Arsenal stormed into the top three by pulling off an incredible late comeback against Norwich at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger’s side were running out of time and inspiration as they entered the final five minutes against the relegation-threatened visitors.
Norwich had frustrated them for almost an hour then snatched an unlikely lead when Michael Turner headed home.
But then, with desperation setting in, Oliver Giroud was hauled down in the area. Mikel Arteta withstood the protests to score from the spot. A few minutes later the Frenchman scrambled Arsenal into the lead following fine work from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
In injury time substitute Lukas Podolski ended the argument.
This was Arsenal’s fifth win in a row in all competitions and, though the struggled at times, they got the job done.
For the first time since mid-September, Wenger’s men ended a weekend in third place.
They just might have timed their run to perfection.
Wenger made three changes from the side that had beaten West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
Thomas Vermaelen returned due to Per Mertesacker’s red card at The Hawthorns. Tomas Rosicky’s hamstring injury saw Jack Wilshere restored to central midfield after six weeks out.
Theo Walcott was also fit-again but he only made the bench. The last change was a straight swap – Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal at left back.
This was the first of three games before fourth-place Tottenham played again – all of which were in the capital. In addition, Chelsea would not see Premier League action until after Arsenal’s game with Everton on Tuesday.
In the manager’s words it was “a massive opportunity” to leave their top-four rivals playing catch-up.
And Wenger’s men started with the same determination they had showed a week ago at West Brom.
However Norwich were set up for containment today and almost invited pressure. Arsenal RSVP-ed with determination but few chances.
It took them 23 minutes to register anything of note. But it was a decent opportunity.
Giroud darted in front of his marker at the near post to glance Bacary Sagna’s near-post cross on to the top of the bar.
On the half-hour, Arsenal got their first clear sight of goal. Cazorla’s vision sent Gervinho sprinting through the middle. He beat Mark Bunn but his heavy touch took him too wide and he could not squeeze home a shot with the angle narrowing.
Sagna then set up Giroud again at the near post. This time the tumbling Frenchman saw his flick scruffily blocked by Bunn.
Five minutes before the break Cazorla let fly but Bunn saved comfortably. On the whistle Giroud’s header was nodded away from danger by Steven Whittaker.
Arsenal had picked up a little momentum in the latter stages but it had been a frustrating half for the home side.
The discipline of the visitors had knocked Wenger’s men out of their stride early on and, despite the odd flash of inspiration, Arsenal were being stifled.
The trend was the same for the first ten minutes of the second half.
Then Gibbs escaped on the left and his cross set up a melee during which Wilshere’s goalbound shot was blocked by Turner only a few yards out.
The Arsenal midfielder claimed a penalty, replays suggested the referee was right to wave them away.
Seconds later the same defender would head home a right-wing free-kick from Robert Snodgrass. Defensively it was a poor goal to concede but the initial foul appeared questionable.
Whatever its genesis, the goal was a shock. Arsenal were second in the form guide, Norwich had one win in their last 15 Premier League games.
Wenger made swift changes. Wilshere had run out of steam in his first game back, Walcott came on. The other swap saw Podolski replace Gervinho on the left.
They injected energy into the home side but Arsenal were not fluent this afternoon.
In the 72nd minute a Norwich breakaway saw Russell Martin crack a drive into the arms of Lukasz Fabianski.
Arsenal were still pressing but lacking inspiration. With 11 minutes left, Giroud chested down Gibbs’ cross and Podolski thundered a drive against the bar. Bunn had got a crucial fingertip on the effort.
It seemed Arsenal were almost spent. But with five minutes left, they were handed a lifeline when the assistant referee spotted Kei Kamara pulling Giroud’s shirt and dragging him to the ground. After consultation and despite loud Norwich protests, the referee gave the decision.
Arteta squeezed home his spot kick.
Soon after, the second arrived. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s wonderful give-and-go set up the opportunity. His low cross was scrambled home by a combination of Giroud and Sebastien Bassong.
Fabianski made a crucial low save from Jonathan Howson and, from the resulting corner, then snatched Martin’s header out of the air.
Frankly, a previously sterile game was now in pandemonium.
Giroud’s rising drive was tipped over. Then Walcott set up Podolski to power home a drive from the edge of the area.
An incredible game, an incredible turnaround and a side with incredible spirit.
Arsenal's march towards the Champions League goes on.
Referee: Mike Jones
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