touch took him wide and he could only roll the ball across the face of the City goal.
Earlier Giroud had glanced a header on to the top of the Norwich crossbar after Bacary Sagna had been given too much time to swing in a right wing cross.
Other than these two close calls, City defended relatively comfortably and as the half progressed started to enjoy more possession of their own, albeit without seriously troubling Łukasz Fabiański in the Arsenal goal.
The second period was a much more end-to-end affair and was reminiscent of last season’s thrilling 3-3 draw.
On 56 minutes, some excellent work down the right flank ended with Kamara being tripped by former City loanee, Kiernan Gibbs. From the resultant free-kick Robert Snodgrass’ beautifully delivered left-footed inswinger was met perfectly by Turner, who glanced an unstoppable header inside Fabiański’s right-hand post.
As the game continued to ebb and flow – in contrast to the first half – City had a great chance to go two nil up when, following a fantastic run out of defence by Sebastien Bassong, the Cameroonian had the composure to pick out an overlapping Russell Martin. Unfortunately for City, having made the lung-bursting run, the Scottish international could only fire straight into the midriff of the Gunners’ keeper.
On the hour mark an increasingly agitated Arsene Wenger had made a double substitution, Wilshire and Gervinho making way for Podolski and Theo Walcott, both of whom had a positive impact on the home side as an attacking force. Chances continued to come and go with the Norwich goal at times leading a charmed life, particularly when only a brilliant finger-tipped saved by Bunn from Podolski’s shot preserved their slender lead – his tipped shot thumping the crossbar.
The game’s pivotal moment came on 84 minutes when, from a hotly disputed corner – Snodgrass looking as though he’d successfully shepherded the ball out for a goal-kick – the ensuing scramble resulted in Kamara harshly being adjudged to have pulled Giroud’s shirt. With few appeals from the Arsenal players, and referee Mick Jones just 10 yards away, the linesman – some 50 yards away and with a goalmouth full of players to obscure his view – gave the dreaded flag-across-the chest.
To the fury of the City players – Bunn was booked for his part in the protests – the referee concurred with his assistant and Arteta did the rest.
With the momentum firmly with the home side – Wenger’s grimace replaced by a smirk – on 88 minutes they went ahead; Giroud’s close-range effort coming after good work by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, himself a late substitute for Sagna.
The Norwich response was a positive one and Howson – who was excellent throughout – saw his well-struck shot well saved by Fabiański, but alas for City that was the last they were seen as an attacking force.
Two minutes into injury time Podolski rubbed salt into the City wounds when Walcott picked him out on the edge of the box; his crisp shot fizzing inside Bunn’s left-hand post.
A hard one to take for City – particularly given the nature of defeat – but the type of performance that, if repeated in the coming weeks, will surely see them through to Premier League safety.
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