Points shared in six-goal thriller between Arsenal and Norwich City
Norwich City’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday was one of the best games of football I have ever been privileged to witness.
The action and excitement began when Benayoun curled in a shot past Ruddy with just 70 seconds on the clock, and continued non stop till the very last minute when Ruddy spectacularly saved Gibbs’ header. A truly great game, and a draw was a fair result, although either side could have won 8-4.
After last week’s disappointing defeat to Liverpool, Paul Lambert made his customary wholesale changes to the starting line-up. With Drury injured and Ward, Fox, Pilkington and Morison relegated to the bench, Russell Martin, Lappin, Hoolahan, Jackson, and Holt made the starting 11.
This was Arsene Wenger’s 900th game in charge of the Gunners, and his side got off to a perfect start when Benayoun scored after just 70 seconds. With two players up front (unlike the Liverpool game last week), City were looking lively in attack. Holt had an early attempt blocked before Elliott Bennett shot wide. Jackson headed straight at Gunners keeper Szczesny, and Holt headed over.
The breakthrough came after 12 minutes. Naughton’s cross from the right was met by Hoolahan, and although the shot lacked power, Szczesny was unable to hold it and the ball squirmed through his hands and over the line. Ramsey was booked for a late challenge on Howson after 20 minutes, and seven minutes later Holt sent Hoolahan away through the middle channel and his shot from the Irishman’s return pass looped off Gibbs over the keeper and into the empty net. It was Holt’s 16th goal of a memorable season. Were you one of the doubters who said he would never be able to score at a higher level? This season he has scored against Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd and Newcastle. If he can score at this level he deserves a chance to play for his country. Come on Hodgson, how about Holty for England?
City were good value for their lead. Jackson shot over the bar, and as Arsenal’s frustration grew, Benayoun kicked out at Lappin but received only a lecture from the referee. Sagna then fell over with no player near him and was carried off on a stretcher. It transpired that he had broken his leg: the Gunners blamed an earlier clash with Johnson. The Canaries might have had two penalties when Coquelin tangled with Hoolahan in the box, and Russell Martin had his shirt pulled before taking a kick on the head. Just before half-time Holt nearly made it 3-1 from Hoolahan’s pass. The Canaries thoroughly deserved their half-time cup of tea, and might well have been two or three goals up at the break.
Seven minutes into the second half Jackson raced through the Gunners defence but shot tamely at Szczesny when a pass to Holt might have yielded better dividends. But Arsenal were desperate for a win to ensure they retained third place in the Premier League to qualify for next season’s Champion’s League, and ratcheted up their pressure. Benayoun and Van Persie both went close. Hoolahan was booked for throwing the ball away. Arsenal brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Ramsey after 63 minutes, partly to give more attacking width and partly to save Ramsey from a red card after he was spoken to again by the referee. Van Persie missed a couple more chances, and Ryan Bennett made a good block from Vermaelen’s shot.
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After 70 minutes Morison replaced Jackson in the Norwich attack. Two minutes later Arsenal equalised when Van Persie met Song’s pass and finally beat Ruddy. With 15 minutes remaining Pilkington came on for Hoolahan, and immediately afterwards Van Persie notched his second goal of the game, his fourth against Norwich this season, and his 37th so far this campaign. City were not finished though and Wlilbraham replaced Holt. Johnson shot over from a cross by Pilkington. Five minutes from time City got the equaliser they so richly deserved. Howson, who had been excellent throughout the match, weighted a perfect through ball, and Morison’s shot to the far post gave Szczesny no chance.
Ruddy made a good save with his legs from Van Persie, and the Gunners appealed for a penalty when Van Persie went down under Naughton’s challenge. There were four minutes of added time, during which Wilbraham was booked and Ruddy made two excellent desperate saves to preserve City’s well merited point and frustrate the Arsenal crowd and players. Wenger the Whinger gave the City manager only the most perfunctory of handshakes before rushing off down the tunnel, presumably to take out his frustration by kicking his cat. Lambert described his team’s performance as “outstanding” and possibly surpassing City’s other great away performance in north London recently at White Hart Lane.
So City became the first away team this season to score more than two goals at the Emirates Stadium. Even Gary Lineker on MOTD said what a great game it was and how well the Canaries had played. This was the first time City had ever played at the Emirates and the first time I had visited it. Since I could not get a ticket with the away fans, I have to confess I infiltrated one of the home fans areas. Is the Emirates stadium a glimpse of the way forward for all Premier League teams, including Norwich? I hope not! Yes the seats were roomy and the toilets were immaculate, but the only beer on offer was Carlsberg (the official beer of the stadium).
On the way to the ground I bought a burger (�2.50, full of fat, onions, and cholesterol - you know what I mean) to act as both breakfast and blotting paper. It tasted as bad as it sounds, but I am glad I bought it because once inside the stadium all I would have been able to buy was an official Cannon burger (to celebrate Arsenal’s 125th anniversary) at a cost of �6! I have seen the future of Premier League football, and it is based on ripping off the fans big-time. Thank Goodness that David sometimes beats Goliath, or at least draws 3-3, which restores my faith in the funny old game.