By Richard Clarke at Carrow Road
Arsenal grabbed their fifth successive Premier League win with a 2-1 comeback at victory at Norwich on Saturday.
As ever, Robin van Persie stole the show by scoring both goals for the visitors. The Dutchman now has 31 Premier League goals in the calendar year – a record matched on only four other occasions.
His double this afternoon cancelled out Steve Morison’s early goal. The Norwich frontman profited on hesitancy from Per Mertesacker in 16th minute but, in truth, the strike went against the grain of this game.
This was a fluent, dominant performance against a team that have proved themselves worthy of Premier League status.
It was also the 200th away win of Wenger’s reign. To be honest, this won’t go down as the most memorable but it does give a further indication of the character and grit of his current side.
Once the weekend games are over, the three points may well have propelled Arsenal up in the top six.
Before kick-off, the north London outfit had arrived at Carrow Road as one of the Premier League’s form teams. What the manager lacked in full-backs, he made up for in central defenders. The absence of Carl Jenkinson (stress fracture) on top of the ankle injury to Bacary Sagna meant Wenger would have to improvise on the right.
In the end he moved Laurent Koscielny across and restored Mertesacker alongside Thomas Vermaelen.
It was the only change from the side that had swept aside West Brom a fortnight ago.
The Norwich programme spoke of their club’s pride at hosting such a major game. This was the early game as the Premier League returned to action after a two-week hiatus - the televisual eyes of the world were on Carrow Road.
Fittingly, the first 15 minutes were one big advertisement for the Premier League. Both sides had an effervescence about their game but only Arsenal had the quality.
In the opening seconds, Gervinho set up Walcott, whose shot was blocked. Then, a couple of minutes later, Van Persie drove a fierce shot across the face of goal.
Arsenal were finding joy down the flanks and the wide men combined in the 11th minute to create a chance that should have put the visitors ahead.
Gervinho darted in from the left and set up Walcott just outside the area. The England international fooled his marker and looked to have found the net with a curler before Russell Martin hared back to hack the ball over the bar at the last second.
It was all Arsenal.
However, five minutes later, Norwich would take the lead. Morison stole in front of Mertesacker as the German international tried to shepherd a bouncing through ball back to Wojciech Szczesny. The Norwich striker laid his hands on the Arsenal defender and, on another day would have been penalised for a foul. This afternoon, Phil Dowd waved play on and Morison slotted home.
It had been a stolen goal but Arsenal were not affected by the ‘immorality’.
Mikel Arteta’s shot bounced out to Van Persie, whose snatched sidefoot shot went wide from close range. Then the Dutchman’s arching header was cleared off the line by Martin. The same defender also cleared up when Gervinho went through on the right and his shot was only half-saved by keeper John Ruddy.
Arsenal were utterly in control and an away goal seemed inevitable.
It proved the case in the 27th minute when Walcott crossed low to the edge of the six-yard box and Van Persie sidefooted home his ninth goal in his last five Premier League games.
The equaliser actually drew pace out of the game for the first time but it did not affect Arsenal’s dominance. However, Gervinho’s deflected drive was the closest they came to taking the lead before the break.
The Ivorian started the second half by guiding a header into the hands of Ruddy when well placed. Then in the 53rd minute, Vermaelen’s raking ball was collected by Walcott on the right and Ramsey turned the ball into the sidenetting.
Seconds later, Van Persie sent Gervinho clear. The Ivorian beat the keeper and looked certain to score but Ruddy recovered superbly and blocked his shot.
Yet again, an Arsenal goal seemed inevitable. This time, they delivered. Referee Dowd waved play on after Ramsey was clipped in the centre circle. That allowed Alex Song to burst through and send Van Persie clear. The chip finish was 50 per cent cheeky, 50 per cent classy.
Although Anthony Pilkington spurned the best Norwich chance since the goal when he could not convert at the near post, the hosts now appeared to be flagging.
The introduction of Grant Holt gave them some impetus but, in the 76th minute, Ruddy had to make saves from Arteta and Gervinho in quick succession.
Norwich piled on the pressure in the closing stages but Arsenal held on.
Wenger’s side are made of stern stuff theses days.
- Persie (C) Goal! Goal!
- Walcott 90
- Gervinho 77
- Djourou 90
- Benayoun 77
- Tierney Yellow Card
- Fox 46
- Pilkington 82
- Hoolahan (C) 69
- Morison Goal!
- Bennett 46 Yellow Card
- Jackson 82
- Holt 69 Yellow Card