Photo Gallery: Robin gives to rich at Norwich City’s expense
Norwich City 1, Arsenal 2: The newly-promoted Canaries have earned a reputation for tweaking the noses of the Premier League’s big boys on their return to the top flight.
Unfortunate in defeat at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, Paul Lambert’s men rode their luck to take a hard-earned point at Anfield, and the arrival of the first of the big guns at Carrow Road was eagerly awaited – so much so that the sell-out crowd for the visit of Arsenal was the highest in the stadium for 27 years.
The same amount of time has elapsed since the Gunners were beaten at Norwich, however, and though Steve Morison put the hosts ahead with his third goal in successive games, that long wait goes on thanks to a goal in each half by in-form Dutch striker Robin van Persie.
With 10 goals in his last five league games, Robin continues to give to the rich, and if it was not exactly at the expense of the poor, then perhaps on this occasion the slightly below-par.
For though Morison harried dithering World Cup defender Per Mertesacker into an error to give the Canaries a 16th-minute lead, one somehow never sensed they were destined to pull off a notable victory.
There was no lack of effort from City, who worked like Trojans with or without the ball, but there was not quite the same conviction they had displayed on their travels to the big arenas. The 2-1 scoreline was respectable enough given that Chelsea conceded five to their London rivals on home territory, but with the Gunners enjoying more than 60 per cent of possession, the defeat could have been just as emphatic.
City’s ploy of using two wingers was shelved as Lambert went for a more solid look, leaving Elliott Bennett on the bench, bringing Andrew Crofts and David Fox back into midfield and giving Anthony Pilkington a more central role as one of two men supporting lone striker Morison. The negative effect was that Arsenal had plenty of space on the flanks and City’s full-backs were given little protection against the pace of Theo Walcott and Gervinho.
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Van Persie had already fired the wrong side of each post in separate attacks when a moment of brilliance by Russell Martin denied the Gunners the lead in the 11th minute. Walcott’s left-foot shot had goalkeeper John Ruddy beaten but was acrobatically hooked off the line as Martin, facing his own goal, extended his right leg to produce the goalline clearance to end all goalline clearances.
Five minutes later, the stadium erupted as Morison became the first City player since Dean Ashton to score in three Premier League games in a row. Marc Tierney knocked a long ball forward and, as Germany international Mertesacker hesitated, Morison breathed heavily enough down his neck to prise the ball away and score with a shot that brushed goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s hand on the way in.
Arsenal could have levelled inside a minute when Van Persie fired wide from six yards, and Martin made two more vital clearances, first from a Van Persie header, then after Ruddy had parried a shot from Gervinho.
The equaliser came after 27 minutes, however, when Walcott got much the better of Tierney and crossed low into the six-yard box where Gervinho’s fancy backheel failed to connect, but Van Persie tucked the ball away.
There was something of a lull leading to half-time, but the Gunners turned the screw after the break.
Gervinho headed straight at Ruddy when he might have scored, and after Pilkington curled a free-kick over the wall but straight at Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey fired into the side netting.
Ruddy kept City on terms 10 minutes after the interval when Van Persie fed Gervinho and the ’keeper did superbly to smother his shot before Bradley Johnson hacked the ball clear.
But after 59 minutes, it was 2-1 to the Gunners as Van Persie struck again. Martin, sadly, was caught in possession by Ramsey on the halfway line and Alex Song strode forward to put the Dutchman clear, where he beat Ruddy with a delicate chip.
City had a rare chance to level six minutes later when Bennett, introduced at half-time, crossed from the right but Pilkington, coming in at the near post, flicked his shot across goal.
Morison had a reasonable appeal for hand-ball in the Arsenal area rejected, but thereafter the visitors looked more likely to extend their lead. Ruddy saved from Mikel Arteta and Gervinho, and a powerful drive by Walcott struck the angle of post and bar in the closing minutes.
City were not disgraced but after successive defeats, next week’s visit of Queens Park Rangers, who have overtaken them in the table, takes on even greater importance.