Photo gallery: Highlights galore in match of the day between Arsenal and Norwich City
Arsenal 3, Norwich City 3: If there are Norwich City fans out there who still believe their team do not get the credit they deserve on national TV, the absence of BBC Match of the Day from our screens on Saturday night may have provided the conspiracy theorists with more ammunition.
It is hard to imagine there was another game anywhere in the country that provided as much quality, excitement and frenetic goalmouth action as the Canaries’ first visit to the imposing Emirates Stadium – certainly the FA Cup final did not – but only those with access to a satellite channel would have been able to put their feet up and enjoy the highlights before bedtime, the rest having to wait another 24 hours, by which time the match had slipped down the running order.
As it was, the gentlemen from Sky struggled to squeeze all the action into their hour-long programme as Paul Lambert’s men once again proved their liking for the big stage and the big occasion.
At Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Anfield and White Hart Lane this season, City demonstrated their unwillingness to play a mere supporting role to some of the world’s top stars. They lost two of those games, but they contributed hugely to each contest and so it was at the Emirates, where – after indifferent performances against Blackburn and Liverpool – they were back to their best.
It was a day when the Gunners were celebrating manager Ars�ne Wenger’s 900th game in charge and hoped to all but confirm their Champions League place for next season, but they and many of their fans were so disgruntled by the end that the manager shot down the tunnel after the most cursory of handshakes with his opposite number and the stadium was half-empty by the time the home team did their “lap of appreciation”. Sunday’s Premier League results left Arsenal still with their noses in front in the race for third place, so they did not need to be so mean-spirited.
There was, of course, no lack of appreciation from City’s fans at the final whistle, and rightly so. With the recalled trio of top scorer Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson and Wes Hoolahan providing the attacking spark and Russell Martin restored to the centre of defence where he reads the game so well, they produced a level of performance to match the victory a few miles away at Spurs, while contributing to a game that was far more incident-packed.
It would be impossible to give a blow-by-blow account without running into several pages, but much of the post-match debate centred on the “penalty” incidents.
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There probably should have been two spot-kicks, one in the first half when Laurent Koscielny tried to swap shirts with Russell Martin prematurely, another two minutes from time when, with the game poised on a knife-edge at 3-3, Robin van Persie’s chance of a hat-trick was wrecked by a shove from Kyle Naughton. There might even have been two more penalties had referee Taylor taken a dim view of Francis Coquelin’s challenge on Hoolahan before the break, and a possible handball by Simon Lappin.
City fans may have feared the worst when it took the Gunners little more than a minute to move ahead, Tomas Rosicky finding Yossi Benayoun, who curled a perfect shot out of reach of John Ruddy.
But the goal galvanised the Canaries and they were level after 12 minutes. Elliott Bennett found Naughton on the right and the full-back’s low cross was met with a first-time effort by Hoolahan that ’keeper Wojciech Szczesny fumbled into his own net at the near post.
Holt’s 16th goal of the season made it 2-1 after 27 minutes when the skipper played a one-two with Hoolahan and struck a shot that looped off the boot of ex-Canary loan player Kieran Gibbs and over the stranded ’keeper.
There followed the unfortunate exit of full-back Bacary Sagna with a broken fibula, then City’s two penalty claims, while it took a fine tackle by Koscielny to stop Holt scoring again from Hoolahan’s cross.
City could have further embarrassed the Gunners after the break, first when Jackson weaved past Thomas Vermaelen but shot straight at Szczesny, then when Hoolahan poked a chance wide.
But gradually the hosts stepped up the pressure and after Ruddy blocked Van Persie’s shot with his legs and the Dutchman wasted another chance, he finally struck, Alex Song floating in the cross and Van Persie meeting it on the full to guide the ball past Ruddy.
With 10 minutes to go, Van Persie struck again after a deflection off Anthony Pilkington’s heel fell kindly and he fired in his 30th Premier League goal of the season.
The game looked to have cruelly slipped away from City, especially when Bradley Johnson blazed over from Pilkington’s cross, but with five minutes left, Jonny Howson unlocked the Arsenal rearguard and substitute Steve Morison drilled a low shot out of reach of Szczesny for his first goal in 13 outings, a brilliant, instinctive finish.
There was still time for the Van Persie penalty claim, while three great stops by Ruddy, from a Song backheel, a Marouane Chamakh shot and a Gibbs header, kept more than 60,000 on edge to the very end.