The Canaries today treated the Yellow and Green Army to a final, glorious day on the road with a breathless, 3-3 thriller at The Emirates.
An 85th minute leveller from substitute Steve Morison sent the 3,000-strong travelling Canary supporters into raptures after Robin van Persie’s 36th and 37th goals of the season had threatened to deliver all the points into Arsenal’s hands and propel them ever nearer that Champions League invite.
That, however, would have been rough justice on the Norfolk side who returned to their Tottenham best in the game’s opening 45 minutes and rightly led the Gunners 2-1 at the break courtesy of goals from first Wes Hoolahan and then returning skipper Grant Holt.
Thereafter, however, and the gloves came off as the two teams went toe-to-toe and swapped blow-for-blow, save-for-save and shot-for-shot in a hugely entertaining encounter that merely underlined the sheer entertainment value Paul Lambert’s men have brought to the English Premier League this season.
They are, in short, a neutral’s dream. For those whose veins run yellow and green, they are the stuff of legend. White Hart Lane (April ’12) and The Emirates (May ’12) will be two to treasure for a generation.
“I thought we were absolutely outstanding,” was Lambert’s simple verdict afterwards, as the Canaries ended a run of three, straight defeats with one for the all-time album.
“I thought the performance at Spurs the other week was as good as it has got in my time, but that might just surpass it. Everything was stacked against us; the team that we were up against; [the fact that] they’re vying for Champions League football. But I thought we were well worthy of something.”
The fact that Norwich went that goal down almost within a minute gave the level of the performance that extra edge as Lambert’s typically bold decision to throw Holt and Simeon Jackson at the home side reaped such reward.
“I’m not sure that they were expecting that, but as I’ve said I’d rather get on the front foot against Arsenal than not,” he told the BBC afterwards.
“But I thought every one of them, to a man, were absolutely outstanding. And we deserved that – and we should even have maybe been 3-1 up when Simeon goes through and should have had a penalty. Coming here and playing the way that we did, we were brilliant.”
In the end, however, van Persie rode to Arsenal’s rescue – just as he did at Carrow Road in the corresponding fixture earlier this season and on countless other occasions.
Holt – bang on course to claim his third, straight Player of the Season award ahead of the final home game of the season against Aston Villa next weekend – struck his 14th Premier League goal of the campaign in the 27th minute, albeit with an in-off via Kieran Gibbs, as the travelling City support once again found North London much to their liking.
The afternoon didn’t quite start as planned as Yossi Benayoun pinged one into the top corner after just 65 seconds, but thereafter for the opening 45 minutes the Canaries all-but ran the show – just as they did up the road on Easter Monday.
Holt would twice have a sniff of a leveller before Hoolahan bagged his fifth goal of the season as the Canaries let rip passing-wise with the kind of freedom and abandon that only comes with Premier League safety. That said, the Dubliner had reason to thank Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny for an assist. Soft would the word on Arsene Wenger’s lips later.
That said, it was all Norwich deserved and before the interval their advantage could have been extended to at least two goals as Russell Martin found himself hauled to the floor deep in the Arsenal box by Laurent Koscielny only for City’s loud penalty appeals to be waved away; minutes later and villain turned hero as a magnificent, last-gasp challenge denied a lurking Holt his second of the afternoon.
But as one would expect with a Champions League slot up for grabs and the small matter of PFA Player of the Year van Persie up top, the Gunners were never going to be as poor in the second period as they were in the first.
Sure enough, one little, dinked chip over the City back four from Alex Song and a perfectly-timed run gave van Persie all the invitation he needed to bag his 36th goal in the 72nd minute; No37 – his 30th in the Premier League – would follow in the 80th minute.
In theory, that should have been that; with Van The Man once again grabbing all the headlines as Arsenal kept both Spurs and Newcastle at bay with a priceless home win.
Cue Morison’s moment in the spotlight as he made the very most of Arsenal’s porous defending to grab an 85th minute leveller.
Before the end, van Persie would – like Martin before him – be denied a clear-cut penalty as he sniffed a hat-trick, whilst it would need the trailing ankles of John Ruddy to thwart the Dutch master when one-on-one with the City No1.
Backs-to-the-wall until the very dying seconds, Ruddy and Co would hold firm – displaying the depth of character that has under-pinned their rise to the top flight of English football. Where, quite rightly, they now intend to stay.