Arsenal 3 (Benayoun 2, van Persie 72, 80) – Norwich City 3 (Hoolahan 12, Holt 27, Morison 85)
Man of the Match – John Ruddy (Norwich City)
The chances of having St. Totteringham’s day celebrations, this year, seems pretty bleak now. In what can be described as one of the matches of the season, and one which never ceased to amaze and entertain, Arsenal garnered only a point, to move 2 points clear of Tottenham and Newcastle, albeit having played a game more.
There were no surprises in Arsenal’s lineup, with the same squad that played against Stoke being used. Norwich, however stuck to their policy of rotation, and made several changes. Simon Lappin came in place of the injured Adam Drury, while there was also place in the lineup for Canada striker Simeon Jackson. Also named was the Irish Messi, Wes Hoolahan.
Within no time, Arsenal were in the lead, after birthday boy Yossi Benayoun opened the scoring, with a fine curling effort, into the top corner of the net. Just 70 seconds had passed by at this stage.
However, contrary to what I had predicted earlier, Norwich didn’t seem like they were too keen on an early holiday. They almost equalized immediately, but Grant Holt’s strike was blocked by Kieran Gibbs. They didn’t have to wait long though. An unconvincing moment from Szczesny later, Norwich capitalized as Kyle Naughton’s ball was turned towards the goal by Wes Hoolahan. Szczesny fumbled, as the ball ended in the back of the net.
What was required from the Gunners on the afternoon was some impetus to gather the 3 points that they so required. However, they looked edgy, lackadaisical and lethargic in their approach. Norwich, playing for nothing, after having secured their top flight status, looked like a real menacing outfit.
An Arsenal attack fizzled out, and Norwich got hold of the ball, and chested and headed it around neatly, to set up Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan, who were up against Laurent Koscielny and an backtracking Kieran Gibbs. Holt’s shot took a big deflection off Gibbs’ and looped over a stranded Szczesny into the net.
Arsenal almost equalized, but van Persie failed to get to the end of a low Sagna cross. Moments later, the French right-back suffered an injury, and was replaced by his compatriot Francis Coquelin. He almost conceded a penalty, moments after coming on, as a cross from the right was met with a tangle of legs between Coquelin and Howson. Replays clearly showed Coquelin had fouled the Norwich midfielder. However, the referee refused to oblige.
Norwich were wrecking more havoc in Arsenal’s penalty box. Russel Martin was hauled down by Koscielny, and should’ve gotten a penalty. A furious Paul Lambert certainly thought so. Soon after, Grant Holt nearly gave the Canaries a 3-1 advantage going into the break, but for Koscielny’s brilliant last ditch challenge.
A chorus of boos echoed round the stadium, as the two teams trudged off the pitch at half-time. Surely a hairdryer treatment would do the trick.
Arsenal came racing out into the second half, but it was Norwich who created the first real opportunity, when Jackson almost did a Taraabt, with a shrug of shoulders to beat Vermaelen, who slipped, but his poor effort was saved by Szczesny. Moments later, Benayoun headed right into Ruddy’s hands, with Koscielny being impeded by Holt, but the referee clearly was in no mood to give penalties.
Right back Kyle Naughton, and then Simeon Jackson missed further chances for the Canaries. Arsenal responded with two misses of their own, van Persie and Ramsey the culprits. Rosicky and the impressive Gervinho both had shots on goal, but failed to score.
Arsenal almost had their equalizer, when substitute Marrouane Chamakh’s shot was blocked by Elliot Bennet, only to fall to Alex Song, who played his trademark assist to van Persie. The Dutchman didn’t dissapoint this time, and leveled the scores.
8 minutes later, the comeback was complete, when van Persie, brilliantly placed again, scored off a Rosicky through-ball, under John Ruddy, into the back of the net.
By this time, the adventurous Paul Lambert, had 3 strikers on the pitch, with Anthony Pilkington, Aaron Wilbraham and Steve Morison. It was Morison, who scored the final goal in the match, as he took the ball into his stride, and beat Szczesny at the far post.
What followed next was a frantic end to the game, with Arsenal creating numerous openings. First, van Persie was clearly pushed over by Naughton, with the goal wide open, in the penalty box, and the ref again refused to budge. Soon, Song attempts a backheel, Gibbs has a header, Song has another header, van Persie sent clear on goal, but all of these attempts were kept out by a brilliant John Ruddy.
As the final whistle blew, Arsene Wenger, clearly fuming, just about managed to shake the hands of his counterpart Paul Lambert. It was in our hands, but now it is not. And it is all down to us. We can just hope Manchester City and Aston Villa can do the business for us tomorrow.
The parting shot of the day was Robin van Persie waving at the crowd. Could they be goodbye waves? Only time will tell. For now, the team should just get back to thinking how to beat a West Brom side, keen on giving their boss Roy Hodgson a final hurrah, before he heads on to take the England job.
Szczesny (6.5) – Looked nervous throughout the game. Nervy clearances, poor handling, bad distribution.
Sagna (7) – Slowed down too many attacks for me. Suffered a bad injury though.
Vermaelen (6.5) – Poor game. He may score a lot of goals, but he is a defender. Needs to concentrate on his defending. Was found wanting on many opportunities.
Koscielny (7.5) – We may have conceded 3, but he was brilliant. Without him, it could’ve been a rout. Sadly, he was partly at fault for the 3rd Norwich goal.
Gibbs (7.5) – He had a good game, I thought. Very good going forward, and almost scored what would have been a precious winner.
Song (6.5) – Failed to get in a single tackle in the game, as far as I remember. He too seemed to slow down the pace of the game at times, but he played a delicious assist for the equalizer.
Rosicky (7.5) – Worked hard in midfield, constantly running at the Canaries defence.
Ramsey (6.5) – I really like the lad, but he hasn’t been at his best of late. Hopefully the close season will give him a good break, and he can return an improved player. He worked hard today, but nothing going his way.
Benayoun (7.5) – Scored a fine goal, and was involved in some fine work in midfield.
Gervinho (7) – A much improved performance from last week at Stoke. His dribbling looks much better, and so does his confidence. Created some good chances today, and switched flanks well, too.
van Persie (8) – Where would we be without him. Scored two important goals. Hopefully, this was not his last game at the Emirates in Arsenal colors.
Coquelin (7) – Injected a bit more pace than Sagna on the right, which was good to see.
Chamberlain (7.5) – Provided some much needed creativity, as soon as he came on. A good few minutes.
Chamakh (7) – There is still some life left in him, isn’t there.
Overall Team Rating – 7.10